Contributor; Toronto, Canada (@filmfest_ca)
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It starts with the soothing sounds of 10cc's "I'm Not In Love". Waves of reverb crash over the Rhodes electric piano riff, a building crescendo vocal harmonies that lead to the plaintive lead vocal line. Thus begins our look at "Awesome Mix 1", the cassette tape that serves as personal soundtrack for a young Peter Quill.

The opening sequence of the film is a flashback, and it's one that pulls few emotional punches. Sure, it's heavy handed (literally), but it demonstrates that James Gunn and his writers are trying something a bit different over here in this corner of the Marvel universe, adding in a bit more pathos to the proceedings.

Equally, there's a lot more overt silliness, and part of the charm of these characters is the way that they're heroic without needing to be particularly super. Quill's "Starlord" moniker is more joke than accurate description, and it's this cheeky self-awareness that makes Gunn, director of the sublime Super, so perfectly suited to tell this particular tale.

As your token non-comic book guy 'round these parts, I'd never even heard of these guys before the Marvel marketing machine brought it to my attention. A giant tree that only says "I am Groot"? A Beatles-inspired, genetically fucked with raccoon named "Rocket"? Sure, what the hell. For a guy that didn't know only a few years back that Tony Stark was Marvel's Bruce Wayne, kinda, it all seemed like more comic book drivel.

Yet I had hope when they picked Gunn, and for the most the film delivered on that promise. Tonally, it's quite a bit different than the other summer epics - it's droll, for one, with a whimsy that's refreshing.

This is the first giant-scale live action showcase for Pratt, and he does live up to what's required of him. I'm betting that Seth Rogen is a bit annoyed, given that clearly this role would have been more suitable to his proclivities than his turn as Green Hornet. Still, Pratt is more than capable of coming across as the sarcastic space cowboy with delusions of grandeur. While Pratt in minifig form will continue to be the highlight of his career for me, he does an admirable job at keeping the film together.

There's a slew of other fine performances, including a wise crackin' vocal turn by Bradley Cooper as Rocket, a deliciously green Zoe Saldana, and even an emotive Vin Diesel with but three words to work from in his vocal performance. The literalness of Dave Bautista's Drax wasn't mined quite as effectively as I would have liked, but he certainly looks the part of an otherworldly giant incapable of subtlety.

Plot wise we shift from a kind of Indiana Jones-y quest into a prison escape movie into a shoot-em-up. There's not much in the way of new ground tread here, but for the most part it's effectively entertaining. Action sequences are coherent if a bit derivative, but for the most part the film concentrates (rightly) on the interplay between the characters. The greater Marvel mumbo jumbo is at times distracting (should I care about the "Collector"?), and the "Wonder twins powers unite" notion of coming together is a nice visual way of making the story line's subtext overt.

Still, I can't help but feel that despite the new and quirky direction that the film takes, it's all getting a bit old hat. Maybe it's just that it's been a long summer of blowing thing up, but I did find myself waiting out the action bits in order to get back to some more character development. In this way, the film is kind of the opposite of action porn, where the money shots are the less interesting elements of the project.

With smaller character roles by the likes of John C. Reilly, it's these in-between moments that really shine. Elements from the background (like Groot reaching for a battery) are more effective than the eventual fisticuffs. In many ways, the film doesn't require a cinematic canvas, the explosions sometimes needlessly overwhelming the character parts. Yes, there's a Han Solo vibe to the thing, but equally there are echoes of Wheedon's Firefly show, a project that also had an interesting if somewhat flawed cinematic iteration with Serenity.

Whatever the stumbles, I did enjoy the film quite a bit, but I'm not sure it's something I need to revisit any time soon. The jokes work, but after a slew of teases and trailers, I'm also sure that they don't stand up too well to repeated viewing.

Yet like the (glorious) soundtrack, a mix of 70s shlock with deep soul grooves, there's something quite infectious and engaging about the work. For all its narrative baggage there's a real sense of fun at the heart of the film, a playfulness sometimes missing in the dour and overly pedantic mythmaking of other summer films. When all is said and done, sometimes it feels good to just feel the music grab you, to take that dance and sway as the Jackson 5 make a not-so-subtle plea for a sequel.

By its very construction Guardians of the Galaxy is trying to both be smug and self-aware, but also heroic and adventurous. For the most part the film manages to pull off this balance, making for a fun and many ways laudable film.

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Chris PrattGuardians of the GalaxyJames GunnMarvelNicole PerlmanDan AbnettAndy LanningZoe SaldanaDave BautistaVin DieselActionAdventureSci-Fi

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Around the Internet

MichaelJuly 30, 2014 12:44 PM

I've been trying to understand the chronology of events for Pratt's selection. Did he get the role then have to lose the weight or the other way around? Taylor Lautner had to bulk up for the second Twilight movie, but he was already very fit. Was it a gamble for a studio to choose Pratt hoping he'd be able to pull it off. Or was his ability to both lose weight and muscle up expected, he just wasn't putting in the effort.

HowardJuly 30, 2014 1:46 PM

gonna skip this one. Not interested in these minor marvel characters nor b-grade seth rogen.

RoboticPlagueJuly 30, 2014 5:40 PM

it's not too hard to lose weight and put on muscle when you have unlimited resources to do so. People are always like wow I can't believe his transformation. When you have trainers etc it's easy.

RawBeardJuly 30, 2014 6:30 PM

I may be mistaken but I think he got cast in this when he was filming Zero Dark Thirty or literally just before and had bulked up for that already.

Pa Kent Says MaybeJuly 30, 2014 9:05 PM

Oh horsesh!t. This is such a warmed-over, schlocky wise-ass of a movie! I'm sick of people trumpeting it as something of a gamble. There are a dozen things you've seen before JUST LIKE THIS. (At least, my generation had the sense to know FLASH GORDON was a turkey.) I'm also sick of real-world pop culture references used in absurd fictions. Lousy '70s pop songs. (I'm talking "The Pina Colada Song"-lousy.) Science-y-ish nonsense about orbs and/or portals. CGI and green-screen. STAR WARS. Superheroes. Bowl-of-Skittles color design. And, overstuffed plots with half-drawn characters. This is almost everything I dislike about modern movies rolled into a big, loud, long, garish, dumb mess. But, at least it isn't Nolan.

billydakingJuly 31, 2014 12:07 AM

"And get off my lawn!"

Matt SzczerbaJuly 31, 2014 1:19 AM

rottentomatoes so far is at 91% for this movie. your loss.

Matt SzczerbaJuly 31, 2014 1:20 AM

not only that but they have all the time in the world. they can train like a pro athlete and i'm sure the movie studio will even pay for a chef to prepare healthy meals for them.

ToryKJuly 31, 2014 3:30 AM

...Do you cry every night because Fellini's dead?

Pa Kent Says MaybeJuly 31, 2014 7:56 PM

Do you ever turn your brain on to enjoy a ride?

costelasAugust 1, 2014 12:27 AM

Although I like the review (spite of really liking the movie), it bothers me that you made real points about the four male central caracters, while Gamora was simply "deliciously green". And you might think that Zoe didn't do much, fair enough, but "deliciously green"? Really?

ToryKAugust 1, 2014 1:09 AM

Well, it's never off, really. So, my brain is on when I enjoy a ride, yes.

Jason GorberAugust 1, 2014 9:54 PM

Yeah, I think Zoe didn't do much other than be green (which, as we know from Kermit, isn't always easy...). Still, fair point. The intention was to indicate that she (along with the rest of the ensemble) are the highlights of the film, and that one has the most fun spending time with the characters, rather than simply reveling in the spectacle.

YojimboAugust 2, 2014 5:51 PM

I rather enjoyed it as a popcorn flick so what recent film or films do you recommend Mr my adopted son is an alien?

Pa Kent Says MaybeAugust 2, 2014 10:23 PM

I'm freaking tired of the "popcorn movie" defense. EVERY movie, no matter the genre, can aspire (should aspire) to the same "greatness" as any other movie, unless you're arguing for garbage like THE EXPENDABLES or SHARKNADO. You know this, because your avatar recalls one of the finest "entertainment first" movies ever made. The "dumb fun" excuse is just another way of letting your taste and discernment off the hook because you're embarrassed by its, um, size ("lack thereof" is implied).

There have been more good mainstream movies recently than I'd give credit to any summer in memory. The criminally under-appreciated HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2, for example. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, for another. Even THE LEGO MOVIE or THE WINTER SOLDIER, from earlier this year, are examples of "yummy" popcorn. UNDER THE SKIN, a polarizing experience, which polarization is more of a comment on just how dumbed-down we've all been by the Marvel Movie assembly-line. And, of course, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is still the smartest in the room. Don't be afraid to stand next to it. Something might rub off.

By the way, just to clue you in, since I know this is the internet and sarcasm is hard, my username is NOT a fanboy recommendation. It's snark.

YojimboAugust 3, 2014 5:03 PM

Popcorn used to be either salted or sweet it now no doubt comes in a myriad of different gourmet flavours (2nd time I've use the word myriad on this site)
I hate popcorn, edible polystyrene masquerading as food IMO.
My favourite cineaste snacks are a good Porter and a bar of dark chocolate.I have already enjoyed APES, LEGO, WINTER SOLDIER ,HOTEL thank you and look forward to watching DRAGON, SKIN.

This is the internet.
Where sarcasm more often than not lacks the necessary time, communication and information to live and breathe.
I did have an inkling that your username might be a snark due to your past posts and avatar pic and the name itself I was just snarking with your snark.
My Porter and dark chocolate picture pick recommendation for you would be IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE.