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, Peter Serafinowicz and featuring 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.
Dubbed as Marvel’s riskiest venture yet in their sprawling, ever-expanding universe, Guardians of the Galaxy are not the household names that messrrs Iron Man, Captain America and Thor are. In fact, there are many who didn’t even know that this band of misfits existed at all, buried deep beneath The Dark World’s, Winter Soldier’s and terrorists named after fruit. Once Guardians has swept you up into its dizzying spell, you’ll wonder how you missed them in the first place.
Unlike any of the other Marvel superheroes, which all had a least some aspects of realism (i.e. taking place for parts on Earth), Guardians takes place in the far reaches of space and time. It does start in 1980’s Earth, before transporting us to the far reaches of the universe, as strange creatures and powerful overlords seek control of the galaxy, namely in the shape of strange Orb that is sought-after by big bad Ronan (Pace) and blue-skinned bandit Yondu (Rooker), but is currently in the possession of Peter Quill/Star Lord (Pratt), who is unaware of its massive capabilities. Desperately trying to stay alive while he gets stuck in the crossfire, he teams with a group of eccentric creatures, including Thanos’ adopted daughter, a talking raccoon and a tree, to save the galaxy once and for all.
What is the most surprising element of the film is just how much humour and frivolity is included in its two hour run time. This isn’t the dark, murky, gritty kind of comic book movie we have come to expect over recent years, it’s the complete opposite: a full-pelt, unabashedly cool, exhilarating adventure story that takes us to strange new horizons, crazy-looking characters and makes no apologies that it is a comedy film first above all. Guardians is such a breath of fresh air that it deserves even more kudos for being unlike anything that Marvel, or anyone, has done over the past decade, and should be rejoiced for the shameless pleasure that it gives us.
Director Gunn, whose previous films Slither and Super were two excellent pieces of work (and both very funny), is at the top of his game here. His energetic direction brilliantly matches the racing visuals, themselves full of wonder and color (and this year’s best soundtrack), sweeping you along like a never-ending rollercoaster, which turns and twists over and over, as you giddily scream with delight for the duration, not wanting to get off.
Indeed, it is perhaps even more of an impressive feat that Gunn, who co-wrote the film with Nicole Perlman, manage to keep the film so snappy and pleasing with the amount of characters that are involved here. Twelve (!) cast members have their names planted on the film’s posters, and while on other franchises too many characters and story strands have been their downfall, Gunn does well to keep all the spinning plates going as best he can.
That said, there are some that fall, mainly on the villainous side of the film. Lee Pace and Karen Gillan (as Nebula) are both decent enough throughout the film, but both suffer from the same fate as Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell’s villains in Iron Man 2, in that they are merely warm-up acts for the big show just around the corner. Indeed, it could be argued that it follows a story-arc straight out of screenwriting 101, but for a film that is as shamelessly enjoyable as this, those sins get a free pass this time round.
But we came for the Guardians, the ragtag group that comes together to save us all, and when they are on-screen, the film ignites. Pratt, fresh from his success with The LEGO Movie, plays the everyman hero well, despite a few comedic bum-notes; Dave Bautista shows great enthusiasm and comedy-chops as killer Drax; and Zoe Saldana, always a pleasure to watch on-screen, is as good-as-ever as assassin Gamora.
But the show is stolen by the vocal work of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, with Cooper in particular the star of the show. His hilarious Rocket, the film’s greatest achievement, is a whirlwind of sarcasm, dry wit and narcissism, and it could be argued as Cooper’s best performance yet. While Diesel deserves massive credit for the patience he must have needed for not only saying three words over and over, but in using those three words to deliver Groot’s “voice”.
Guardians of the Galaxy is unlike anything we have seen before in the field of comic book films, as is a timely reminder that not all of them need realism, or indeed to be connected with a big universe. In fact, Guardians is the kind of refreshing take on the genre that was arguably needed before overkill sets in. Full of everything you love about comic books but with an unabashedly comedic slant, Guardians of the Galaxy is the success of the summer, and while it isn’t perfect, it deserves to be embraced by everyone across the globe.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★