Since the release of “Iron Man” in 2008, Marvel Studios has had an impressive string of superhero hits. Its least successful film — “The Incredible Hulk” — still managed to bring in $134 million. That’s a fair amount of green, even if it looks puny when compared to the studio’s biggest hit, “The Avengers,” which brought in more than $623 million.
But hot streaks must end sometime, and when Marvel announced it was following up heavyweights Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk and The Avengers with a team of obscure outer space misfits called The Guardians of the Galaxy, well, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in predicting this would be the studio’s first big bomb.
Not even comic book fans care about The Guardians of the Galaxy. Certainly not enough to deliver blockbuster box office. The comic has a talking raccoon and a talking tree, for crying out loud.
And yet, while it’s too early to predict its success financially, I can say that “Guardians of the Galaxy” is of the same high-caliber popcorn fun as all other Marvel movies. It’s certainly the funniest and most irreverent.
Chris Pratt stars as Peter Quill, who also goes by the name Star-Lord, although it’s not clear why he deserves such a grandiose title. Quill is a thief with attitude and a ’70s-rock mix-tape. He’s Han Solo without Luke and Leia to keep him in line. Quill’s latest theft involves a mysterious orb.
The villain of the piece is Ronan (Lee Pace), who is after that exact same orb under orders from his boss Thanos (Josh Brolin) — the mystery man seen briefly at the end of “The Avengers.” Thanos gets a little more screen time here but not much. All you need to know at this point is that he’s Really Evil.
Quill manages to snatch the orb but winds up in prison shortly afterwards. There he meets up with Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a genetically engineered raccoon who’s a science whiz; Rocket’s sidekick Groot (Vin Diesel), a walking tree with three-word vocabulary; Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a former aide to Ronan who now works against him ; and Drax (Dave Bautista), a muscle-bound warrior seeking revenge on Ronan for the death of his family.
The quartet agree to stage a prison break and split the proceeds of the sale of the orb (Drax isn’t interested in money but he wants to stay close to Gamora in the hopes she will lead him to Ronan.)
Quill brings the orb to The Collector (Benicio del Toro) who reveals that within the orb is an object of enormous power. The object is related to the Tesseract (from “The Avengers”) and the Aether (from “Thor: The Dark World”).
Ronan shows up, steals the orb, and decides to use its power to take over the universe. Can the Star-Lord lead this ragtag collection of eccentrics against him and save the galaxy?
Directed by James Gunn, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is exactly what this summer has been needing — a space epic with dizzying special effects, dazzling set pieces, a cast you can cheer for, a rocking soundtrack, and most of all — an irreverent sense of joy and fun.
There’s been a lot of doom and apocalyptic gloom to this season’s blockbusters and it’s refreshing to see an action movie with the emphasis on delivering a laugh and a good time. “Transformers” tries to be a funny action movie, “Guardians” is a funny action movie.
The film’s weakest link is Ronan, whose motives are unclear and whose personality barely covers one dimension. And despite the film’s many original flourishes, the ending still follows modern action-movie formula — with a half-dozen fights going on all at once amid explosions and crashing spaceships. Overkill has become commonplace.
David Letterman has been bragging about the 3D all week on his show and I don’t know why. It’s not that special. There’s supposed to be the standard end-credits scene but it wasn’t shown at the advance screening. The good news if you wait for it is Gunn actually put the opening credits at the opening of the film for a change, so the end credits don’t run as long.
I’m glad to be proven wrong about “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and that’s why I never make public my predictions about a film’s potential success. I guess it’s up to “Ant-Man” to be the studio’s first bomb.