Chris Pratt is a movie star. At least, that’s the case if reactions from last night’s NYC screening of Guardians of the Galaxy are any indication. From an early moment in the movie where he dances and struts while exploring an alien terrain, it’s clear that the actor and his character are enjoying themselves -- and the audience is right there with him.
But this is not a review, or not entirely. Director James Gunn and his GotG cast swung for the fences here and succeeded in delivering a sci-fi flick that is gorgeous to look at and has a sense of adventure, but is also a hell of a lot of fun.
Yet, when I went to the screening last night, I wanted to keep an eye on how other people were responding. I have been looking forward this movie since Gunn unveiled the teaser at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con, and I think the audience I joined is solidly on board with it.
As previously mentioned, Pratt wins over the crowd as Peter Quill. He’s a likable hero without too much brooding. He’s cool but is also trying hard to be cool, which makes him funny. But when he starts kicking butt, it isn’t unbelievable for the character.
Though it may not be all that surprising that Pratt delivers (he lives up to the tone we’ve seen in trailers), Dave Bautista as Drax caught the crowd off guard with how good he is. The literal-minded Drax is serious but not stoic to the point of boring. Bautista goofs on the muscle-man character type a little, and people were commenting on how he pulls off fun and furious. There was a connection between the greenish hulk on screen (different one) and the viewers. We liked this guy, and didn't want to piss him off, but could hang with him.
Entirely not surprising is how much the Bradley Cooper-voiced Rocket Raccoon and Vin Diesel-voiced Groot own everything they do. These parallel-universe, ill-tempered Han and Chewie were getting some sort of viewer response with every line (which is only kind of one line, in Groot’s case). Afterward, I noticed people didn't mention Cooper or Diesel once, but couldn't stop talking about Rocket and the G-man.
It is hard to gauge how an audience responds to action sequences during a flick. I picked up on some cheers during a prison sequence, and the initial meetup between some primary characters seemed to get people warmed up. A scene with Yondu (Michael Rooker) did elicit a couple murmurs of “sweet” in my row as well.
I will add that the humor, of which there is a lot, doesn’t detract from a sizable amount of fighting and destruction -- much of which comes courtesy of our hero-criminals. In fact, the humor appeared to win over the audience, especially as a punchline to intense moments and big scenes. And the jokes landed enough to make a well-known NYC film critic sitting next to me chortle at least three times.
As a final note, I realized that the post-screening vibe of the crowd was quite upbeat. People appeared to have fun in Guardians, as opposed to, say, the vibe during The Dark Knight Rises. For instance, yes, there are a lot of musical cues from Quill's "Awesome Mix, Vol. 1," but they so effectively pull the audience along with the plot. The crowd I was with began making little predictions about the next song, chuckling when another recognizable hit from the '70s or '80s played, and even physically grooving along with it. Moreover, the post-screening chatter included people humming along to the songs that just played out on screen. Interestingly, that same chatter revolved more around the heroes than the villains, which is notable for comic-book movies.
Sampling one NYC audience of press, VIPs and select members of the public is not a great way to predict the success of a movie. But if it serves as any indication whatsoever, then Marvel has a new shiny gem to add to its growing cinematic gauntlet.