…and the summer box office

GuardiansThe heroes currently guarding our galaxy aren’t exactly heroic: the dysfunctional team introduced to us in Marvel’s newest blockbuster is made up of outlaws, thieves, traitors, and (in some cases) genetically-modified creatures. They come together for a selfish purpose, but a quest to cash in on a mysterious orb ultimately unlocks a sinister plot to destroy the realms. In forcing its characters to discover their own virtues and establish a new definition for the term ‘hero,’ “Guardians of the Galaxy” became the fresh, funny, and unexpected hit of the summer.

Like most Marvel movies, “Guardians” requires a healthy dose of mythology before it can kick off the story. We begin our journey on Earth, where a young Peter Quill watches his mother die before being swiftly sucked up into the night sky in 1988. We reunite with Peter two decades later, where he has adopted a new name (Star-Lord), and is more-or-less partaking in a terrestrial treasure hunt. The self-proclaimed “legendary outlaw” is brought to life by Chris Pratt, who (despite starring in his first leading role) has a commanding screen presence.

In a complicated turn of events, Quill finds himself with a bounty on his head, and being hunted down by the odd group of hopeful reward-collectors that will become the Guardians: Zemora (Zoe Saldana), the green-skinned, surprisingly moral assassin; Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a trigger-happy raccoon with a knack for machinery; and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a benign talking tree that has only mastered three words of the English language (‘I,’ ‘am,’ and ‘Groot,’ exclusively in that order.). Along the way they meet Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a no-nonsense brute on a quest for revenge.

After a short stint behind bars, the gang decides to stick together just long enough to cash in a reward for the ominous orb that Peter discovers in the film’s opening scenes. The plot, beyond that, gets a little confusing: several alien baddies are also after the orb, one of which wants to use it to destroy the galaxy altogether. In typical Marvel fashion, the film suffers from trying to stuff too much of the comic books into a two-hour movie, and the result is a lot of conveniently-placed nonsense that works out in the end only because of the audience’s trust in the ensemble.

Despite the recycled good vs. evil plotline, the script (penned by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman) is full of surprises. Rocket is one particular standout, armed with an arsenal of both weaponry and insults, but cleverly humanized by the end of the film through relatable insecurities and an adorable friendship with Groot. The film is full of these little moments, like Drax putting aside his revenge and defending Gamora, or a Nova agent reuniting with his family after the final battle. Even the scenes that border on corny (like Quill and Gamora’s will-they-won’t-they romance, or the ultimate face off between hero and villain) are grounded with a quirky one-liner or a well-executed dance move.

Any film whose hero bursts into song during the final showdown has to be considered a risk, but in “Guardian’s” case, it was a risk that paid off big time: the franchise’s kick-off crushed its opening weekend with $94 million in ticket sales, which is currently the largest August opening since “The Borne Ultimatum” was released in 2007, and third largest opening of the year. As of Labor Day weekend, “Guardians” has grossed $2.81 million in the U.S., and currently holds the title of highest grossing film of the year. The film’s soundtrack, a collection of 60’s and 70’s pop called Awesome Mix Vol. 1 that Quill carries with him at all times, topped the Billboard 200 charts this summer.

“Guardians” has been so successful because it took the classic Marvel formula and spun it on its head, choosing to focus not on some unreachable definition of truth and justice, but the idea that we are all capable of heroism. It helps that the main characters act as a kind of intergalactic Breakfast Club, with relatable familial trauma and sharply funny quips, that ultimately comes together (just as John Hughes’ characters would), to find hope and salvation among one another.