Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
I’ve said it before, but it doesn’t get any less true: it’s crazy to think that back in 2011, Thor was considered a “risk” for Marvel. Two solo films and a billion dollar team up later and the God of Thunder is right at home alongside more “classical” heroes like Iron Man and Captain America. Anyway, the point of all this is that in 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy really feels like a proper gamble: a bold step into the whole “cosmic” element to the Marvel universe and a departure from the costumed heroics we’re used to seeing by now. Whilst I have a working knowledge of Marvel stuff, having read Spider-Man comics for years, I must admit I wasn’t too familiar with the Guardians, only having heard of Rocket Raccoon before, so this “going in blind” to a Marvel movie is a new experience for me and one I relished. Anyway, blah blah blah- point being is that the film is awesome and, if you’ll allow me, I’ll endeavour to tell you why.
“Why would you want to save the galaxy?”
“Because I’m one of the idiots who lives in it!”
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) was abducted from Earth by aliens at a young age and now lives life as a Ravager, a kind of space pirate. Quill finds a mysterious orb and steals it, unaware that he’s setting wheels in motion that may have huge, and possibly genocidal, consequences. Kree terrorist Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) sends a green-skinned assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saldana) after him to retrieve the orb. Unbeknownst to Quill, his boss Yandu (Michael Rooker) has also put a sizeable bounty on his head, leading two bounty hunters, a talking raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and a humanoid tree named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) to pursue him. By chance, we also meet Drax (Dave Bautista) a muscled madman with only vengeance against Ronan on his mind. After the group are captured and thrown together, they soon decide to put aside their differences and put a stop to Ronan’s nefarious plans. Sound complicated? It isn’t really. I just wanted to fit in as many of the principal cast as I could and I still missed out Benicio Del Toro, Glenn Close and John C. Reilly!. It’s mostly a fast-paced chase for the all-important orb and that’s fine. All the cast are fantastic. Chris Pratt is just teetering on the edge of serious superstardom and watching this, you can tell it’s well deserved. The guy is likeable and charming but can bring the emotional heft when needed. Peter Quill (or Star-Lord) is an interesting concept. Being a product of the ’80s, it’s like he’s emulating Han Solo, but not quite pulling it off. Both Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel do stellar voice work as Rocket and Groot, especially Diesel, who does a lot with very few words. Pleasant surprise of the film is pro-wrestler Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer. He gets most of the film’s biggest laughs, usually involving his race’s inability to understand metaphors and his propensity to take everything literally. Bautista plays it perfectly and is a joy to watch. The film does a great job of balancing these big personalities, but some do slip through the net. Zoe Saldana’s Gamora seems to not be given as much attention as the rest of the Guardians. She’s still a solid presence, but I get the feeling a lot of her stuff ended up on the cutting room floor. Big baddie Ronan wasn’t quite as menacing as I’d have liked him to be. He’s no Loki, but he’s no Malekith (the elf guy from Thor: The Dark World who was fucking rubbish) either. He’s more of a Vader to Thanos’ Emperor. Karen Gillan’s Nebula also gets slightly lost in the mix. Let’s hope the sequel does Gillan’s performance justice.
A lot has been made of the more comedic tone of Guardians in comparison to the more straight-faced Marvel stablemates. When the lights went down in the cinema, I plastered a pre-emptive smile on my face, just to save time for when the laughs started. The film then cold opens on a young Quill, in a hospital at his mother’s deathbed. My face fell. It’s a genuinely moving scene and I soon realised that Guardians may not quite be the lark-about space opera I thought it was. Don’t get me wrong, when the film gets going, it’s a blast, but it has the balls to strive for something deeper than that. Now, I have reservations in telling you this, for fear of some bigger boys coming to my house and beating me up for being a wuss, but I teared up at several points during the film which was unexpected to say the least. Guardians is brave as hell in the way that despite having a CGI raccoon and tree monster as part of the main cast, it never once treats them as two dimensional cartoon characters.They all feel like real people, not just caricatures spouting witty one-liners. It should come as no surprise to fans of The Iron Giant, but the combination of Vin Diesel and some seriously impressive animation manages to make Groot a hugely sympathetic character, despite being limited to three simple words.
The rest of the film is fast, fun and furious. The action is varied and exciting, the attention to detail is awesome and it all adds up to a hugely enjoyable experience. There’s a brilliant prison breakout sequence and some thrilling aerial dogfights that are just delights. I’m trying hard to not spoil specifics, but this is one of the most visually inventive films I’ve seen in a long time. There’s a goddamn planet that is the severed head of a humongous ancient beast, just floating through space. The Collector’s huge collection has some great visual gags and brilliant attention to detail. Every dollar of the budget seems to have been put up on the screen and that’s to be commended. Marvel Studios has learned the lesson that Hollywood in general consistently fails to take on board: if you’re going to hire a talent like James Gunn, Shane Black or Joss Whedon, for fuck’s sake step back at let them do their thing. In the same way Iron Man 3 was undeniably a Shane Black film, Guardians is definitely a Gunn production, complete with his trademark dark humour. The screenplay, co-written by Gunn and Nicole Perlman, is smart as anything and doesn’t feel meddled with. It’s not perfect, as there are some clunky attempts at theming etc, but the very fact that a film with a budget this big, based on characters even the hardcore nerds are only vaguely aware of, has such an uncompromising script is nothing short of miraculous. Also, the soundtrack is amazing.
“Metaphors go over his head”
“NOTHING goes over my head!… My reflexes are too fast, I would catch it.”
People who complain of superhero fatigue (dumb people, but entitled to their opinions nonetheless) just won’t have a leg to stand on with this one. It’s a fun space opera that is more sci-fi than anything else. It’s exactly what blockbuster entertainment should be- a fun adventure with characters you can (G)root for. I can’t express this enough- I am now a huge fan of these characters and can’t wait to see where they take them next. The already confirmed eventual meeting of the Avengers and the Guardians has me positively salivating at the prospect. This may just be my new favourite Marvel film. I will have to watch it at least 7 more times before I can be sure. Highly recommended.