Movie Review: Keeping the ‘Galaxy’ safe for comedy

Avengers with a rap sheet: Chris Pratt and company in
Avengers with a rap sheet: Chris Pratt and company in "Guardians of the Galaxy."

‘Guardians of the Galaxy’
★★★ 1/2

Not entirely a superhero-movie send-up, but not entirely the straight-faced real deal either, “Guardians of the Galaxy” somehow manages to mix both to spectacularly entertaining effect.

When it’s all over, though, you’re far more likely to remember the laughs than the explosions and the mega-heroics.

After running through its A-list stable — Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor and the like — Marvel Comics has taken a bit of a calculated risk with this lesser-known ensemble, an unlikely team of interplanetary outlaws banding together to defend the galaxy. Kind of like The Avengers, but with a rap sheet.

Chris Pratt of TV’s “Parks and Recreation” stars as Peter Quill (though he’d much rather be called Star-Lord), a likeably roguish freelance thief with a predilection for pratfalls. Han Solo with a silly streak. Nearly 30 years after being abducted from Earth as a boy by the alien bandit Yondu (Michael Rooker), Quill manages to steal a mysterious, extremely valuable silver orb coveted by Yondu and by a renegade warlord named Ronan (Lee Pace), a genocidal (and insufferably pompous) maniac in the service of the all-powerful, all-evil Lord Thanos (Josh Brolin).

Soon Quill is being chased by gorgeous, green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and CGI-generated bounty hunters Rocket Racoon and Groot (Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel) and they all wind up in space prison, where they meet muscle-bound, comically literal-minded Drax the Destroyer (wrestling champ Dave Bautista) and reluctantly join forces. They first plan to sell the orb and then, after realizing its cosmically destructive power, determine to keep it out of the wrong hands.

Sound complicated? It is, especially since “Guardians” keeps a constant stream of barely introduced characters walking on and walking off, while expecting us to keep up with barely mentioned past galactic conflicts and cross-referencing arcane connections throughout the Marvel universe.

On the other hand, none of that really matters. It’s basically a story of good vs. evil with a little redemption thrown in and the fate of the galaxy at stake. Just follow the bouncing orb.

There’s no shortage of terrifically executed action in “Guardians.” In fact, there’s more than a bit too much at the end, slowing down the story with an adrenaline-pumping/eye-candy overload. Fortunately, director James Gunn (who showed a similar knack with his horror-comedy “Slither”) keeps the emphasis on quirky humor throughout. And Quill’s “Awesome Mix” soundtrack of ’70s Earth hits, provides memorable touches like a prison break to the tune of “The Pina Colada” song.

Quill is a big-time star-making role for Pratt, who proves credible as an action-hero/romantic lead without sacrificing his comic strong suit. But it’s those CGI characters people will be talking about when they leave the theater: the permanently disgruntled, genetically modified Rocket and the walking, talking (sort of), sweet-natured, butt-kicking tree Groot. As in “ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” the real scene-stealers are essentially digital conjurations.

Maybe it’s time for living, breathing, flesh-and-blood movie stars to start watching their backs.

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