A New Group Of Heroes

James Gunn

Chris Pratt
Zoe Saldana
Bradley Cooper
Dave Bautista
Vin Diesel
Lee Pace

It has been highlighted that I rate the Marvel Studios films very highly (by me, among others). Frustratingly, for a critic, when a franchise, director or actor continues to put out exceptional work, you start to look a bit sycophantic and your reviews come off as obsequious. While this isn’t the case, I can’t deny the pattern. But comic book movies, like comics themselves aren’t all about superheroes; they’re a medium, not a genre. And thanks to DC COMPLETELY fumbling with Green Lantern the space-based science fiction is unclaimed territory. Well, it was.

Guardians Of The Galaxy wastes no time setting the tone for its epic space adventure. We are treated to a very brief but very touching opening, explaining how a young boy lost his mother at an early age and was abducted by aliens. Twenty six years later Peter Quill [Pratt] is the self fashioned adventurer, scavenger, pirate going by the name Starlord (well.. trying to). His latest mark is a mystical orb hidden in an ancient city on a distant world. We quickly learn this orb is wanted by multiple parties and Quill, unable to fence the stolen item, gets into a scrap with an assassin (Saldana as Gamora) and two bounty hunters (Groot and Rocket voiced by Diesel and Cooper respectively) and winds up in prison. Here he learns that the item he’s been carrying is not only valuable but world-destroyingly dangerous. With a weak alliance between his fellow captives and another convict by the name of Drax The Destroyer, this rag-tag group set out to make a stand against Ronan [Pace], a religious alien zealot hell-bent on wiping out the galaxy’s military force, the Nova Corps (to start with). And if they happen to get into mischief and make some money on the way, so be it.

A lot of this movie comes off as fresh and new, giving MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) detractors less to whine about. Guardians Of The Galaxy takes the standard Marvel Studios formula and heavily tilts in the humour direction. The misinterpretations between characters, the fish out of water pop culture references (very indicative of Farscape), the pratfalls and incessant screaming at each other while everything falls apart – we’ve seen these in the first nine films in Marvel’s “Phase 1 – 2” megaplan but they’ve predominantly taken a backseat to the action; utilised as a way to bring levity to the situation. Here, the levity is the backbone that runs throughout, with the peril, action, drama, heart and wonder as the secondary devices. One of the reasons for this is the multiple perspective narrative. Sure, Starlord is the main character but it’s a team flick. Before you open your talk hole and prattle on that “The Avengers was the first team superhero movie,” just stop. You’re wrong. The Avengers is a crossover movie and everything to date has been about a central standalone character (I’m naturally excluding things like X-Men and The Fantastic Four). This is the first team film, wherein each component is part of a whole; rather than ‘this individual accidentally became a superhero and now he fights crime and stuff’. Each character is introduced well in this movie and goes on to contribute to elevate the group. Quill, the leader with next to no leadership skills but a strong honour-among-thieves attitude is perfect for Pratt, who is going places FAST with his success in The Lego Movie and upcoming appearance in Jurassic World. I initially felt Saldana’s casting as Gamora was a tad obvious but they played well to her skills and didn’t include the character as just ‘the girl on the team’. Drax, played by Mr. Bautista. I was really worried about this. The man seems to possess little/no charm or charisma in anything I’ve seen him in to date but he was angry, funny, deep and a real surprise. The second Vin Diesel was cast as Groot, I knew we’d basically have the wooden version of The Iron Giant. And I wasn’t wrong! The man took a handful of words and gives the audience so much. That fucking tree will break your goddamn heart. Seriously. And finally, Rocket. If Rocket didn’t work, this whole film would flop. Anyone who has actually seen an interview with Bradley Cooper will immediately pick up that he’s not his character in The Hangover, he’s a multi-faceted, funny guy and this performance will silence anyone who thought otherwise. Bring them all together and you have an exceptionally well rounded group that delivers more heart, laughs and violence than most action films or comedies combined.

I’m particularly stunned this film has been directed by James Gunn. The man started out with Troma Entertainment and while Slither and Super were admittedly flawed but amusing, I never would have thought him capable of something like this. This kind of imagination, control, precision and spectacle (while retaining all the mainstream tick boxes) is usually reserved for someone like Guillermo Del Toro. But then, the Russo brothers, who I knew through watching the offbeat comedy series Community, produced arguably Marvel’s best film in the form of a dark espionage thriller. Alongside the keen direction is the beautifully immersive CGI. As we all know, visual effects age horribly but when they’re first witnessed they defy reality. Such is the way with this movie. The digital characters live and breathe believably, the landscapes and deep space exploration is captivating and the action is truly riveting.

But there are flaws. While this movie is packed from start-to-end with exceptional pacing and non-stop development, it often felt just a little crowded. Case in point, the roles played by Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Peter Serafinowicz and Benicio del Toro were largely underused and little more than lacklustre cameos – which is unfortunate. But on the other hand, if these characters, races or groups were explored more than they were, I could easily see the lore of the universe quickly bogging the film down with exposition and spooling sci-fi jargon. Quill’s also a weird one. I understand his character, his motivations, it’s his backstory I have a little difficulty with. You don’t question it at the time but when you think about it, there are a lot of odd unanswered questions. Specifically, a little more information about the timing of Quill being abducted from Earth might have been useful.. and he survived in an environment that he really shouldn’t have survived in very well. And where’s he been getting AA batteries for that walkman? Furthermore, the convergence of everyone looking for this ancient orb, all at the same time, seems a little too convenient. Then there are the technical issues: as with most of the recent Marvel releases, Tyler Bates’ score fits well at the time but is completely forgettable afterward. Perfectly serviceable but still the weakest element (excluding Iron Man 3 of course). Which leaves us with the Awesome Mix Vol. 1 compilation of seventies and eighties tracks that add levity and make up for the incidental nature of the main score. Personally, I think it’s a great touch and highlights Quills connection/disassociation with Earth and his past life but if it becomes a staple on the series, it needs to be something stronger.

You may want to know more about Thanos and the infinity stones and the credit sequences and all the other shit that bloggers and critics pack their reviews with but I’m going to happily gloss over all that. This is a wonderful standalone science fiction film; the fact that it even exists in the same universe as The Avengers is an added bonus. So whether you’re a fan of Marvel, superhero films or science fiction, do yourself a favour, give this movie a go and treat yo’self.

Release Date:
1st August 2014

The Scene To Look Out For:
I’m going to try and describe this without giving anything away.. which considering the scene, is going to be tricky. As the film reaches its final showdown between hero and villain, we are treated to one of the most hilarious and uniquely confident distractions ever. Brilliantly done with absolutely no shame. Oh. And we get the phrase ‘turd blossom’ as a bonus.

Notable Characters:
How can I put this…? Rocket Raccoon.

Highlighted Quote:
“Nothing goes over my head.. my reflexes are too fast. I would catch it”

In A Few Words:
“The word fun is one which is heavily overused in reviews but Guardians Of The Galaxy is a genuinely fun, fresh, exhilarating space adventure”

Total Score: