Abducted by aliens as a child, Peter Quill, Star Lord, is now a galactic bandit. His latest theft however turns out to be hotter than even he can handle, pitting him against TWO Alien warlords. Circumstances throw his lot in with bounty hunters, Rocket and Groot, assassin Gamora and the vengence driven powerhouse, Drax, a ragtag group who find themselves stuck between the Kree tyrant, Ronin, and the destruction of an entire planet.
Calling Guardians of the Galaxy Marvel Studios’ biggest risk and unknown quantity to date would be something of an understatement. In all fairness even avid fans of Marvels comics, until recently, had read very little in the way of Guardians comics. In fact the Guardians in their current incarnation are barely a decade old, why they chose this property to develop at all, one assumes, is either because they were approached from an outside source with a killer treatment or because they desperately needed a space based property to bridge the gap between seeds planted by Avengers and the inevitable throw-down with galactic super-badass, Thanos, in Avengers 3.
Whatever the reason they trusted this oddball property to an oddball director, James Gunn, who had seen much success in his written work (Dawn of the Dead, Scooby-Doo) but far less in his directorial outings. A grave injustice, because Gunn’s previous two films, Slither and Super, were funny and remarkably clever and interesting twists on the Alien Invasion and Superhero genres, respectively, in fact Super ranks amongst this reviewer’s all time favourite films.
Marvel’s smartly awareness building marketing strategy, led by numerous fantastic trailers suggested that this little known comic was going to provide us with one of the movie gems of the year, and would be the pole opposite of their other 2014 release, Captain America: Winter Soldier. One exploring the seedy underbelly of Marvels espionage community in as down to Earth fashion as the studio has ever attempted, the other exploring the far reaches of the literal Marvel universe, along with many of its alien cultures.
Well it seems the marketing AND creative pairing did the trick. Guardians of the Galaxy is a vastly imaginative, entertaining and sometimes touching blockbuster from frame one, with enough of an idiosyncratic edge to keep it well within the framework of Gunn’s output.
That idiosyncratic edge comes from the music selection and use of humour. Unusually for such a blockbuster, it is a particular narrative element that dictates the films 70s pop music soundtrack, which is at once at odds with the visuals yet somehow perfect and potentially iconic, really separating this from the pack of its pure sci-fi brethren. Don’t be surprised if you leave the cinema humming any number of these tunes.
More predictable was the humour, as Gunn, similarly to his directorial buddy, Joss Whedon, makes a habit of fusing humour into his stories. Comedy, as a genre description takes equal placement with Sci-fi and Action when describing Guardians of the Galaxy, each element being as dominant as the last, but as an important aside, the humour works, it’s a funnier film than many of the out an’ out comedies that have been released this year.
It could be suggested that there are tactics at play with the funnies; after all, how ‘seriously’ would the general public take a team that counted a tree and a racoon amongst their ranks if some humorous goodwill didn’t lay the groundwork?
Speaking of those characters, it’s a little ironic in a film where the entire backdrop is extraordinary that the characters themselves (at odds with the comic in some cases), besides the tree-like Groot, aren’t really ‘superpowered’ in any way, they’re more like a collection of scrappy badasses. To reflect again of Whedon’s work, you would be better served comparing Guardians NOT with the Avengers, it doesn’t feel like a superhero film, but with his other sci-fi classic, Serenity.
All the characters (once more at odds with the comics) become very likeable very quickly, each displaying an individual charm and wit, which has you on their side 100% throughout but unfortunately renders any rift between the characters sort of toothless. You just know they’ll be backing each other up again in no time. So, maybe not accurate interpretations of the comic characters, but in service to the film, all the leads do a grand job for the most part.
Zoe Saldana’s Gamora could have done with more edge, but that’s as much the script’s fault as hers, on the flip side you totally forget that Bradley Cooper provides the voice of Rocket, lord knows how they’ve augmented the voice, but you never once question that that wee racoon is in the same room as the other characters. Another positive are the unexpected bursts of emotion that come when exploring Peter Quill’s back-story, Chris Pratt handling these as well, if not better than the smirky, wisecracking scenes that we’re used to seeing him handle.
The villainous characters hold a much bigger question mark over the story than the heroes do. These villains are so damn powerful, that come the climax of the film you will genuinely be wondering how in the galaxy our lovable rogues are going to overcome them. An excellent and rare position to be in as a viewer.
The writing and visualisation of the sci-fi elements are very impressive. Odd make-up choices have been made for some of the alien characters, not so much totally relying of hefty prosthetics or GC as we’re used to, but combining those things with a more old fashioned style of just painting people up in various colours, it may take some people a bit of getting used to, but it’s all very charming. All the rest of the design work for the environments and vehicles and so forth are excellent and inventive, this giving the film its epic quality; and it truly DOES feel epic.
Some of the story elements, clearly used to tell a bigger story than it first seems on face value, adding more of that vital Marvel Universe stuff, may get lost on some viewers, but the central narrative is simple enough to follow, and if one were so inclined could watch this stood alone from the rest of Marvel’s output, with the unique quality that you’ll HAVE to watch this if you want to follow the plots that lead to the third Avengers film.
As far as the action goes, the space battles and chases are all great fun, messing around with physics just enough to illustrate that a decent amount of thought has been put into them. The one to one combat is pretty good, but nowhere near in the same league as the pure adrenalin rush and blunt force trauma that we saw in Winter Solder, but then, that wasn’t the emphasis with Guardians.
The pace too is very well judged, flitting between comedy, action and comedy/action with the occasional interjection of genuine emotion until it finishes leaving just enough open story threads to have you excited about a sequel but wondering where the time went.
Marvel, it seems, are so confident at the film’s success that they leave no room for doubt in regards to a sequel, a “Guardians of the Galaxy will return” title card actually preceding the credits… but don’t let the during credit material convince you to leave before the very end of the credits, there’s an excellent nugget there for oldschool Marvel fans.
Guardians of the Galaxy is pure entertainment and top notch science fiction. Not perfect but smart, funny, fast paced and a credit to Marvel’s ever expanding movie-verse. It might lack the pure action exhilaration of Captain America: Winter Soldier, but due to its colour and likable characters you’ll probably find yourself watching it more frequently.