Marvel's latest offering comes from a property that was mostly unknown to all but the most rabid comic book fans, and here they attempt to turn a motley crew of otherworldly galaxy dwellers into a ragtag group of lovable crusaders. To that end it's a fairly enjoyable film, but it's still saddled with the problem of plugging any hint of unique weirdness into a formula that is so familiar and predictable by now that any audience member who's seen every one of these movies could write the script in their sleep.
It's frustrating because in this movie there are things to like, and qualities that make an attempt to distinguish it from the other franchises. It starts off pretty routine, with a young boy whose mother is dying in 1988, running away from the hospital only to be abducted by some space aliens, who then raise him to become an outlaw crusader in another universe. The outlaw becomes thirtysomething Chris Pratt, making his bid for stardom here as "Starlord," a name he gave himself as he hops to different planets, stealing various items for profit. His real name's Peter Quill, and he's a charismatic, goofy manchild who dances to his mom's old cassettes that she gave him, the "awesome mix" that certainly lives up to its name by containing a playlist of 70's hits that Quill grooves to as he scavenges for treasures to steal. That playlist gives the movie a nostalgic sense of fun (who doesn't love 70's oldies, right?) but I couldn't help but think a lot of these songs are in here to distract from the formulaic plot and story that could really be taken from any other Marvel movie.
Quill eventually has to team up with other outlaws and petty criminals which include Gamora (Zoe Saldana once again covered entirely in alien makeup, this time green) the daughter of future Avengers villain Thanos (barely seen here as Josh Brolin), a talking raccoon named Rocket (alternating between a mildly irritating/mildly endearing Bradley Cooper as his voice), a CGI tree plant called Groot who only ever says, you guessed it, "I am Groot" (Vin Diesel says it, although don't ask me why- they certainly could have gotten anybody for that thankless task- you gotta wonder how much he was paid for that) and another outlaw by the name of Drax the Destroyer, played by pro wrestler Dave Bautista. The group as formed desperately wants you to like them and think they're hilarious together, which is demonstrated by the constant wisecracking and snarky one-liners being thrown around, but the problem for me was that all this "hilarious" banter was just not all that hilarious. Very little, if any of the dialogue is more than mildly clever, and if you ask me it's a pale attempt to imitate the natural flow and rhythm that was easily on display in The Avengers (or even the new Star Trek movies, which as far as space opera goes, really do everything this movie tries to do and better). The colorful world of other universes are observed but never really explored in this movie, and every single scene with Ronan the Accuser (yet another utterly forgettable Marvel villain) took me back to the dark place I was in as I sat through the Asgard schlock in the Thor movies.
There are moments of strangeness and interaction between the cast that show how there might be some potential to do an utterly wacked out space movie with possibly these same characters, but none of it is allowed to last very long as any moment of unique oddity is always interrupted to send us back into the predictable plot of saving the world by stopping the "orb" that will destroy everything it touches, blah blah blah. I'm sick of it, and this same exact plot has been done way too many times to keep giving it a pass. The action scenes are similarly serviceable at best, and once again nothing we haven't seen before (and done better in both Star Trek and The Avengers). Perhaps I'm being a little too grumpy here, as the movie manages to be amusing at times (how it could it not succeed at least once or twice at that when it's trying this hard?) but there just isn't anything in it that's original enough to place it above the standard summer action romp. It's not bad, but it's also not good enough, and just being okay is no longer up to par when there are a million of these movies coming out every year to contend with. Unfortunately, given the way Marvel Studios has perfected their brand with the same formula driven success over and over again, I suspect we'll be seeing a lot more of this in the future. Which is too bad, because maybe this passes muster when you see relatively few movies a year, but what I crave is something truly different, and this one just isn't up to snuff in that department.
* * 1/2