Like most, when Marvel Studios announced that the next comic book property they had decided to give the ‘big screen treatment’ was Guardians of the Galaxy, I did a double-take and asked “Who?” A quick Wikipedia search filled me in on the history of this relatively long-standing team of misfits, outcasts and outlaws. Despite a few memorable characters like Rocket, the talking, genetically-enhanced raccoon, and Groot, a giant tree creature with a limited vocabulary, the mass market appeal of Guardians seemed quite low. Even people who don’t read comic books have heard of Spiderman, Iron Man and Captain America – the same cannot be said for Star Lord.
It wasn’t until James Gunn was announced as the director of the project that my ears actually pricked up (or, in my case, ear). Having been a fan of his movies, like Slither and Super, as well as some of his writing credits, like Dawn of the Dead and the Scooby Doo films, he seemed to have the comic edge that a new property like Guardians of the Galaxy needed. As I walked home from the cinema last night, I thought how good it feels to be proven right.
• Director: James Gunn
• Exhibition: 2D/3D
• Rating: 12A
• Run Time: 122 mins
Guardians of the Galaxy tells the story of Peter Quill, aka Star Lord, a man abducted from Earth when he was a child. Alone in the universe, he spends his time flying from planet to planet, system to system, searching for treasures he can sell and people he can piss off. When he happens upon a mysterious orb, which puts him in the firing lines of some nasty people, he is unceremoniously thrown in prison with some fellow criminals. The aforementioned Rocket and Groot make up half of this band – with Gamora, a trained assassin, and Drax the Destroyer, no description needed there, filling out the bunch.
As a first movie in a franchise, Guardians is a success. We are introduced to each character quickly and given plenty of time to get to know them and how they interact with each other. The adventure focuses on the main Guardians and their relationship to Xandar and its resident S.H.I.E.L.D.-like organisation, Nova Corps. This helps to keep the narrative tight and simple, allowing the characters to become the movie’s main attraction.
The primary cast are all strong. Chris Pratt plays the rogue-ish Star Lord to perfection. Equal helpings of Han Solo and Tony Stark make up the lovable oaf. Bradley Cooper lends his vocal talents to Rocket and gives the acerbic rodent some surprising depth. Vin Diesel tries to give Groot as much personality as he can. The restriction to only three words makes this tough though and most of Groot’s charm comes down to the animators here. Dave Batista is solid as Drax, giving the muscle-bound maniac some quality deadpan humour. The weak link is Zoe Saldana as Gamora. She works with what she gets in the script but there just isn’t enough to her character.
With the focus so heavily on the cast, the villains of the piece get little screen time to make their presence felt. Lee Pace does an admirably job with little as Ronan the Accuser. Karen Gillan and Djimon Hounsou, as Nebula and Korath respectively, are not fleshed out at all. However, weak or poorly defined villains seem to be a problem in most Marvel movies and looks to continue unfortunately.
To talk about the movies successes, I have to mention the pitch perfect tone Gunn has crafted. After the screening, I described it as the quintessential summer movie. Guardians of the Galaxy mixes belly laughs with moments that had me teetering on the edge of tears. The opening has a gut punch that affected me as much as first few scenes in Pixar’s Up. A few minutes later, I was laughing uproariously to the antics of Groot and Rocket next to a water fountain.
The action set pieces are equally fun and impactful. The scenes in the prison were some of the most imaginative I have seen in a long time. The space combat and hand-to-hand battles in the climax are riveting, with the colourful, bright images helping to keep the action clear. In the middle of all of this, the quips and one-liners fly with impunity.
The world of Guardians of the Galaxy is one I’m glad I’ll get to return to. Gunn has created what feels like a lived-in universe. Quill’s ship, the Milano, has hints of the Milennium Falcon and Serenity to it. The world of Xandar does not feel like a cardboard set but a real location. With the announcement that Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is coming soon and will again be helmed by Gunn, not only will I be first in line on release day, I will no longer be asking “Who?”