“Guardians of the Galaxy” | Rated PG 13 | Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes | Director: James Gunn | Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, John C. Reilly, Benicio Del Toro and the voices of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” makes a better 2-minute music video than a 2-hour movie.
The Marvel Studios movie is what the advertisements promised it would be: things blowing up, occasionally amusing one-liners and enough old music to plan a block of your local classic rock station.
What it isn’t, I dare say, is good. Oh, it’s fine. But it never quite hits “11” the way other Marvel Movies have. It’s no “Avengers.” And it’s certainly not the terrific pleasure that was “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” It’s better than, say, the two “Iron Man” sequels.
This movie is mildly more fun than “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” which I found tedious and dull. “Guardians of the Galaxy” is just average, OK, fair, not bad enough to be mediocre, but not good enough to be interesting.
The movie begins with a blizzard of alien names and planets. If you didn’t read comics, which I do, you would have no idea what any of it meant. Having read the comics, I can assure you that, in fact, it meant nothing.
The story is pretty straightforward: Ronan, an angry blue guy with a sledgehammer, wants to destroy the galaxy. A group of plucky misfits, including a talking raccoon and an animated tree, band together to stop him.
Ronan isn’t all that interesting as a villain. He’s not scary. His superpower appears to be being able to work in a spaceship with almost no lights. The guy may be able to smash people’s heads with his sledgehammer, but there isn’t a 75-watt bulb to be found on his big, twisty space rig.
He has a couple minions. One is named Nebula. She’s blue, like him. The other is Gamora. She’s green. They’re both the (sort of) daughters of Thanos, who is purple. The minions are both played by beautiful women in form-fitting clothing that highlight their rearends. It’s not really acting or character depth, but it’s something that kept my attention when the story got muddled or dull, which it did a lot.
This Thanos guy is described as “the mad Titan.” We meet Thanos. He sits on a chair kept afloat by rockets on some rocks in space. He’s played by Josh Brolin. He doesn’t do anything that’s even remotely scary or powerful, either. But he is supposed to be some sort of big bad. Perhaps he’ll do something interesting in the third Avengers movie. For “Guardians of the Galaxy,” however, he’s just a red — well, purple — herring.
There’s another green guy. His name is Drax. He’s angry and doesn’t understand metaphors. This is supposed to be amusing, but I think it is just to cover up for the fact that the professional wrestler who portrays him isn’t big on acting.
Chris Pratt is charismatic as Peter Quill, the group’s leader, but he was much better as a different kind of action figure: Emmet, the Lego guy.
There are a lot of winking references in the film for late Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, from nods to the Space Invaders video game to “Footloose.” There’s so much of this stuff, one might think this was an episode of “Family Guy,” where imitation is used as comedy. But in the case of both the Fox cartoon and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” imitation is just copying in hopes no one notices what is actually going on isn’t compelling enough to sustain your attention.
Then there’s all that classic rock music, worn-out songs such as “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede and “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” They’re fine songs. But they’ve been played so much on the radio, TV and movies that one doesn’t hear them anymore. They’re just background music, filler. If the filmmakers are trying to evoke nostalgia with these songs, all they really serve to do is make something meant to be spectacular quite mundane.
This isn’t a complaint that’s specific to “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but the visual effects are overwhelming. This isn’t a good thing. In some of the space battles, the action moves so quickly and is so chaotic, I really didn’t know what I was looking at. This happens a lot in movies this days. Computers have given filmmakers the ability to do anything. Too often they choose to do everything all at once.
There is also the the rather large matter of exposition: There’s way too much of it. All the characters are sad. Their parents are dead. They’re weird. They don’t have any friends. The galaxy doesn’t love them. But they find kinship and common purpose in … blah, blah, blah.
The writers work far too hard to give emotional depth to characters that are obvious and without a hint of edge or mystery. Everything is spelled out a little too clearly when it comes the heroes’ purity of motives. This isn’t an ABC Afterschool Special. It’s fine if some people to good things for bad reasons. That’s even interesting. These characters are not interesting. They’re quirky.
Michael Rooker is in the film. He plays the same character he played on “The Walking Dead,” except he’s got a red mohawk, a whistle-controlled arrow and blue skin. Apparently blue is the new orange, which was previously the new black.
My biggest gripe against “Guardians of the Galaxy” is that not one thing happens that is surprising. The heroes who don’t like each other end up being BFFs. They come through in the nick of time because, by golly, they’re pure of heart. You just knew the talking tree was going to say something other than “I am Groot.” Nobody important dies. And if you can’t guess what’s inside the present given to Quill by his dying mother, you’re just not paying attention.
Then again, this isn’t really a movie that requires you to pay attention.