Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Screen shot 2014-07-27 at 18.00.19Directed by James Gunn

Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana & Bradley Cooper

Guardians of the Galaxy is undeniably Marvel’s most risky movie to date for a number of reasons. Since 2008 the Marvel movies have become an unrelenting, almost omnipotent franchise which has started to monopolise the summer blockbuster genre. However, a large amount of the appeal of the previous movies was seeing already popular superheroes finally fight their way onto the big screen. Worryingly for Guardians of the Galaxy, they do not have this type of hype to rely on, being based on a significantly lesser known comic book series. Marvel has even gone so far as to publicly state this is their most daring film. John Carter, Disney’s last foray into the Sci-fi space opera territory, has become known as a renowned failure, so it’s surprising that Marvel’s parent company would want to give it another shot. Add to this the fact that two of its main characters are a talking raccoon and a (not so talkative) tree, and that its leading man, Chris Pratt, is best known as the ‘chubby guy from Parks & Recreation’, this film is certainly the underdog of the Marvel movies. But it is by accepting and cherishing this status that the film succeeds.

From its opening credits, where our hero Star Lord dances through an alien wasteland to ‘Come and Get Your Love’ by Redbone, the film sets up its mission statement; it just wants to have some fun and entertain, and the film does just that. Its tongue in cheek humour is probably its strongest aspect and is the source of a large proportion of its most memorable moments. While Avengers Assemble was credited as having great dialogue and banter between its characters, Guardians of the Galaxy – in my humble opinion –  tops it. The film is at its best when its oddball ensemble argue and bicker over what to do next.

Pratt excels as Star Lord, who is essentially a goofier version of Hans Solo, making for an effortlessly endearing anchor for all of the surrounding whackiness.The film also makes good use of his incessant references to 80’s pop culture, by not only playing it for laughs but also grounding his character. His tape cassette player and knowledge of pop culture are really the only things he has left from his short time on earth. ‘Awesome Mix Vol. 1’, a cassette given to him by his deceased mother,  is used to superb effect throughout the movie, infusing a sense of joy into the proceedings.

Saldana is solid as Gamora, who often acts as the group’s straight man, despite being a green skinned alien assassin. The movies two most daring characters, Rocket and Groot, also make for an effective double team. Groot, a tree-like alien voiced by Vin Diesel, doesn’t get much to do but is probably the most loveable of the group nonetheless, and has a couple of great stand out moments. Rocket, a snarky raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper, is probably the film’s most risky character. The few snippets of his Joe Pesci style voice I had heard from the trailers had me concerned, but he turns out to be far more than just a furry bag of sarcastic jokes and proves to be a fully developed and surprisingly endearing character. The weakest link of the main five is WWE star Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer. His character certainly has some great funny moments, where the film plays off his awkwardness and his inability to understand metaphors, but for a character that is supposedly driven by rage and a quest for revenge, I couldn’t help but find his performance hollow and lacking.

It’s in dishing out the emotional beats that the film struggles most. Each character is given their moment in the spotlight to show-off their backstory, but it often feels annoyingly forced and far too on the nose. One scene in particular, where Star Lord makes his first truly selfless act, feels too ludicrous even for this movie. It’s a shame, as apart from this the film is much more consistent in its tone and tighter and slicker in its storytelling than previous Marvel attempts. The action is well executed and fun, although not quite as engaging as Captain America: Winter Soldier. Story-wise, Guardians of the Galaxy does hit a lot of the same tropes as previous Marvel movies. Once again the McGuffin is a mysterious stone with unlimited power (i.e. Tesseract, Aether) and the villain, in the form of Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), is a character bent of world destruction with shockingly little back story (i.e. Malekith the Accursed). However the solidness of the rest of the film mostly makes up for this.

One of the most impressive facets of the film however, is the immersive world director James Gunn has created. It’s amazing how refreshing the daylight backdrop to the alien world of Xander is, as it makes the skyline and the world feel real and vivid. There are also no characters that feel irritatingly fake, with the possible exception of Thanos, who despite having a great vocal presence in the form of Josh Brolin, looks awkward and unreal perched upon a floating throne.

Despite the fact that Guardians of the Galaxy certainly possesses a fair few flaws, its an irresistibly  entertaining instalment into the Marvel catalogue. Aside from some of its ruder bits, it may not have rocked the boat quite as much as Marvel claimed but it’s at least dipped its toe into unknown and exciting waters. While Avengers was about a group of superheroes coming together, this film is about a bunch of outlaws and misfits doing the same thing, and there is just something so much more irrefutably compelling, entertaining and human about that.

3.5/5

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