It is hard when a film is surrounded by as much hype as Guardians of the Galaxy has been. Marvel’s attempts to big up a very different kind of film in its recent oeuvre is understandable, they wanted the cinema going public to know who these characters were and be intrigued enough to come see it. Then things got out of hand: reviews started rolling in. They were not only positive, but genuinely excited.
Ok, so this might not be a bad thing for a big summer blockbuster (what would Michael Bay give to get critics falling over themselves for one of his films?!). But there is a problem. After the initial excitement, more and more people will go to see this film, spurred on by the excessive hype. Even the best films struggle to live up to their reputations sometimes.
I have been stupidly excited for this film for over a year. Taking what Marvel’s cinematic universe has been doing so well so far – adding a bit of humour, never taking itself too seriously – and maxing out on it, sounded like an idea too good to be true. But then the trailer came out, and ‘ouga chaka’ blared out of the speakers, there was no turning back. This film had the potential to be freaking awesome. And, for the most part, it doesn’t disappoint. Guardians of the Galaxy is insanely fun, full of fast-paced action, with a surprising amount of genuine emotion.
In 1988, a young Peter Quill faces mortality as his mother dies. Rushing outside, inconsolable with loss, Peter is kidnapped by a group of space pirates, the Ravagers, led by Yondu (Michael Rooker). 26 years later, Peter (Chris Pratt) steals an artifact from an abandoned planet. Before he can make his getaway, Peter is attacked by lackeys working for Kree religious fanatic, Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace).
Trying to make a bigger cut, Peter cuts out Yondu and attempts to sell the artifact – a mysterious orb – himself. Ronan, however, has sent the adopted daughter of Thanos (Josh Brolin), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to retrieve the orb. Gamora’s retrieval mission doesn’t go as smoothly as hoped when bounty hunters Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) get wind of the large bounty on Peter’s head.
All four of them end up arrested by the Nova Corps and thrown in prison. Gamora’s history of working for both Thanos and Ronan immediately makes her enemy number one amongst the inmates. While there, Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) joins the misfit group of outlaws. They must work together to keep the orb away from Ronan and save the planet Xandar from destruction.
Ain’t no thing like me, except me!
For a film with such varied, strange characters, it really does pull it off. Who would have thought audiences would love a genetically and technologically altered raccoon quite so much? And that we’d buy into his Han/Chewbacca relationship with a giant walking tree with a vocabulary consisting of only three words: ‘I am Groot’? Well, it’s official, we absolutely love them all. The charm of the cheeky humour combined with the very different characters makes for an exceptional film.
I’ve never been a fan of the self-righteous hero types, so its great to see outlaws as heroes in that Firefly style. We know they’ve got less than respectable pasts – and presents, and probably futures – but they are still good people at their core (just a little disrespectful of the law, and who could blame them?). Very few characters (and actors) can pull off the ‘totally good’ look (Steve Rogers/Chris Evans being the main exception). The audience roots for these characters as they have relatable flaws. While they manage to reach greatness, they are still, at their core, relatively normal (comparatively speaking – let’s just ignore the alien/genetically modified/magical/whatever-ness of their beings).
Grounding the film in the more identifiable realm, the use of the 70s and 80s pop songs in the soundtrack makes it far more immediate than a standard epic orchestral score might have done. This way, if anyone was resistant to being on board with aliens, raccoons, or trees, there is still Peter: ordinary human in extraordinary circumstances (with great taste in music). Chris Pratt as Peter is truly inspired. His energy and enthusiasm is infectious, and any a-hole tendencies of his character (for instance, his playboy ways) come across as charming.
The visual design – sets, make-up, and cinematography – are glorious. It is a sumptuous, fantastical world that I would love to escape to. The choice to use make-up on Gamora, Nebula, Drax, and Ronan ensured a more ‘real’ feeling to the characters. And given how much CGI was used elsewhere, it helped to not overwhelm the audience.
The acting was fantastic. Special mention goes to Vin Diesel’s Groot. How does he manage to convey so much meaning and emotion in just three words? I’ll never know, but the man’s a genius (and his excitement at being a part of the film is absolutely adorable). Appearances from Gilmore Girls favourites made my day – Sean Gunn (brother of director James Gunn), otherwise known as Kirk for fellow Stars Hollow nerds, and Logan’s a-hole father Gregg Henry as Peter’s Grandfather. I also noticed a fleeting glimpse of Brendan Fehr, Michael from Roswell – sad that he did not even have any lines. Nathan Fillion also crops up as the voice of a prison inmate.
Something good, something bad… a bit of both.
Despite what other reviews might have you believe, the film is not perfect. It has its teething issues. Unsurprisingly, a film that is rather ‘out there’ requires rather a lot of exposition to ensure that the audience isn’t totally confused. As a result, the first act of the film is a little slow and densely packed with explanations. Even by the end of the film I had quite a few questions – but luckily I had a comic book fan on hand to give me the low-down.
While the world and protagonists are given a lot of depth and background, we get next to nothing for our villains. Other than Ronan being some kind of religious fanatic and general nut-ball, I have no idea what his motivations are. Same goes for both Thanos and Nebula. Meanwhile, Nebula also has very little to do in the story and I wonder why she was needed at all – except to set up her potential role in future Marvel films. I would have liked to get a little more reason behind their moustache-twirling evilness and to understand their ultimate goals a little bit more. Sure, Ronan wanted to destroy Xandar, but then what?
I think the cheapest, worst moment of the film comes right at the end, leaving a bit of a sour taste in my mouth (a little spoilerific, so skip if you’ve not seen it yet…). As the Ravagers fly away, Kraglin turns to Yondu and says that it’s good they never gave Peter to his father as they were originally contracted to do. Well, state the bloody obvious why don’t you?! In case you hadn’t figured out that the mysterious identity of Peter’s father was important and would come out in the future, fear not, the script is there to STATE IT IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS. I am not a toddler, I can pick up on the hints. More than anything, it pissed me off. Do the filmmakers think their audience has the intelligence of a gnat? It ended the film with the worst writing in the entire script.
Verdict: Great film. Fun, funny, and highly enjoyable. The characters are all very different while remaining relatable and three-dimensional. If you don’t enjoy this film, perhaps you better check your pulse.