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Goofy ‘Galaxy’ soars high, if in typical directions

By Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman is a theater critic and culture writer with The Charlotte Observer.
    - MARVEL

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    ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

    A half-human, half-alien pilot forms a team to keep a magical orb away from a villain in this action comedy from Marvel Comics.

    B STARS: Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper.

    DIRECTOR: James Gunn.

    RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes.

    RATING: PG-13 (intense sequences of science fiction violence and action, language).

Two types of people are likely to enjoy “Guardians of the Galaxy.” I encountered the first in the parking lot after the screening, as he explained the intricacies of the comic-book narrative to his pal: “When the infinity stone glows purple, that means one thing. When it’s blue, it’s completely different.”

The second type is me.

I don’t care why Ronan betrayed Thanos or Gamora betrayed Ronan AND Thanos or which unseen alien was the father of the Star Lord or why piratical Yondu Udonta spared the life of an Earth child who grew up to save some part of the galaxy. I don’t even want to know why Kree and Nova warred for generations and suddenly signed a peace treaty. (Which, of course, Ronan and his half-machine sister, Nebula, disavow. Or maybe she’s not his sister?)

I want stuff to explode entertainingly in 3-D, I want a script full of snarky humor (in a movie billed as an action comedy, anyhow), I want Vin Diesel speaking as little as possible – five words in the whole picture, by my count – and Bradley Cooper speaking as much as possible, playing a genetically altered raccoon with a bad attitude. Oh, and Zoe Saldana kicking butt. Those things I got.

Like all Marvel Comics movies, there’s no attempt at emotional depth or complex personal narrative, except for one scene at the opening. We know that, even when one creature logically tells another, “This will kill you,” it won’t. Marvel doesn’t have the courage to permanently slay a likeable major character, especially when the walkoff at the end screams “Sequel!”

So be it. The film’s fast, amusing, good-looking and not overlong, which is all sensible non-geeks ask of such movies.

The title refers to five characters: Half-human pilot Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Saldana), Rocket (voiced by Cooper), an articulate behemoth named Drax (former wrestler Dave Bautista) and the inarticulate behemoth Groot (Diesel), a self-repairing human-tree hybrid with magical powers.

They wish to keep the infinity stone away from people who’d misuse it: Yondu (Michael Rooker), a rich freak called The Collector (Benicio Del Toro), power-mad Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin) and revenge-mad Ronan (Lee Pace, the usual classically trained actor hired to lend gravitas to villains).

Director James Gunn keeps them whirling around so quickly that we don’t have time to notice idiocies such as this: Yondu risks his life to obtain the infinity stone, presumably acquires it, then doesn’t bother to open the container to see if it’s inside.

Pratt, best known as a star of “Parks and Recreation,” gives a genial TV-sized performance; Saldana smolders; animators lend depth to Rocket and even Groot (though the actors help). The find here must be Bautista, who was known as The Animal on the World Championship Wrestling circuit. His juggernaut fighting skills and dry delivery make him the likeliest reason to sit through any sequel.

Toppman: 704-358-5232
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