From the beginning, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
was plagued by questions about a largely untested director and wholly unknown characters. It hardly helped that the initial trailer seemed like a “Hooked on a Feeling” video. As it turns out, it’s not so easy to ignore the soundtrack in this strangely wonderful, thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi romp. It centers on Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt), who was taken from Earth as a boy. How does he learn to embrace his half-human lineage? Via a cherished collection of soft-rock hits. As bounty hunters and assassins trail Quill through the cosmos, the wall-to-wall music feels bonkers yet perfectly apropos. Director James Gunn, who previously helmed a pair of clever indie genre pastiches, ignores the Marvel house style that’s quickly calcifying into brooding solemnity. Instead, he kicks up the summer jams of yesteryear as our ragtag menagerie follows an all-powerful orb, from a space-prison breakout to alien-cantina brawls, and he never surrenders the lightness of tone or the dark humor. As Quill, Pratt throws himself so bodily into self-effacing gags that it’s easily to overlook the real depths of his performance. After all, his character must forge bonhomie with a wrestler (WWE mainstay Dave Bautista), a cosplay icon (Avatar
star Zoe Saldana), and two figments of post-production wizardry (Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, voicing the cybernetically augmented Rocket Raccoon and sentient arboreal creature Groot, respectively). We see Quill’s singular neediness, and Pratt manages to make that unenviable premise—defending the universe out of fears of abandonment—funny, endearing and more or less believable.