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“Guardians” of the summer box office

By: JORDAN RAE LUCAS

Columnist

j.r.lucas.17@gmail.com

I will be the first to admit that I was skeptical about Marvel’s plans to develop a film with a talking raccoon. My doubts and those of many fans of the franchise were not assuaged when the casting for sci-fi action-comedy “Guardians of the Galaxy” was announced.

Could Chris Pratt, the lovable oaf from NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” be believable as the leader of a ragtag crew of aliens and criminals? Would audiences accept an iconic action hero like Vin Diesel as a sympathetic talking tree with a three-word vocabulary?

If the film’s $258 million box office-topping total earning is any indication, the answer to both questions seems to be a resounding yes. It helps that the characters, who on the surface, seem to be a body swap for the actors, are not completely against type. Pratt’s Peter Quill may fancy himself a ladies’ man and a born outlaw, but leans more toward the charismatic hubris of a 12-year-old playing cowboy. Diesel’s Groot balances his innate adorableness by being the brutish muscle for Bradley Cooper’s (“The Hangover”) bounty-hunting, genetically-modified raccoon, Rocket.

Cooper, as well as the final members of the team –Zoe Saldana’s Gamora and Dave Bautista’s Drax– seemed more suited for their roles. Cooper has more or less built his career playing the cocky bad boy with a sensitive side. Throw in some fur, an inexplicable Brooklyn accent and a Napoleon complex and you have Rocket. Saldana is no stranger to playing strong, no-nonsense women in the male-dominated sci-fi genre, starring in “Avatar” as well as J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” films. Bautista’s claim to fame as a professional wrestler made him a logical choice to play a character known as The Destroyer.

Overall, the characters as well as the actors’ performances were very well-crafted. I only wish each character had been given their own standalone, lead-in film. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has, perhaps, spoiled its fans with films like “Iron Man” and “Thor” that fully fleshed- out individual characters and their tragic backstories before putting them on a team together. In noticeable contrast, all the characters except Quill have their personal tragedies summed up in a sentence.

The first five minutes of the film provide Quill’s tale of woe: becoming an orphan and being abducted by aliens in the same night. The opening of the film seems very bleak in contrast with the funny and fantastical tone of what follows. Similarly, the other characters’ heartbreaking lines of dialogue seemed abrupt and clunky as though added to the script as an afterthought.

The stellar, if unexpected, cast was not the only strength of the film. The filmmakers managed to suspend the movie in a time all its own. “Guardians” is set in space in 2014, a fact that is very difficult to remember through the course of the film. Between the space-aged technology and a soundtrack and pop culture references that predate 1988, the film is pleasantly disorienting. It is rare for a sci-fi film to be anything but futuristic and certainly never nostalgic, but this one manages to do just that.

There is a nice juxtaposition to hearing The Jackson 5 playing in a spaceship. Part of the climactic battle at the end of the film even takes the visual form of Space Invaders. This sightly gag, as well as the repeated references to “Footloose,” may have gone over the heads of the younger audience members, but helped make the film enjoyable for the whole family. This was especially important for a movie in which the premise could have easily veered toward campy children’s movie territory.

In short, it seems only fitting that “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a film about underdogs who save the day, was underestimated only to bring in the largest box office total of the summer blockbuster season.

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