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.
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