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Directed by: James Gunn

Starring: Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Josh Brolin, Nathan Fillion, Dave Bautista, Benicio Del Toro, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Rooker, Glenn Close, Peter Serafinowicz, Lee Pace, Gregg Henry, Laura Haddock

In 1988, young Peter Quill (Pratt) is abducted by aliens on the night of his mother's death; decades later he's a womanising pilot who calls himself Starlord. Investigating a remote planet, he comes into possession of a mysterious orb, which half of the galaxy seems to want to get their hands on. After a run-in with Gamora (a green-tanned Saldana), who attempts to obtain the orb for the greater good of the universe, and bounty hunters Rocket (a genetically mutated raccoon voiced by Cooper) and Groot (a tree-like creature voiced by Diesel, though his vocabulary is limited to the single phrase "I am Groot!"), Quill finds himself sharing a cell with them in an intergalactic prison. Teaming up with musclebound inmate Drax (Bautista) the merry band plots an escape.

The Marvel juggernaut continues with this latest adaptation of one of their more obscure comic book titles. Few were aware of this property prior to the announcement of a film version, and if the comic is as bad as this movie, it's little wonder.

Writer-director James Gunn has stinkers like Tromeo & Juliet, Scooby Doo and Movie 43 on his CV, but that didn't stop Marvel entrusting him with this mega budget project. As the recent debacle of Edgar Wright leaving Ant-Man showed, Marvel seems to want film-makers they can control, rather than those with any kind of individual vision.

None of Marvel's offerings to date could be considered cinematic spectacles, and Guardians of the Galaxy is the most TV-like film we've seen from the studio. Despite being proffered to us in 3D, as every Hollywood movie unfortunately seems to be today, the movie consists mainly of close-ups of talking heads. Even the action scenes are shot in the blandest of TV fashion, and as with the previous Marvel offerings, it all ends with a climactic set-piece that runs about 20 minutes too long.

As dull and uninspired as Gunn's direction is, it's his script, co-written with first-timer Nicole Perlman, that really makes the movie insufferable. Like his lead character, it seems as though Gunn was himself abducted by aliens in 1988, and returned a quarter of a century later believing he was the first scriptwriter to inject irony and postmodernism into his work. GOTG is weighed down with pop culture references to a degree that even Tarantino and Kevins Smith and Williamson would consider over the top. Gunn seems to believe the mere mention of Kevin Bacon's name is enough to crack us up. Didn't that whole Bacon meme die out around five years ago? We also get to hear Glenn Close utter a profanity, which I guess is also meant to be hilarious for some reason. The soundtrack, meanwhile, commits the mortal sin of rehashing tunes we've heard used in countless other movies, thanks to the annoying plot device of a cassette tape of 70s hits carried around by Quill.

Pratt is a likeable enough presence, but he's far from leading man material. The awful dialogue he's straddled with doesn't do him any favours, giving his character the appearance of a high school jock being fed witticisms, ala Cyrano de Bergerac, by a chess team nerd. Saldana is physically exploited in a manner that even Michael Bay would find offensive, with the camera lingering on her ass whenever the opportunity arises, and it arises quite a bit. In the movie's few wide shots, Saldana always seem to have her back turned to the camera, though I'm sure this purely coincidental of course. Cooper does a decent job in voicing Rocket, who is by far the most interesting part of the film, a stunning CG creation. Diesel gets to utter one single line through the movie in his "Chewbacca as plant" role, which becomes irritating very quickly. Bautista's Drax doesn't understand irony, and this is milked for comedy, but the laughs are non-existent.

GOTG aims for the tone of late 80s action movies like Roadhouse, Tango & Cash and Big Trouble in Little China, but it replaces innocent naivete with knowing smugness, and the result comes off as a particularly expensive piece of Firefly fan fiction.

By Eric Hillis

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