Guardians of the Galaxy (PG-13) (live-action/CGI)
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This is based on a team of heroes (or anti-heroes) from comic books that I've never read. So I don't know anything at all about any of the characters' history. But I didn't see the movie until more than a year after it came out, and I'd been hearing things about the movie since some time before it came out. So... by the time I watched it in October 2015, I pretty much knew what to expect. Sort of. I mean, I had a basic concept of what the characters would be like, but I knew little if anything about the plot, beyond the fact that it's set in some distant part of space. (I wasn't even sure what galaxy it's set in, or whether it's even necessarily a single galaxy. Doing a wee bit of research online, it seems like there are characters from at least three different galaxies, including our own. But the most important planet in the story, Xandar, is in Andromeda.)
The movie begins in 1988, on Earth. A young boy named Peter Quill watches his mother die in the hospital, after which he runs out into a field and cries. He's then abducted by aliens, and the story flashes forward 26 years. (As an adult, Quill is played by Chris Pratt.) He now calls himself "Star Lord" (which seems to fit his cocky, roguish nature, though later in the film we'll learn the real reason he uses that name is more sweet than cocky). Anyway, he steals an orb from a desolate planet called Morag, and barely escapes from some forces led by a Kree warrior named Korath (Djimon Hounsou), who was also looking for the orb. (We also soon learn that Quill is quite the player; whatever galaxy this is, it must have a thriving hookup culture.) And um... he was supposed to deliver the orb to a guy named Yondu, the leader of a group of "Ravagers," who had raised Quill ever since abducting him 26 years ago. But Quill decides to go off on his own, so the Ravagers will spend most of the movie tracking him down, as do various other people. Korath works for a Kree radical named Ronan the Accuser (played by Lee Pace, whom I mainly know from Pushing Daisies, and didn't recognize at all, here). Ronan is himself seeking the orb to give it to Thanos (a CGI character with whom I'm slightly familiar from comics as well as the cartoon Super Hero Squad Show). Thanos has promised to destroy the planet Xandar, which recently signed a peace treaty with the Kree. Ronan is totally pissed about that, for reasons that aren't really explored in the movie. (I know nothing of the war that preceded the treaty, but Ronan is some kind of religious zealot, I guess.) So anyway, Thanos has these two adopted daughters (of different alien races) named Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), both of whom he had trained to be warriors, and lent to Ronan to help him obtain the orb.
Quill takes the orb to Xandar, where he tries to sell it to someone called the Broker. But the Broker backs out of the deal when he learns Ronan is after it. Before Quill can figure out what to do next, he meets Gamora, who steals the orb from him, and there's a pretty cool chase after that, during which the orb changes hands several times. It's further complicated by a pair of bounty hunters named Rocket (a genetically modified raccoon-like CGI creature voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (a CGI humanoid tree voiced by Vin Diesel), who are trying to capture Quill so they can collect a bounty on him. (One of the things I knew about the movie well before I saw it is that Groot only ever says "I am Groot." He means different things by this, which kind of puts me in mind of Pokemon. And Rocket can apparently understand what he means, but no one else can.) Anyway, all four of them end up being captured by the Nova Corps, and go to prison. And one of the other inmates, Drax the Destroyer, tries to kill Gamora, because she works for Ronan, who had killed his wife and daughter. But Quill convinces him to let her live, because she had betrayed Ronan (not intending to turn the orb over to him after stealing it from Quill), so Ronan would be coming for her. Which meant Drax would just have to wait for him to come, so that he could get his revenge. Meanwhile, Rocket has a plan for a jail break, with the assistance of Groot, Quill, Gamora, and Drax.
Gamora didn't want Ronan or Thanos to get the orb, which could be used to destroy worlds. But she did have a buyer for it, the Collector. So they all go to some weird place called Knowhere, to meet an agent of his, who takes them to the Collector. Once they deliver the orb, the Collector tells them of its history, and opens the orb to reveal an Infinity Stone. (There are six Infinity Stones- called Infinity Gems in the comics- and a few of them had been seen in previous Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.) But... things go very badly, and then Ronan shows up, along with Nebula and other warriors. Drax fights Ronan, who turns out to be much too powerful for him. And Ronan gets the orb. After that, Rocket thinks they should all flee to some far corner of the universe, to avoid the destruction Ronan and Thanos will wreak with the Infinity Stone. But Quill convinces everyone to try to get the orb back, to prevent him from destroying Xandar, even though it seems like a suicide mission. Meanwhile, Ronan betrays Thanos, believing he no longer needs him, now that he has the orb. Ultimately, this ragtag team of misfits (who come to be called the "Guardians of the Galaxy," though that started out as a sarcastic jeer from Ronan) team up with the Nova Corps and the Ravagers to fight Ronan and his forces. Of course the good guys ultimately win, and the Guardians turn the orb over to the Nova Corps, for safekeeping. The Guardians all have their criminal records expunged (though a cop played by John C. Reilly warns them not to do anything illegal in the future... advice they're not likely to follow). Also, we learn something about Quill that I had assumed since the very beginning of the movie, though I won't spoil it. And then the Guardians all fly off together in Quill's ship, searching for their next adventure.
Well. Another thing I should mention that I knew about the movie well before I saw it was that Quill had a mixtape (Awesome Mix Vol. 1) that he often played. It was nice to see where that came from, and what significance it had to him. (I assumed it was significant because it was all he had left to remind him of Earth, but there's more to it than that.) And it has some really good music that fits the movie pretty well. Aside from that, there are numerous fun things about the movie. Pretty much the only major character who isn't a jerk is Groot, but despite that, I think all the characters are pretty cool and totally badass. And of course Quill has Chris Pratt's trademark goofiness. (He kind of reminded me of my Star Trek fanfic character Jax DeSabel, except that Jax is definitely not into casual hookups, and is only a rogue in his free time; he's actually a Starfleet officer. ...And man, it would be hilarious to see Peter Quill as a Nova Corps officer, don't you think?) The main characters are also fairly amusing, and I like how they kind of subvert (or at least lampshade) a lot of common tropes. Also, Yondu was pretty cool... and there was a really nice touch at the end, which was foreshadowed by a couple of earlier things that seemed to be minor amusing but pointless details, but ultimately demonstrated the affection Quill and Yondu have for each other. And... I'm probably forgetting various things I wanted to say, as well as leaving out things I don't want to spoil. But I do need to mention that, as with all MCU movies, there's a bonus scene after the credits. It's amusing, but unlike most such scenes, doesn't further the plot of the franchise in any way (probably). Anyway... it's just a really fun movie.
Oh, and there's a cartoon on Disney XD that came out after this movie, also called "Guardians of the Galaxy," which I haven't been able to see since I don't currently get that channel. I gather it takes place after the movie, but isn't officially part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Followed by Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2