With names like Star-Lord, Groot and Drax the Destroyer, the motley band of heroes at the center of Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy" don't have near the name recognition of, say, Iron Man or Captain America — but don't brand them the B-team just yet.
Directed and cowritten by James Gunn and starring Chris Pratt in the lead role (as Star-Lord, nee Peter Quill), "Guardians of the Galaxy" is racking up excellent reviews.
The Times' Kenneth Turan writes that "one of the most pleasant surprises of the altogether pleasant and surprising 'Guardians of the Galaxy' is that it takes us back to Marvel's roots and the subversive satisfactions those early days provided." The movie, he says, has "a loose, anarchic B-picture soul" and is "irreverent in a way that can bring the first 'Star Wars' to mind."
As a director, Gunn "doesn't allow anyone to take anything too seriously" and is "a fine imaginer of worlds," Turan says. Pratt, meanwhile, brings his character to "insouciant comic life."
The New York Times' Manohla Dargis agrees that the film has personality. "That there's a palpable directorial sensibility in 'Guardians of the Galaxy,' along with other signs of genuine life, helps separate this latest Marvel cash grab from a lot of off-the-rack movie cartoons," she says. And because Gunn directs "with an eye to those who don't know or care about the source material," audiences "don't need to be held hostage by the Marvel Weltanschauung to enjoy 'Guardians.'"
Claudia Puig of USA Today similarly writes, "No need to be a sci-fi nerd or a comic book geek to enjoy ['Guardians'], the witty banter and charismatic characters will delight general audiences. Even if the biggest laughs come courtesy of a talking raccoon [voiced by Bradley Cooper] and the more poignant moments involve a monosyllabic tree [Vin Diesel]."
Pratt is "terrific," Puig says, Zoe Saldana is "a top-tier female action star," and Cooper and Diesel's animated characters "steal scenes from the flesh-and-blood types."
Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune says "Guardians" is "looser, scruffier and more overtly comic than the average Marvel action fantasy. And despite the usual load of violence, not all of it properly handled, the film owes its relative buoyancy above all to Chris Pratt as the wisecracking space rogue at the helm." The movie works best, Phillips adds, "when special effects take a back seat to banter."
In a glowing review for the Washington Post, Michael O'Sullivan writes that "Guardians" is "as close to a perfect summer movie as they come." He adds, "It manages the trick of being both an unironic sci-fi action-adventure flick and a zippy parody of one. It's exciting, funny, self-aware, beautiful to watch and even, for a flickering instant or two, almost touching."
Offering a dissenting opinion is Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle, who characterizes "Guardians" as "a combination of comedy without wit, action without drama and elaborate visuals that are nothing much to look at."
He adds, "In place of wit, 'Guardians' offers a sort of generalized willingness to be amusing, an atmosphere of high spirits that feels like lots of people pumping air into a tire that has a hole in it. Everyone is clearly working, but nothing is really happening — and yet the effort is so evident that there's an impulse to reward it."