One of the most anticipated cinema releases of the summer, Guardians of the Galaxy has a lot riding on it. On one hand, it represents Marvel’s foray into unknown territory – a raucous space opera that is self-aware, irreverent and features some of the their more obscure comic book characters - prior to the film’s release, anyway.
On the other hand, Guardians is still very much shackled to Marvels Studio’s existing continuity, and as such the story feels slave to the rather generic McGuffin-chasing plot that plagued Thor: The Dark World. All of which is building up towards the real climax that will be the third(!) Avengers movie that follows on after next year’s Avengers sequel: Age of Ultron.
Shortcomings of the plot aside, it’s the likeable characters and humour that is the real draw here. Chris Pratt is excellent as Peter Quill, a wisecracking rogue (the self-dubbed ‘Star-Lord’) who isn’t as notorious as he wants to be, who finds himself thrust together with a motley crew consisting of a green-skinned assassin (Zoe Saldana), the bounty hunting duo of Rocket Racoon and Groot (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel respectively), and the hulking bruiser Drax (Dave Bautista). From being adversarial to each other before eventually learning to work together as a team is certainly a well-worn trope, but the witty banter and interplay between them is such that they are a joy every time they are all on screen.
The acerbic Rocket Racoon (an almost unrecognisable vocal performance from Cooper) predictably gets a large portion of the laughs, but it is former professional wrestler Bautista as Drax (with his tendency to take all figures of speech very literally) that provides the most unexpected guffaws.
The main cast is so good that unfortunately the supporting cast don't really get too much time to shine. Karen Gillen is effectiive as icy sub-villain Nebula and Michael Rooker has his moments as a blue-skinned version of his character Merle from The Walking Dead (making good use of a nifty whistle-controlled spear), but there is just not enough screen time left for them. Similarly, the remaining impressive cast that includes John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou, Peter Serafinowicz, Benecio Del Toro and Glenn Close, only get a handful of scenes between them. Lee Pace is a threatening presence as the big bad Ronan The Accuser, but his role follows much of the same template as Thor: The Dark World’s chief antagonist Malekith – seemingly hell bent on destroying the galaxy by means of acquiring a powerful weapon (one of the infinite stones) just because the Marvel film’s overarching continuity demands it.
Still, the visuals are great, the action sequences do not disappoint and the climactic battle is suitably grandiose. The soundtrack is also bound to be talking point – largely consisting of kitsch hits from the seventies (deriving from the mixtape that is Quill’s only keepsake from his childhood on Earth), that interestingly serves the dual purpose of being nostalgic for older viewers (as is the space opera adventure of the film’s various influences), but also sounding very alien and out of place for younger viewers (which parallels how most other characters in the film respond when hearing Quill playing these songs).
Despite having to align with Marvel’s bigger picture, writer/director James Gunn has succeeded in managing to deliver an entertaining intergalactic romp that feels at once both familiar and yet also fresh and engaging. It’s not without its flaws, but Guardians of the Galaxy is a solid entry into the Marvel Studio’s repertoire and will likely appeal to both comic-book fans and the uninitiated alike.
2nd August 2014