DIG Box Office: “Guardians of the Galaxy” goes weird and wins big

BY: GREG DIAZ

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It was always going to be a risky proposition for Marvel to bring the Guardians of the Galaxy to the big screen. Unlike Iron Man, the X-men or even Thor, most people had never heard of the Peter Quill, Rocket, Groot and the rest of the Guardians before the film was announced. Yet after seeing Guardians of the Galaxy, everyone is going to know their names going forward. With Guardians, Marvel has created by far its most fun and funny film to date. Much of the credit for this has to go to writer/director James Gun, whose script really hits on what makes these characters unique in the Marvel universe.

Guardians of the Galaxy centers on Peter Quill (played by Chris Pratt), an orphaned earthling, living among the stars as a pirate and thief, who tries to stop a madman from taking over the universe. Really though, the film is about the makeshift family that is created when Quill joins up with assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), prison inmate Drax (Dave Bautista), weapons expert Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and walking tree Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel).

Gunn (“Slither,” “Super”) may have been an unusual choice for Marvel as his previous films are known for their gore and gross-outs. Yet, it ended up being the right choice as the enthusiasm Gunn has with the characters leaps right off the screen. There is always a palpable sense of fun among Gunn and his actors, whether it’s a $15 million dollar zombie flick or a $170 million dollar movie franchise.

Chris Pratt (TV’s Parks and Recreation) was another odd choice for this film. Marvel could have easily gone with a more established name to headline this film, yet they gambled on Pratt and it paid off. Pratt’s mix of humor and timing allow him to undercut many of Peter Quill’s more dramatic moments.

Much of the fun of “Guardians of the Galaxy” comes from two characters that have no business working as well as they do. Rocket, a talking raccoon with a gun fetish, and Groot, a walking tree that only says three words, could have easily fallen into the territory of bad comic relief. Yet what keeps them from joining the ranks of Jar Jar Binks and many of the Transformers are actual moments of personality and point of view. Rocket in particular really sells the outsider status that represents the whole group, much of it coming from the voice work of Bradley Cooper (The Hangover, Silver Linings Playbook).

As much as Guardians exceeded expectations, it still suffers from the pitfalls of several other Marvel films. With how interesting Marvel heroes can be, there is often a shortage of interesting villains and “Guardians” is no different. Lee Pace and Karen Gilan play the villains with the most simplistic of ambitions and almost no personality.

With as much work as was supposedly done with the 3-D conversion, it still leaves much to be desired. Gunn did such a good job filling each frame with detail and small visual gags and much of it was lost in the 3-D. Anything not center frame was left muddled and blurry.

With an opening weekend of $94 million according to The Hollywood Reporter, Marvel has become the resident kingmaker in Hollywood. In taking a group of unknown characters and launching them into the third-best opening weekend of the year (behind only Transformers: Age of Extinction and Captain America: The Winter Soldier).

For Marvel, the accomplishment is huge. They have taken a group of unknown characters, a cult director, and an untested leading man, and turned it all into the most fun summer blockbuster they have ever done. With a return engagement for the Guardians already scheduled for 2017, Marvel has decided to embrace its weirdness and not look back.