Of course, it’s still a Snyder movie, which means plenty of stylized action. But for the director, whose bloody ballads include 300 and Watchmen, Guardians is a lesson in restraint. A father of six, Snyder is well versed in comic books and kids. He knows that today’s youth like their share of menace and dry wit. Snyder supplies both.
Based on the first three books of a 15-volume series by Kathryn Lasky, Guardians tells the story of a young owl caught in a battle between the noble Guardian owls and the wretched "Pure Ones," owls that seek a Lord of the Rings-style world of darkness.
It’s an easy enough premise to dismiss, particularly with cartoon owls as your stars. But if Pixar can turn a trash compactor (WALL-E) and aquarium fish (Finding Nemo) into cinematic gold, why can’t Warner Bros. do the same for owls?
The film opens with our hero Soren (Jim Sturgess) in a battle of flying strength with his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten). Pure Ones kidnap the owlets and whisk them to be brainwashed into soldiers. Soren — it’s pronounced much like "Sauron," as in Lord of the Rings— escapes, leading to a showdown.
And there are battles aplenty. The violence includes a few Snyder musts: slow-motion fights, whisker-close calls with a blade, overdone narration.
But this is 3-D the way it’s supposed to be done, painstakingly detailed and bright enough to see the story. It’s not going to make Avatar-type money, but even James Cameron might crack a smile — and raise an eyebrow at the very similar rendition of a holy tree. There’s even a little Star Wars thrown in, as a seasoned soldier tells Soren to "trust your gizzard."
Still, it’s not enough to upend Guardians. As a professed comic-book geek, Snyder works well in animation. The spot-on herky-jerky bird twitch is there, yet you can still find traces of the actors in the characters. This 3-D seduces you into its world instead of clobbering your senses.
Though the books were wildly popular, this could be a hard sell to parents unfamiliar with the story or intimidated by the trailers. But the film is surprisingly deft and entertains at both the adult and juvenile levels. If something in Guardians catches your eye, trust your gizzard.