When Marvel Studios released “The Avengers” in 2012, moviegoers responded to director Joss Whedon’s idiosyncratic dialogue and character development by making the film one of the highest grossing of all time. One of the superhero film’s defining features — indeed, what made it so captivating — was the interpersonal conflict between each of the members, which ultimately culminated in their reluctant-yet-genuine unification to battle a common foe. The movie’s unique dose of wit and pathos made it a huge success and set a compelling, yet still dramatic, tone for later Marvel films.
The latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” takes the begrudging heroes trope into the farthest reaches of outer space, from the alien world Xandar — home to the Nova Corps, the intergalactic police of the Marvel universe — to the scattered planets of the Kree Empire. “Guardians” follows the journey of a ragtag group of mercenaries who go from nearly killing each other at any chance they get to banding together to save the universe from a virtually unstoppable evil.
Set against heightened tensions between Xandar and the Kree, much of the action in the film revolves around a mysterious orb of great worth. Peter Quill, aka Star Lord (a brilliant Chris Pratt, of “Parks and Recreation” fame), is en route to a remote planet to steal it when Kree soldiers ambush and attempt to capture him. He escapes and travels to Xandar to sell it, but not before coming under attack again from mercenary Gamora (Zoe Saldana), sent by Kree extremist Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) to retrieve the orb. Gamora, however, knows Ronan will use it for evil and defects.
The Nova Corps eventually subdue Peter and Gamora and — along with a genetically modified, snarky raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and a tree-like alien named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), whose only line is “I am Groot” — send them to a prison colony. In prison, the outlaws meet Drax the Destroyer (former WWE wrestler Dave Batista), who seeks revenge on Ronan after he killed Drax’s family, and the five form a plan to escape and deliver the orb to a possible buyer.
Along the way, they discover the orb’s hidden potential as a tool of destruction and, despite their many conflicts with one another, the five unite to stop Ronan from destroying Xandar and, eventually, the universe.
Gunn’s tale of galactic underdogs manages to follow the formula laid out by “The Avengers” without directly copying Whedon. (Usually) hostile interactions between the five main characters highlight Whedon’s influence on the film — the audience learns right away that each member has his or her own reasons for distrusting the others, as well as how Pratt, Saldana and the other actors work well together.
The dialogue, especially Cooper’s, is outright hilarious, such as Rocket’s explanation of why Drax doesn’t understand metaphors: “His people take everything literally.” Peter describes the team as “losers” — that is, they have all lost something — and convinces them to fight against Ronan by proclaiming “life has given us a chance to give a shit about something.”
The film revels in Peter’s 1980s music obsession — a leftover from his short time on Earth — to the point where during normally emotive scenes between him and other characters, he brings up “Footloose” or will begin dancing for no reason.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that works to its benefit. But that fact can work against it, as exemplified by its casual misogyny toward many female characters; in a galaxy full of “hot alien chicks,” Gamora is the only woman in the film Peter fails to woo. Yet, despite this glaring flaw, “Guardians” gives summer moviegoers and comics fans alike an action-packed superhero film that takes the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” opens Friday at UA Berkeley 7.
Youssef Shokry is the assistant arts editor. Contact him at [email protected].