*** out of ****
Once upon a time back in 1984 a weird and joyfully crazy science fiction comedy titled The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension was unleashed on unsuspecting filmgoers. We haven't seen anything like it since. Now, Marvel Comics' latest movie adaptation, the wonderfully offbeat Guardians of the Galaxy, doesn't really come close, but it does have that same zany spirit as Buckaroo.
Guardians has the Seven Samurai formula with a group of unlikely heroes coming together to save the day. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) a.k.a. Star Lord is an earthling who roams the galaxy stealing artifacts. He also has an affinity for classic pop songs, mostly from the 1970's. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is a foxy, green assassin. Drax (Dave Bautista) is a muscle-bound alien who takes everything literally. Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) is a walking and talking tree. And last but certainly not least is Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), a wise-ass bounty hunter who happens to be a talking raccoon thanks to genetic alterations and cybernetic enhancements.
At the center of the conventional plot is a powerful orb that everyone wants, including the power-mad Ronan (Lee Pace). It's up to the five "guardians," who dislike each other immensely, to put aside their differences and come together to save the galaxy.
Director James Gunn's film is full of offbeat characterizations and witty back-and-forth banter. We also get pop culture references that range from Kevin Bacon in Footloose to the Maltese Falcon. Then there is the classic "Right Stuff" slow-motion group walk, but in this version Rocket is adjusting his crotch. The soundtrack of '70s hits (including "Come and Get Your Love" by Redbone, "Hooked on a Feeling" by Blue Swede, "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" by Rupert Holmes, "Cherry Bomb" by The Runaways, and "I Want You Back" by the Jackson 5) just adds to quirkiness of this science fiction action flick.
Of course, Guardians does settle into a familiar action film with a big battle finale, but the action stuff is exciting. It works because the movie has an emotional core and we understand what is at stake for these characters that we care about.