Monday, May 29, 2017


“Slither” writer & director James Gunn’s outlandishly hysterical, but high octane science-fiction spectacle “Guardians of the Galaxy” charts an entirely different course in the Marvel Comics Universe. Unlike Marvel’s traditional lineup of superheroes, such as “Iron Man,” “Captain America,” “Thor,” and “The Incredible Hulk,” the “Guardians of the Galaxy” constitute a quintet of non-traditional, anti-heroic protagonists endowed with supernatural abilities. Traditional Marvel heroes are respectable, upstanding, productive citizens in private life when they aren’t clashing with larger-than-life adversaries.  As the son of Odin, Thor is the exception in the cinematic universe because he has no alter-ego.  Comparatively, the “Guardians” are criminals and outcasts, essentially mercenaries thrown together by the exigencies of fate.  A synthesis of Indiana Jones and Han Solo, Peter Jason Quill leads the “Guardians,” probably because they fly with him aboard his intergalactic spacecraft.  An abducted Earthling urchin turned scalawag smuggler who refers to himself as ‘Star-Lord,’ Quill makes an affable enough anti-hero. Quill’s loose cannon compatriots are Gamora, an elite, green-skinned, female warrior assassin; Rocket, a genetically-altered, foul-mouthed raccoon who searches for anybody with high bounty on them; Rocket’s ligneous partner Groot, a humanoid plant that entangles its adversaries with its tree limbs, and Drax, a vengeful, blue-skinned, hulk of a humanoid who parades around without a shirt. If earlier Marvel Comics superhero sagas required audiences to suspend their disbelief to accommodate their bizarre antics, “Guardians” requires an even greater suspension of disbelief, perhaps to the breaking point.  Any time you encounter an obnoxious raccoon that can speak in English and behave like the reckless felon, you’ve got to open your mind up to greater possibilities beyond the world of reality.  

“Guardians of the Galaxy” unfolds on a tragic note.  The setting is Earth in 1988, and young Peter Quill watches in horror as his mother Meredith (Laura Haddock of “Storage 24”) dies from cancer.  Fleeing the hospital, the grief-stricken lad scrambles outside, and an alien spacecraft promptly abducts him! Twenty-six years later, an adult Peter Quill (Chris Pratt of “Moneyball”) is plying his trade as a member of the Ravagers, pirates who “steal from everybody,” on the abandoned planet of Morag.  He tracks down a wholly sought-after Orb.  No sooner has he found this object than he finds himself surrounded by Korath (Djimon Hounsou of “Amistad”) and his subordinates.  Korath works for Ronan (Lee Pace of “Lincoln”), a tyrannical, ax-wielding super villain who wants the Orb.  Ronan plans to ingratiate himself to the ultimate villain Thanos and hand it over to him.  Quill manages to escape in his wing-shaped spaceship.  Later, the blue-skinned Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker of “Tombstone”), who abducted Quill as an adolescent on Earth, contacts Quill from Morag and inquires about the Orb.  When Quill refuses to cooperate, Yondu puts a bounty of 40-thousand units on Quill.  Yondu uses an arrow that he deploys like a dressmaker manipulates a needle for homicidal purposes.

Rocket (Bradley Cooper’s voice) and Groot (Vin Diesel’s voice) descend to Xandar and stumble onto Quill.  Meantime, Korath reports to Ronan about Quill and the Orb. Ronan dispatches Gamora to Xandar, the capital of the Nova Empire, to pick up the Orb.  When Quill arrives on Xandar, he approaches the Broker (Christopher Fairbank of “Alien 3”) about the Orb.  Quill inquires about the mysterious globe because he almost died acquiring it.  When Quill mentions Ronan’s name, the Broker sends Quill packing. Gamora snatches the Orb from Quill.  They fight. Rocket intervenes and bags Quill.  This back and forth shenanigans continue until the Nova Corps arrests them.  They ship Quill, Gamora, Rocket, and Groot to The Kyln, a corrupt, high security prison in space where they encounter loudmouthed Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista of “Riddick”) when Gamora’s life is threatened.  As it turns out, the literal-minded Drax abhors Ronan because the dastard killed his wife and daughter. During the hair-raising escape, Drax teams up with Raccoon and Groot. Eventually, this quintet sets aside their differences, and Rocket orchestrates an elaborate escape from The Kyln that involves shutting off the artificial gravity in the facility.  Our heroes recover Quill’s orange and blue spaceship the Milano and flee from the Kyln.  Before they can leave, Quill also retrieves his impregnable Walkman with a cassette of popular songs that his mother made for him.  Mind you, this constitutes only 45 minutes out of the two-hour running time! 

Eventually, our heroes land on a unique mining colony called Knowhere.  According to Gamora, Knowhere is “the severed head of an ancient celestial being.”  No regulations exist in Knowhere.  Our heroes are looking for Tivan because he knows what the Orb is.  During this interval, Gamora reveals that Thanos murdered her mother and father and tortured her until he remade her into a warrior assassin.  Gamora asks about his Walkman and its significance.  Later, Drax summons Ronan to fight him, and turmoil descends onto the colony. Initially, Ronan defeats Drax, and Yondu catches up with Peter.  Bit by bit, the Guardians begin to bond.  "Oh, boo-hoo-hoo. My wife and child are dead," grouses an angry Rocket.  Groot cannot believe Rocket's insensitivity.  "Oh, I don't care if it's mean!  Everybody's got dead people.  It's no excuse to get everybody else dead along the way."  Groot sympathesizes with Drax and they become friends.  Now, Ronan has the Orb, and he wants Thanos to destroy Xandar.

Debuting in the January 1969 issue of “Marvel Super-Heroes,” the “Guardians” were nothing like their cinematic counterparts, only the pirate Yondu Udonta, appeared in this early incarnation.  These Guardians constituted the last of their kind on Earth, Jupiter, Pluto, and a fourth planet near the star Alpha Centauri B.  Ultimately, the cinematic “Guardians of the Galaxy” imitate in their own sphere of action “The Avengers.”  They quarrel constantly with each other, and they come close to killing each other such is the instability of their alliance.  Director James Gunn and freshman scenarist Nicole Perlman furnish the “Guardians” with distinctive, often hilarious dialogue.  The characters differ enough that no one is the same, and each has characteristics that differentiate them.  For example, the tree creature Groot repeats the same three words “I am Groot” ad nauseam without change throughout the action.  Drax emerges as straight-faced comic relief because he is so literal minded. Ronan makes an intimidating villain, but Thanos (Josh Brolin’s voice) is the most powerful being in the universe.  Gunn and Perlman never let the action slow down, and our heroes find themselves hopscotching from one cliffhanger predicament after another. 

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