It’s only August (which in the past used to be the pinnacle month for summer blockbusters) and we’ve already seen three new instalments in established Marvel franchises: X-Men: Days of Future Past, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. They were all passable, but felt a little too… safe, almost going through the motions. Enter Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s gang of second rate heroes to completely shake up the comic book movie genre.
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a self proclaimed fabled outlaw who also goes by the name of Star Lord. When he steals a mysterious orb, he catches the attention of the villainous alien Ronan the Accuser. By chance and circumstance, Quill meets Gamora (Zoe Saldana), an assassin sent to retrieve the orb from him, Drax The Destroyer (Dave Bautista) a powerful prisoner with a personal vendetta against Ronan and the duo of Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel). Together, they form an alliance to stop the orb and its contents from falling into the hands of Ronan, thus becoming Guardians of the Galaxy.
For the most part, the cast each have their own unique qualities that makes the unlikely group of losers work. Pratt, in his first headlining acting role, shines tremendously as the narcissistic jerk of a thief Peter Quill. He’s not quite a show stealer, but his charisma as a leading man is undeniable. Bradley Cooper (The Hangover trilogy, Limitless) lends his voice to Rocket, the genetically engineered raccoon, in a genius piece of casting. On paper, the idea sounds ludicrous, but Cooper’s dry delivery of Rocket’s many cynical lines is hilarious. Vin Diesel steps into the ugly mo-cap suit to became Groot, a vocabulary challenged tree. He is only capable of uttering three words, but provides the most heartfelt moment of the film. Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Columbiana) is the weakest link of the chain as Gamora, being the most ‘stock’ of the group. There’s a distinct lack of chemistry between Quill and her, making a few scenes of intended sentiment fall a little flat. The biggest surprise of the bunch is Dave Bautista, better known as WWE star Batista as Drax the Destroyer. His character is far more than the ‘muscle’, he’s arguably the most intelligent – think of him as a beefed-up Spock.
On the villain side, Ronan the Accuser is an acceptable, yet unoriginal foe. His power comes from an alternate source, and without said source he’s not much more than a ‘yes man’ to an enemy worthy of the Marvel Universe – Thanos. Teased at the end of The Avengers, Thanos’ appearance here is brief but memorable. He makes his presence known, possibly setting up a more prominent role in future films.
Where Guardians really excels though is its humour: previous Marvel films have had the occasional witty line, but here fun takes the front seat and gleefully leans over to drive from the passenger side. The majority of sci-fi and comic book movie conventions are turned on their head – the most obvious being the final showdown between Star Lord and Ronan. Another startling, and possibly jarring aspect to some, is the soundtrack choice. It’s filled with the finest slices of funk, and compliments the accompanying scenes wonderfully. There’s also a score, but it’s a a run-of-the-mill orchestral affair.
Amidst the frenetic action scenes (a prison escape is a highlight), there are moments of unexpected beauty. Director James Gunn successfully manages to capture the vastness of space in a number of scenes, but a standout sequence between Quill and Gamora by a gorgeous galactic backdrop is breathtaking. Speaking of which, Guardians is a rare example of a film where the 3D is recommended. The aforementioned scene has incredible depth with the extra dimension, and there are other points in the film where impact is greatly improved due to 3D.
Guardians of the Galaxy is 2014’s biggest and most pleasant surprise. With memorable performances, an eclectic (but more importantly groovy) soundtrack and consistently humorous dialogue, it is an astounding success.
And of course, there’s a post credit sequence. But anyone wanting it to further the Marvel Universe, or tease at what the sequel may be about will be sorely disappointed, but it perfectly sums up just how much this film goes against what had become the ‘norm’ with superhero movies.