"What a bunch of a-holes."

“What a bunch of a-holes.”

There’s something to be said for the misfits. The teams that are not prototypical and the plans that seem like lunacy. That line between genius and madness? It can seem a little blurry at times. So why not try to extract brilliance from the truly insane? Why not turn your story over to characters largely unknown outside of a very small sliver of comic book readers? Why not give the ball to your bench squad for once?

THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY begins by introducing us to Peter Quill, aka “Star Lord” (Chris Pratt). An intergalactic smuggler, he’s caught red-handed, about to pilfer an Infinity Stone from a long-deserted planet. After managing to get away from his would-be captors, he returns to the densely populated planet of Xandar where he hopes to get the loot to his fence, Yondor (Michael Rooker) for a hefty payday.

Unfortunately for Quill, the stone is also lusted after by three heels named Ronin (Lee Pace), Nebula (Karen Gillian), and Gamora (Zoe Saldana). All three are working with the intergalactic warlord named Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin), and all three have their eyes on that stone. Gamora is dispatched to Xandar to retrieve it.

Around the time she gets there – which is also around the time Quill unsuccessfully tries to hawk it – the pair get drawn into a fisticuff with a pair of bounty hunters named Rocket and Groot (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel). Since all four are wanted hellions, all four are arrested and tossed into a high-security lock-up. It’s there that the foursome encounters Drax (David Bautista), who has a history with Ronin and wants to take it out on Gamora. The other three rally to her defense, and actually manage to convince Drax to join their quest.

Their quest is one part noble, five parts mercenary, and draws the ire of Thanos, Ronin, Nebula, and Yondor. The race for this stone is on, and one is left to wonder just what sort of chance this ragtag fivesome have when they are rolled up and tossed into hell.

Star Lord

Every now and again, you come across something that shouldn’t work but does. Maybe it’s the team that’s playing better than they seem on paper, or the employee that delivers results far above his pay grade. Such things are often a result of low expectations, which seems strange to say here – but stay with me.

At first blush, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY shouldn’t work. It’s built around a second-tier title at Marvel (or even a third-tier title – argue amongst yourselves), it’s the least grounded property, there are no true white-hat-heroes, no great motivation for the big bad, and a lot of wacky words, places, and names spoken of in grave tones. Oh yeah, and all of that is wrapped around a talking racoon and a walking tree.

The film is able to see all of these shortcomings, and actually goes so far as to lean into the punch. Without getting overly clever, it acknowledges its characters own lack of leadership, the standard tropes they find themselves expressing, and the way they seem to beg for the same answer they’ve heard seventeen times already that hour. The Guardians are more-or-less making things up as they go – and we didn’t know for certain that films like this are carefully mapped out far in advance, we’d almost believe that the movie was making it up as it goes. The film is fast and loose. Every time it mentions some relic or universe in a hushed heavy tone, it follows it up with a loud sarcastic quip.

It knows full well that it’s been given the job because it’s the boss’ kid, and it’s not about to be an asshole and pretend to know how to run the place.

It’s been said that when it comes to asking for things that it isn’t always what one is asking for as it is how they are asking. To that end, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY knows how to ask us as the audience to come along for the ride. It does so with friendly faces that aren’t quite ready to star in an OCEAN’S ELEVEN movie, but make for convincing hooligans regardless. It does so by holding out a familiar McGuffin – an Ark of The Covenant or Maltese Falcon kind of thing. Then it doubles-down by giving its lead character the wherewithal to call it “an Ark of The Covenant or Maltese Falcon kind of thing”. It rides the fine line between clever and stupid, and stays on the right side right down to the end.

Hell, it’s a film that knows how to get great action, laughs, and emotional beats from the previously mentioned talking racoon and walking tree.

Nobody is going to confuse GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY with the great blockbusters like JAWS or THE DARK KNIGHT. It doesn’t bring that much craft or technique to the table, and at first blush doesn’t seem to have the voice like films of that ilk do that inspire future generations. However, that’s not what audiences should expect every time they sit down in an auditorium, nor should it be the bar every director tries to clear. Even if it doesn’t achieve those lofty benchmarks, what it does is deliver on a promise made. It reminds us of being little girls and boys playing in the forest on summer afternoons, and brings to life a new set of characters for little girls and boys to pretend to be on future summer afternoons.

In a summer where so few films are doing even that much, it’s reason to tip one’s cap.

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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