a, Arts & Entertainment

“Galaxy” quest

Early on in Guardians of the Galaxy, the latest Marvel Comics film, we hear the Blue Swede cover of “Hooked on a Feeling.” While it’s not necessarily a reference to Quentin Tarantino’s classic debut of Reservoir Dogs,which featured the tune, it’s certainly a strong possibility, given the age of Guardians director and co-writer James Gunn—he was 22 when Tarantino’s film came out. It feels even more likely given Gunn’s script—a collaboration with Nicole Perlman—which has the vibrant irreverence of Tarantino’s best work and makes Guardians a highly enjoyable movie-going experience.

The song is cleverly integrated as a plot device, as are the the other ’70s hits that are scattered throughout the film’s soundtrack. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) carries around a mixtape of these tunes everywhere he goes, because they remind him of his mother (Laura Haddock), who died of cancer when he was a young child. Shortly after her death, a band of smugglers known as the Ravagers abduct Quill, and they raise him to be a fellow bandit.

Flash forward to the future, and Quill has possession of a powerful orb—much to the displeasure of Ronan (Lee Pace), an intergalactic villain who seeks galactic domination. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to get his hands on the orb, though he decides to start by sending the green-tinted trained assassin Gamora (Zoë Saldana).

Gamora’s subsequent journey sets off an encounter between her and Quill, which leads to them meeting a spunky anthropomorphic raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper), the tree-like humanoid Groot (Vin Diesel), and a blue warrior named Drax (Dave Bautista). The group of strange bedfellows band together when they find themselves together in prison on the bad side of their fellow inmates. They set off around space in the hopes of selling the orb, which they believe to be valuable.

This might all seem like standard issue sci-fi, and frankly, it is. But what makes Gunn’s film stand out is its sense of humour and spirit of fun, which have been all too rare in Hollywood blockbusters since Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Dark and gritty has become the default tone for popular action movies, and it’s a credit to Gunn and Perlman that they avoid the trappings that have led would-be works of pulpy fun to become sluggishly mired in self-importance.

Quite a bit of the humour comes from the zippy one-liners littered throughout the film by Rocket and Quill. Gunn and Perlman also take the jokes one step further by cleverly parodying the seriousness of contemporary comic book movies through Drax. He’s a dense, humourless individual whois fixated on getting revenge against Ronan, and he fails to understand Rocket and Quill’s quips. Like Nolan’s films—and far too many others—he can’t take a joke. The light touch makes the two hour running time zip by, and whenever things threaten to get dark, there’s always a witty joke waiting to lighten the mood.

Equally important are the likable actors who help bring the script to life. Chris Pratt (who, between this and The Lego Movie, is quickly rising among Hollywood’s most appealing male schlubs) brings out Quill’s nice-guy appeal without denying his immaturity. You can’t help but root for him, even as you wish he’d grow up. Cooper plays his bad-boy shtick even more convincingly than he did in The Hangover movies, which is pretty remarkable considering that he does it here as the voice of a bipedal raccoon.

Still, it’s Gunn’s job at the helm that holds everything together, and he’s delivered one of the wittiest, funniest, and flat-out most entertaining comic book movies in ages. One can only hope that the studios will take note, and bring the tone of the average blockbuster to be more like Guardians and less like the moody films which make it feel like such a breath of fresh air. As one such movie asks, “Why so serious?”

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