Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hansou, Benecio Del Toro, Josh Brolin
Although I like to think of myself as “comicly enlightened” (i.e. I appreciate the value of a good comic book movie as much as the next man, and have a fair grasp on the various characters), even I was caught off guard when Marvel Studios announced at the 2012 San Diego Comic Con that the film that would lead into Avengers 2 would be Guardians of the Galaxy.
This news came a mere two months after the world got its first glimpse at the mad titan Thanos at the end of The Avengers, and all of a sudden we, the movie going public, were on very shaky ground. Adapting the likes of Iron Man, Captain America and Thor was one thing, when most people had an inkling of who they were, but I can only imagine that the Marvel Wikipedia searches in the summer of 2012 went through the roof as fanboys went looking for information on who these dudes were and what could we expect.
Well, all that research is about come to fruition as we finally get to see what Marvel has had in store for us these last couple of years.
To set the scene, Guardians of the Galaxy is about a group of criminal misfits who come together to save the galaxy. Oh, of course, there is alot more to it than that, but the important thing you need to know is that these are all rogues who each have their own agenda, but when they are thrust into each other’s world, they become something much stronger. They become friends.
But enough with the clichés, is the film any good, you are probably wondering by now. Yes. Yes it is.
This is unlike anything we have seen from Marvel to date. Admittedly it has the same formula of comedy, emotion, mid-film action scene and big finale, but beyond this, you probably wouldn’t have guessed this was part of the same cinematic universe.
It doesn’t have quite the same depth or have the same level of character development as the previous films, but what it lacks in those areas in made up for in fun factor. Boy, is this film a whole heap of joy.
Visually it is mouth-watering, as you would expect from a film set almost entirely in space. There isn’t anything overly original or creative, these are all worlds, ships and aliens we have seen in other sci-fi mediums, but they have blended it all together to make a pretty organic, realistic galaxy that has its own rules and diversities.
But that’s not what makes this film enjoyable. It’s the characters. This is a space opera, very much in the Star Wars mould, if not in the same calibre. Beyond the main lead actors, there are plenty of supporting characters who play their parts to varying levels of success, but Michael Rooker, Peter Serafinowicz and Benecio Del Toro stand out amongst the crowd, whilst John C Reilly and Glenn Close are vastly underused given their resumes
By the way, anyone worried by that weird performance from Del Toro in the Thor: The Dark World after credit scene will be pleased to know that his character has been hugely tweaked and toned down from then. Phew.
As for the main cast, Chris Pratt is good here, as the half-human half-alien gang leader Peter Quill AKA Star Lord. This is definitely a decent kicking off point for Pratt to become a star, which will hopefully be solidified with next year’s Jurassic World. I am a big fan of his, and although he does nothing wrong here, displaying his usual charismatic self, the character doesn’t have quite the same gravitas that Stark, Rodgers or Thor has to really take him to the next level.
Zoe Saldana is also decent here, and she is fast becoming one of the more reliable actresses in Hollywood. She plays Gamora, an assassin who wants to betray her adopted father, Thanos, and escape the cruel regime of his underling Ronan. Again, she isn’t bad, however neither does she excel.
Speaking of Ronan The Accuser, he is the main bad guy in this film and is played by Lee Pace. Whilst I have nothing against Pace, I have never had quite the same level of love for the guy that others do, but here he totally finds his groove. Usually with origin films, the villain tends to be a little flimsy, paving the way for the main star to shine, but this guy is totally badass. As strong as he is cruel and resolute, Ronan is a formidable villain for any hero to face, and Pace is exceptional in the role.
By his side, is Nebula, another of Thanos’ daughters. Karen Gillan dons the make up for this girl, and I will be honest, I am hugely excited to see “Amelia Pond” breaking into the movie industry. Here she outshines her adopted sister and gives a quite frightening performance. Nebula is not to be messed with. Ever.
Seeking revenge on Ronan is Drax The Destroyer, portrayed by Dave Bautista. Yes, the ex-wrestler Batista has a main part in this movie. It’s a weird casting choice, but oddly enough it is a satisfying and surprisingly good turn from a guy who has never been known for his mic work in the WWE. I will say this much about him, he has some truly great lines, and maybe he understands comedy timing better than we thought.
Then we have Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel. Again, this character was a huge surprise to me. He is essentially a walking tree, but he can manipulate his form so that his arms elongate, make wooden trees etc. Imagine Mr Fantastic but with bark. Unfortunately for old Groot though, he can only say three words: “I am Groot”. Given this lack of dialogue range, you would be forgiven for thinking his character is limited, but all I will say is that you would be wrong as he provides one or two moments of pure pleasure.
And finally we have the star of the show, the main attraction, the one character everybody (minus one or two) has wanted to see: Rocket Raccoon, as voiced by Bradley Cooper. Oh. My. Goodness. For all the hype this character has had, I was worried he wouldn’t live up to it, but boy, he steals every scene. His dialogue is the best. His action scenes are the best. His character development is the best. In fact, this film really should be called Rocket and Friends, because the little critter represents everything good about this flick. And that’s all you will get out of me on the subject.
Beyond the characters and the visuals, the soundtrack should also be mentioned given it is a large part of the story. Almost all of the music is provided by Peter’s “Awesome Mix Volume 1” cassette and walkman that he happened to have on him when he was taken from Earth in 1988. As such, the tunes are dated, but wow, what a great collection of songs. “Hooked On A Feeling” has got huge exposure due to its use in the trailer, but this is a sound track worth buying.
That being said, given its sentimental value to Peter, it almost becomes an extra character and once or twice it takes you out of the film, especially when the crew are arrested early on. A montage of footage is played, with “Hooked” blaring and although it wasn’t a terrible scene, it just weakened it a touch.
It’s refreshing to see a film which is intended to start a new franchise not spend too much time on the origin story, however that is a double-edged sword as it means that you end up having a whole ton of new information thrown at you without any real explanation. For example, the story largely revolves around Ronan’s attempt to seize an artefact known as an Infinity Stone, and although it is lightly touched on, there is no real detail on what it is or what it can do. Only those aforementioned people who did their Thanos research will know what we are looking at.
Speaking of Thanos, his name is littered throughout the film, but he is by no means the antagonist here. We do get a full glimpse of Josh Brolin in character, and although I think the CGI work could be a bit better, it was satisfying to have a tease of him without over egging the character. I cannot wait to see him take on The Avengers in a few years time.
For his first attempt at a blockbuster, James Gunn has done an exemplary job. It’s not at the same level of Winter Solider or The Avengers, but easily stands up to both Thor films from a purely “popcorn entertainment” point of view. With so very few big movies left this summer, this is a great way to see out the blockbuster season.