Guardians of the Galaxy sneak peek proves Avengers wasn’t a fluke

In Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel brings together a band of misfits to fight evil. Image courtesy Marvel Studios

In Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel brings together a band of misfits to fight evil. Image courtesy Marvel Studios

Who are the Guardians of the Galaxy and why should you care? Marvel Studios gave lucky fans a nice long look at the weird team of space heroes during an extended sneak preview of the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie.

The 17 minutes of footage introduced the five key players: Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (played by Chris Pratt); talking raccoon Rocket and his treelike buddy/protector Groot; beefy blue badass Drax the Destroyer (part-time WWE wrestler Dave Bautista); and steely, green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana). It also gave us a sustained looked at the movie’s not-so-secret weapon: humor.

Opening Aug. 1, Guardians of the Galaxy is the latest flick to jump from the pages of Marvel Comics to the silver screen. It’s also Marvel’s riskiest project to date: Like The Avengers, it’s a tricky team-up flick, only in this case the superhero squad is composed of characters little-known outside the world of comics nerds. Iron Man was perceived as a minor character in the Marvel universe prior to Robert Downey Jr.’s first spin as the armored Avenger, but who’s heard of a talking raccoon named Rocket and a giant, treelike humanoid called Groot?

So, what did the world learn at Monday’s special screening (and in the new Guardians of the Galaxy extended trailer, embedded below)? There’s still a chance the movie, written and directed by James Gunn (Super), could end up a muddled mess filled with too many villains and secondary characters, but Guardians is looking like a wicked summertime romp filled with witty repartee and old-fashioned comic book fun.

Caution: Minor spoilers follow.

There’s gonna be a jailbreak: The 17-minute preview, which Marvel screened for free in IMAX theaters around the world Monday, starts with a typical police lineup that conveniently introduces the five criminals who will become our heroes. From there, the fast-paced preview jumped to the quintet being shipped to a maximum-security space prison known as The Kyln, where they quickly team up for some battle-the-cellblock heroics, a bit of catchphrase-punctuated slow-motion gun porn, a truly inspired jailbreak and loads of rapid-fire one-liners.

The trailer soundbites aren’t the funniest bits. If you’ve seen any of the Guardians of the Galaxy trailers, you already know Marvel’s blasting for your funny bone with this sci-fi action comedy. But the jokes came so fast — and worked so frequently — during the 17-minute preview that there’s every reason to believe Joss Whedon’s rare gift for comic banter has been successfully spliced into Marvel Studios’ DNA. And that’s a good thing: When was the last time you saw a movie where the biggest laughs were not in the trailer? A dark, gritty comic book movie this ain’t.

The raccoon’s a riot. Rocket, the team’s smart-ass spark plug, gets most of the punch lines in the 17-minute sneak preview. He’s not just a smart-ass, though. He’s also actually smart — you know, crafty like a raccoon — and he’s the brains behind the jailbreak. CGI can almost convince your eyes that the pint-size badass is a real talking, technologically augmented raccoon, but at times he looks a little rabid. (Maybe that’s the point.) At times, Rocket’s facial movements don’t entirely sync with his lines (voiced by Bradley Cooper), but the character is far more promising and watchable than I imagined when Guardians of the Galaxy was announced at Comic-Con International in 2012. It’s hard to know how an anthropomorphic raccoon will play over the course of a feature-length film, but for 17 minutes, the CGI seemed to do the trick.

The talking tree’s funny, too. Groot, an inscrutable (and apparently indestructible) humanoid that looks like a tall bundle of sticks, doesn’t get many lines. In facet, he simply repeats the assertion “I am Groot,” but somehow that simple expression (voiced by Vin Diesel) still manages to come off as funny. And the character’s offhand actions, like nibbling on a leaf sprouting from his own shoulder, make for great comic relief. He’s clearly Guardians of the Galaxy’s Chewbacca — sure to be a fan favorite.

Star-Lord might be your new Han Solo. He comes off more Ashton Kutcher than Harrison Ford, but Pratt’s take on the Guardians leader is cut from the same cosmic cloth as lovable rogues like Star Wars’ Han Solo or Firefly’s Captain Mal Reynolds. Maybe he’s just another sci-fi knockoff, but if nothing else, his love for ’70s pop powers a propulsive soundtrack that emphasizes the feel-good nature of this summer flick.

Marvel knows how to do team-ups. Comic books brim with team-ups and crossovers, but the idea of pulling together superheroes on-screen seemed iffy before Marvel’s big payoff with The Avengers. The studio plotted its route carefully to that blockbuster bonanza, though, bringing Iron Man, Thor and Captain America to the cineplex in their own individual movies. With Guardians, Marvel’s dumping the whole team of relatively unknown characters into our laps all at once. The good news? It looks like The Avengers wasn’t a fluke: The interplay between the characters in this sci-fi superhero team packs plenty of punch.

You’ll want to see it in IMAX 3-D. Some people don’t like 3-D, but for my money there’s no better way to see a big, CGI-heavy sci-fi movie. It’s not about seeing weird floaties or other gimmicks. That stuff can be amusing, but the real win is in making impossibly fake things (like a talking raccoon or a walking tree-thing) seem possible. There’s something about 3-D that makes all that computer-generated hokum look far more believable. I’ve seen Avatar in 3-D and in 2-D, for instance, and I can tell you the big blue Na’vi looked far more convincing when wearing those annoying glasses in the theater. Same goes for Guardians: From every bristling hair on Rocket’s head to the whirlwind fight in the space jail, every second of the 17-minute sneak looked fantastic on the giant IMAX screen. If it’s playing in that format near you, it’s a no-brainer.

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Lewis WallaceLewis Wallace is a San Francisco-based writer and editor specializing in technology and culture.

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