Guardians of the Galaxy – James Gunn’s retro sci-fi is a fun-fuelled addition to the Marvel universe

By now we’ve had plenty of funtastic Marvel films to sink our teeth into. A cocky metal superhero, a patriotic Super Soldier, even an all-powerful God – these films have broken the box office and always had an emphasis on the fun amongst the darkness. Yet with Marvel’s latest the adventure has stepped up even further, quite literally in this case. While both Thor movies have in part featured a world other than our own, this is the first time a Marvel film has focused on a whole story that for the majority of the running time doesn’t take place on Earth. Well where else are you going to encounter a talking raccoon and a tree with a catchphrase? That’s right, it’s Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) time.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

The location of these heroes isn’t the only thing that’s different. Guardians central heroes are nowhere near your average comic book do-gooder. The heroes we’ve seen before might be flawed, but they aren’t as flawed as these ones. These guys are all varying degrees of bad – a thief who calls himself Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), a deadly female warrior (Zoe Saldana), a prison inmate ominously called Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a genetically engineered raccoon bounty hunter (Bradley Cooper) and his tree-like sidekick Groot (Vin Diesel). All five find themselves reluctantly thrown together and even more reluctantly tasked with having to save the galaxy. Yet this alternative unwilling aspect to these lesser-known comic book characters is exactly what makes Guardians instantly more watchable than your usual superhero film. After all, where’s the fun in always having the perfect good guys trying to save the day?

Indeed while one of the keywords for this film is definitely ‘fun’ – in big, block capital letters – the most accurate description overall for it is ‘tongue-in-cheek’. Writer and director James Gunn has got the tone perfectly right – outlandish and hilarious, never taking itself too seriously. Gunn has also effortlessly avoided the pitfall of the dull first set-up film of a franchise, often a symptom of having to establish so many new characters. Yet after a brief moment of character backstory at the start (which is also a heartbreaking scene), Gunn and Nicole Perlman’s script drops us right into the action, quickly making with the laughs through their unique (and funky) introduction to the world and to the character of Peter Quill/Star-Lord. It is with this sequence alone that we buy straight into this otherworldly location, the success of which is also due to Chris Pratt’s instantly likeable performance in the role. Seriously, if there ever was a better choice than Pratt for Star-Lord, I’d like to hear it. He excels as the cocky, too big for his boots joker and is completely engaging throughout, making for a more than suitable leading man (something that is long overdue for him after being underused in so many secondary comedic roles).

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) – just two of the Guardians of the Galaxy

The humour and the tone aren’t the only things instantly likeable about Guardians. This also has a unique sort of look and vibe to it – a retro style that both homages and parodies the sort of sci-fi film seen in the 70’s and 80’s, in the same way Gunn parodied 80’s body horrors with his film Slither (2006). The retro feel is also down to Gunn’s choice of soundtrack – classic songs from the 70’s and 80’s (there is a reason behind this choice in the story, but I won’t spoil it) that again makes Guardians so different to what we’ve seen before. You’d think that this sort of old-school idea would clash with a futuristic sci-fi, but instead it enhances it, helping Gunn create a credible world that we fall in love with.

Indeed, while this takes place on an alien land we’ve never seen before, everything about this seems oddly realistic. The design, the sets, everything practically breathes and feels like it exists. Even the characters feel real and completely relatable, despite being from a different planet. Drax the Destroyer, despite his name, brings a surprising amount of heart to the group, as well as unexpected humour (Drax is a very literal being who doesn’t understand metaphors, something that makes for many great jokes). A character who is trying to find his way after a painful loss, it is a storming performance by Dave Bautista who brings strong emotion to the role and who feels completely real, despite being beneath layers of make-up and prosthetics. It also clearly shows the strength of Gunn and Perlman’s writing, as well as the performances, when the two characters who are the most relatable aren’t even there (beyond the motion capture used to create them). Yet Rocket Raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper is funny, crude and oddly lovable, and even more perfect is Groot, the tree-like being who only says one thing, yet who somehow manages to be the character you care about the most. Way to say that one line Vin Diesel…

While Guardians is a cut above the majority of Marvel (so far) and up there with Joss Whedon’s The Avengers (2012) in terms of entertainment, story and characters, it isn’t without its flaws. The plot, although enjoyable and engaging throughout, is nothing new: baddie wants a thing, goodies have to stop him getting the thing. It’s something we’ve seen a million times before in many comic book films. It doesn’t help that the villain looking for the ‘Orb’ is as one-note as a broken trumpet. Although Lee Pace plays Ronan superbly – all menacing glares and OTT scary speeches – he is badly underwritten with little motivation behind his actions, other than the fact that he’s there to simply provide a bit of friction for the heroes. More convincing is Karen Gillan as Nebula, who revels in the villain role and has a bit more of a part to play when it comes to her sibling rivalry with Gamora (Zoe Saldana who is exceptional as this interesting and resilient female character). Yet still you can’t help but yearn for a plot that has a more interesting main villain after something other than the usual MacGuffin.

The menacing villain Nebula, played by Karen Gillan

Disbelief will have to be suspended more than for other Marvel films (how can it not be when one of your main characters is a talking raccoon?…or whatever he is), largely due to the main otherworldly location, but James Gunn handles the source material superbly, creating a funny, self-aware and entertaining story that even has some genuine heartfelt moments. He also handles the epic fight scenes and set pieces superbly and gets the tone spot-on – retro chic set in space (helped overall by the perfect groovy soundtrack). Look past the boring villain and the so-so plot, and this is one of the best and most enjoyable Marvel films we’ve had so far. Being in the company of this intriguing bunch of misfits for the duration is a fun ride, and one that we’ll hopefully get the chance to hop back on when the Guardians return for their already highly anticipated sequel.


~ by square-eyed-geek on December 4, 2014.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: