In theaters Friday, Aug. 1
2 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars)
It's like the silly, superhero-loving kids goofing off in the back of the classroom looked at The Avengers and X-Men and declared, "Hey, how hard can it be to save the world? Let's do it too!" That's how slapdash this kitschy comic-book flick plays on screen. And while it can be a refreshing twist when a film doesn't take itself seriously, the lack of quality blockbusters this summer is no laughing matter.
The bright news is that we've landed in outer space — a welcome change in scenery from the usual steel, stale metropolis. That's where we find Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, a very good everyman), flitting around an abandoned planet. He takes off his mask, presses play on a retro Walkman and starts to . . . . dance. To the 1970s hit "Come and Get Your Love." Yes, it's that kind of kitsch. The music, as detailed in the prologue, is a track off a soft-rock mixtape given to a young Peter by his cancer-stricken mom. After her death, he dashes outside the hospital grounds and is promptly abducted by aliens.
Twenty-six years later, Peter is making a living as a happy-go-lucky scavenger/thief. A plan to steal a powerful glowing sphere goes awry and he lands in an inter-galactic jail. There, he reluctantly aligns with a motley crew of fellow bandits and revenge-seekers: a warrior (Zoë Saldana), a wiseass raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a talking tree who only mumbles the sentence "I am Groot" (the easiest paycheck Vin Diesel will ever cash) and a brute (Dave Bautista). Together, they try to ensure the destruction--causing gem doesn't fall into nefarious hands.
That concludes the rudimentary plot recap, as only Marvel geeks will fully grasp its convoluted play-by-play. Reach down for the popcorn and prepare to miss a barrage of sci-fi villains — played by the likes of Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace and Josh Brolin — hidden under heavy makeup, as well as a slew of space-aged battles. Those who didn't live-tweet from Comic-Con might find it all a bit exhausting. Perhaps the screenwriters were too busy laughing at their jokes to streamline an accessible narrative?
Oh, about those jokes. The misfits hardly miss a chance to toss off a knucklehead one-liner, and a handful of them zing. A running gag about Footloose earns the biggest chuckle. (Want to know what's wrong with that? Nothing!!!!). The irreverent humor is an admittedly original approach to the genre — as is the aforementioned Solid Gold '70s soundtrack. The collateral damage is a total lack of an emotional connection to any of these characters. Saldana's Gamora is covered in green, yet she might as well be a blank canvas.
The essential problem here: This B-list adaptation is not quite hilarious enough to be a gut-busting comedy or suspenseful enough to be a sci-fi adventure for the ages. Here's hoping the recently announced sequel truly reaches for the stars.