Before I launch into this I’m going to make it clear that a sense of trepidation still remains lurking in the back of my mind due to the effect The Avengers had on me upon re-watching it… basically, I loved it in the cinema, as my review testified, but future re-watches (two so far and likely no more) have left me entirely cold to what charms I thought it had – so with that in the back of my mind, onto Marvel’s most risky movie to date… Guardians Of The Galaxy.
Starting off with a flashback to earth in 1988, as soon as the titles have rolled we thrown to 26 years (and countless light years) later to meet Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) on a daring, Indiana Jones style raid for the movie’s chief maguffin. That then leads to the coming together of a band of misfits and, as it is a Marvel movie, them saving the day in a big smash-bang-wallop of an action sequence in the final third.
Mention of Indiana Jones really does sum up the tone of this movie as that, along with the better parts of the Star Wars series (and other lesser 80s sci-fi), are clearly major touchstones that director James Gunn (and no doubt producer and overlord of all Marvel movies, Kevin Fiege) were going for.
So, yes things are a bit derivative, we have an edgier take on Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia in Quill and Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Han and Chewie’s place is filled by the excellently done Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and to mix things up a bit a hulking angry guy hell-bent on non-metaphorical revenge, Drax The Destroyer (Dave Bautista).
But, despite the derivative nature of this, and let’s be honest Lucas wasn’t the first to use these archetypes, the film barrels along at full force and in fine fun style that swept me along with it.
Also much like Star Wars it does a good job of setting up the breadth of its ‘galaxy’ with visits to a few less than reputable locales reminiscent of the Mos Eisley Cantina, that make it clear this is a vibrantly populated universe only hinted at in the past Marvel movies.
Ok so, Star Wars comparisons out-of-the-way, what really made the story of Guardians work for me was that it didn’t dwell on its maguffins more than was necessary so we got what they were but I didn’t feel it was over done like it is in some similar movies (to be honest I was bored with the Tesseract before we even really saw what it could do) and, while we do have scenes that clearly set wheels in motion for the future (most noticeably our first proper introduction to Josh Brolin’s Thanos) these don’t over complicate things.
The performances are generally good and the CG characters fit in very well with the real life performers, so much so that soon after they appeared I stopped marveling (excuse the pun) at Rocket and Groot and just accepted them as characters, so huge credit to Framstore for a lot of that.
While I don’t think Dave Bautista should be pushed beyond this kind of role and Karen Gillan didn’t really show a lot of promise as cybernetic henchwoman Nebula, they still fitted the parts they were playing.
Chris Pratt on the other hand absolutely hit the nail on the head with his anti-heroic mix of well-meaning bad boy, cocky space hero and child of the 80s that while filling the Skywalker role, had plenty of Solo (and a bit of The Last Starfighter) to him to keep things interesting.
Ok, so far so much about what I enjoyed, what about the other side?
As with many of Marvel’s movies (worst of all The Avengers) there was little genuine sense of threat for the characters as despite a few happenings, I never really felt any of the antagonists were going to be enough of a threat to cause much bother.
While Thanos remained a distant threat the main ‘bad guy’ here was Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace). While he looked great (far better than Christopher Ecclestone’s Malakith in Thor 2, though with a similar vibe) he never really felt that threatening, despite his ‘Space Bin Laden’ style back story, and it was what I can only assume will be the maguffin for the next Guardians movie that thwarted him in surprisingly obvious fashion.
It’s clear when you look at director James Gunn’s past work where the sense of fun comes from. He is a graduate of Troma films and, while much of their output is grotty and downright bad beyond belief, his work on Tromeo & Juliet is one of their high points and its kitschy irreverence is present here in spades, as well as a great little blink and you’ll miss it cameo that pays nicely pays tribute to this past.
So, in the end, Guardians Of The Galaxy may not be an excellent movie, but it is great fun, knows what it’s trying to be and do, and has restored something of my faith in Marvel after the The Avengers and frankly God-awful Thor 2 and some of the production design, courtesy of artist Chris Foss, is excellent and a bit different to other Marvel fare.
I just hope Guardians stands up to re-watching and Marvel can keep up this kind of mix of quirky and interesting while still fitting their formula – though Edgar Wright being dropped from Ant-Man isn’t too promising on that front… oh well, role on the inevitable Guardians 2 and hopefully another spin-off hinted at in the post credits sting (though I know that one’s wishful thinking more than anything else).