Guardians of the Galaxy, 2014.
Directed by James Gunn.
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro and Peter Serafinowicz with the voice talents of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel.
In the far reaches of space, an American pilot named Peter Quill finds himself the object of a manhunt after stealing an orb coveted by the villainous Ronan.
Guardians of the Galaxy was always going to have a hard time against the bigger boys of the Marvel Universe. They are a group that aren’t even c-level players, directed by a man with mostly TV credits and cult movies to his name and a leading cast with no big stars that the likes of Iron Man and Captain America have. But it’s a movie that has defied the odds. Every element has come together so brilliantly that you can’t help but grin from ear to ear as the movie plays out in front of you. Guardians of the Galaxy is the most fun you’ll have in a superhero movie since The Avengers.
That’s not to say it’s a better movie than The Avengers because it isn’t – but it’s certainly on the same level of “fun”. It doesn’t focus on the perils of anxiety like Iron Man 3 and it’s not a political thriller like Captain America: The Winter Solider, this is a balls-to-the-wall space opera romp with a likeable and engaging cast of characters, a wacky universe of planets and a light tone that you don’t often see in comic book movies since the rise of “dark and gritty”.
Not only did the movie have to introduce us to 5 brand new characters we know little-to-nothing about, but it has to set up this universe, its planets, its inhabitants, its wars and peace treaties. It’s the equivalent of doing The Avengers without setting up the characters in previous movies. Credit to Gunn’s script and direction, Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t fall at this first hurdle, but it does feel very rushed. The story zips through from Peter Quill on Earth to 26-years later in space of him going on an Indiana Jones-esque quest for a mysterious artefact in the span of minutes. His time with Yondu (Michael Rooker) is explored briefly later on, but everything about Quill’s life as a human who then lives in outer space is left very vague. But with so many characters to introduce (and there a lot), these kinds of story beats will take a hit, with the idea of exploring them in future instalments.
Similarly, Lee Pace’s Ronin the Accuser is short changed in the villain role. Like Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith in Thor: The Dark World, Ronin isn’t really given much of a character and his motivations are never clearly defined. He has a deal with Thanos (who we see now played by Josh Brolin) and he has a beef with the Nova Corps peace treaty but none of this is every fully explained. We are just expected to look at him and say, “he’s the bad guy, we don’t want him to win”. The same can be said for Benicio Del Toro’s The Collector, who is reduced to nothing more than – for lack of a better term – an extended cameo.
But what this does mean is that more time can be spent with the Guardians and establishing their relationships, dynamics and motivations. This ragtag group of losers (to quote Peter Quill) are forced to work together, but in doing so become friends and teammates. It doesn’t do anything new or particularly creative with this set-up and it follows the story beats you would usually expect, but the chemistry between all five characters is magnificent. Chris Pratt is wonderfully likeable as Star-Lord and Zoe Saldana is excellent in the quiet role of Gamora, but it’s former WWE wrestler Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer who steals the show from an acting standpoint. His character gets the majority of the best lines, his fighting scenes are fun and his comedic timing is almost perfect. He stumbles over a few lines here and there, but he actually turns in a better comedic performance that Parks and Recreation and The LEGO Movie’s Pratt. And while he has a great dynamic with Pratt, it’s Bradley Cooper’s Rocket and Vin Diesel’s Groot who are the wonderful odd couple. Cooper is phenomenal in his voice work as Rocket and the script is clever enough so that his looks of a raccoon never overtake his character – Rocket is a character first, toy second. The same can be said for Groot who has just three words in the whole movie, but each line is said with different inflections. Huge credit should also go to Vin Diesel who apparently spent days getting each one his “I am Groot” lines recorded perfectly and his cadence and tone actually convey what Groot is trying to say without it being said.
This of course is helped by the awesome special effects on show which are incredible to look at. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has wowed audiences with its work with motion capture and will probably remain the best looking film of 2014, but Guardians of the Galaxy is a visual spectacle that never feels like a CGI-laden movie. Groot, Rocket and all of the CGI-altered aliens that walk among Pratt, Saldana and Bautista all look and feel genuine. This isn’t like the Lucas Star Wars prequels where nothing feels tangible, this looks like a real world which people inhabit. The fighter ship battle in the final act (although very standard) looks incredible and you will never look at Groot and Rocket as anything other than genuine characters on set with real-life actors.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Guardians of the Galaxy is that it feels like its own entity. Unlike the other movies of Phase Two, it’s not tying into The Avengers or building up to Avengers: Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy is playing in its own ball pit. Eagle-eyed viewers will see the visual references to the Tesseract and the Aether as part of the Infinity Gems, but for all intents and purposes, this is a singular movie that isn’t being an extended trailer for something else. This coupled with its tone and toe-tapping 80s soundtrack means that Guardians of the Galaxy is unlike any Marvel movie we’ve seen up until this point.
As a man who is nearing his 30s, this is a really fun ride that will had me grinning from ear to ear, but a kid would go ballistic for Guardians of the Galaxy. It won’t have the same cultural impact for obvious reasons, but Guardians of the Galaxy is Star Wars for a new generation. You find yourself immersed into this strange and bizarre world and you will want to explore more of it. The possibilities for sequels feels clear as well as cross-over potential with other Marvel properties.
There is a time and place for “dark and gritty” superhero movies and those who do it, do it well. But this is not the time or the place. Guardians of the Galaxy needed to be a fun and light hearted romp and it is just that. The characters are likeable, their dynamics are engaging and the world they inhabit is spell-binding. There are problems with the core story, villain strands and it crams too much into a short space of time, but if you don’t leave the cinema with a grin on your face then there is something wrong with you. It has its flaws, but Guardians of the Galaxy is easily the most fun you’ll have at a cinema this year. They may have been unknown players in the Marvel Universe, but this is a movie that deserves to make them household names.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Luke Owen is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.