'Guardians of the Galaxy'

Alien misfits play keep away with powerful orb coveted
by a villain in Guardians of the Galaxy
BAND OF OTHERS: Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and Drax (Dave Bautista) team up to save the galaxy from the evil Ronan.

It's a maltese falcon kind of thing, explains the outer-space burglar/salvage man Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). He longs to be known as "Space Lord" because of his boot jets and his helmet with lighted red eyes. Here, then, another lost orphan who is now man-sized, if slightly douchey. (Listening to some bad '80s music on a Walkman—his last legacy of his home on Earth—he shuffles around an archaeological site, kicking cat-sized velociraptors out of his way.) Quill sets up the play. Guardians of the Galaxy is a ball game in which a valuable space orb keeps slipping out of the hands of the home team, ending up in enemy territory.

The orb-dingus is craved by the renegade Ronan (Lee Pace) of the Kree alien race. He's blue-skinned, hooded, sledge hammer-wielding—and uninterested in the Kree Empire's peace treaty with multi-culti planet Xandar. Thus he's gone into fiefdom with one of the universe's reigning badasses, Thanos (Josh Brolin).

Ronan hates planet Xandar. He just does. It looks exactly like Expo '67, complete with the Canadians. There are some shady individuals afoot, hardly noticed until they start shooting: a large, half-bright walking tree named Groot (his four-word vocabulary is voiced by Vin Diesel), and the genetically engineered talking raccoon known as Rocket (Bradley Cooper). They seek the bounty on Quill's head. Eventually, all land in space prison, including Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the lime-green stepdaughter of Ronan. (Her name's pronounced "Gomorrah," though she's chaste as a Mormon). Also attached to the team is a bellicose interstellar Queequeg named Drax (the wrestler Dave Bautista, who looks as surly as Liev Schreiber).

The spotlessly animated space dogfights are exactly as interesting as a well done car chase, which is to say not that interesting, but you can zone out over them, mulling over the film's various info dumps.  

Whenever the pace flags, which isn't often, a good actor arrives for such dumps: Benicio del Toro is an effete "Collector." The film's best joke concerns one of his collectibles: the moral is that the dog in the movie always has to survive. Michael C. Rooker plays a viciously hearty, bright blue space pirate. John C. Reilly is a jolly policeman. Dr. Who's Karen Gillan, as the assistant villainess, looks like a living marble sculpture with the wet black eyes of an evil leopard seal. Nova Prime (Glenn Close) Xandar's no-doubt constitutional monarch, shows her authority by dressing like a monorail hostess.

Guardians even brings flair to stuff like the gunning down and zipping up scene; Rocket the raccoon adjusts his little raccoon courting-tackle as he struts in slow-mo. Rocket always steals the show—sleeping in a big, multi-colored snoring pile in prison, he awakes with bed-head, with one fluffy cheek flattened. We were supposed to consider Gamora at least half as cute as he is, but Saldana may have done this kind of role once too often to really wake up for it; she seems to have been made of vinyl from the neck down.

The living toys in Guardians of the Galaxy are badly behaved. Groot the tree-man impales an entire squad of soldiers with one of his branches and then whacks them against the walls of a space ship's corridor—in essence beating them to death from the inside out, a new one. Mission accomplished! Groot gives the camera a Goya-monster grin, the look of a proud toddler caught doing something really awful. "Think of them as paper-people," says Drax, advising the troops of how to treat the enemy before they attack. We're encouraged to get in the spirit of the fun of mindless space mayhem, and to try to believe any one of the gang could be killed. I'd prefer to believe Star Lord could be more magnanimous in victory; his calling the defeated villain "Bitch" stuck in my craw. If, like most of the material in Guardians, Ronan wasn't that original, he was a worthy enough adversary. And Guardians is far more lively than anything in the last three Star Wars; it's far closer in the constellation to the jokey heroism and the deadpan jokes of Joss Whedon's Serenity than George Lucas's New Age sky-piloting.

Guardians of the Galaxy

PG-13; 121 MIN.

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