Guardians Of The Galaxy
US (2014) Dir. James Gunn
Yes, I am a bit late to the party on this one, considering it was the biggest grossing film of 2014 and had everyone raving about it, but it’s finally come my way so here go.
The latest film to come from the Marvel universe is not a title I am familiar with (largely down to me having not read a comic books since I was 11 which was quite a few years ago now) so I had no expectations or points of reference going into it, aside from it being another Hollywood CGI fest. Given Marvel’s track record with me, which has seen mixed results, I was keen to see if the hype was justified and perhaps they had turned the tide and produced a decent film at last.
Plot wise this is standard sci-fi fare: Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) steals an orb containing the Infinity Stone villainous Ronan (Lee Pace) desires as a weapon for his campaign of destruction. Ronan despatches assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to retrieve the orb, but Gamora plans to betray Ronan to thwart his evil plans. During a public showdown the pair are arrested along with two bounty hunters, genetically engineered racoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and a huge tree like being Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). In prison they encounter Drax The Destroyer (Dave Bautista) whose family was killed by Ronan. The quintet team up for a jailbreak and stop Ronan before he executes his plan.
Obviously I can’t say if this storyline comes from the original comics or is exclusive to this film but it is an understandably functional thread around which a frenetic web of spectacular space battles and hi-tech thrills and spills are spun. This also means the characters are fairly flimsy in their construction with the barest of exposition afforded to central protagonist Quill. The extensive cast, and it is quite a monumental list, are introduced randomly without any rhyme or reason – mostly through the convenience of their jobs such as Glenn Close as chief law enforcer Nova Prime – except they inhabit the same universe.
Quill is in fact a human who was abducted by space pirates – led by Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) – as a kid in 1988 on the night his mother died. Adult Quill refers to himself as the Space Lord to much amusement of those around him but his prized possession is a walkman his mother gave him with a mix tape of her favourite hits of the 60’s and 70’s. Quite incongruous to the film’s futuristic aesthetic and hi-tech world, the soundtrack of classic pop and soul hits threatens to turn this into a Charlie Brooker satire but at least there is a plausible reason behind it.
Gamora was adopted by Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin) and is half sister to Nebula (an unrecognisable Karen Gillan) but Gamora wants to atone for her sins and preventing Ronan from getting the Infinity Stone is her aim to achieving this. Rocket and Groot just happen to be in the vicinity when Gamora and Quill first tussle with no explanation given as to how they met or why they stick together. Drax merely appears in the background at the prison then attempts to kill Gamora for what Ronan did, while Ronan’s motives for his actions are largely unclear aside from the pre-requisite megalomania all villains possess.
The script is the usual clunky but accessible family fare, with some slightly edgy gags that may be out of the grasp of the younger audience, hence the 12 rating, while some of the 80’s pop culture references again, while cute within the context of clueless aliens making them, encourage comparisons to a Family Guy spoof.
Yet having written all of the above while wearing my serious reviewers hat, I cannot deny that this film is quite fun in a non-stop, wise cracking, escapist popcorn nonsense manner. Despite not getting a hang on the various alien characters, there is a definite sign of inspiration gone into the creation of the many different denizens of this fantastic universe, taking in shapes, sizes, colours and life forms.
If this film achieves anything it is creating a world that is easy for the audience to become fully immersed in feel a part of for the duration, a visually detailed mixture of desolate wastelands, hi-tech architecture, asteroid filled outer atmospheres and suburban city landscapes based on designs rooted in our current modern day world. Similarly the wardrobe matches these environments accordingly: the bandits sport modest leather garb, the evil warlords have flowing cloaks and ominous helmets, military officials wear garish but pristine uniforms, and of course the women are poured into skin-tight leather and latex.
The action moves at a brisk pace perhaps too quickly for the threadbare story which barely develops, but this is an action flick first and foremost and it delivers sufficiently on this front to cover up the weaknesses of the script. It’s all rendered in top notch CGI but the problem is that with so much of today’s output from Hollywood being 99% CGI it’s difficult to really discern any noticeable advances in terms of quality or application, the standard is now so high and commonplace.
As a film that doesn’t lend itself to critiquing the performances, there is little to comment on except for how surprising enjoyable Dave Bautista was as Drax, having only known him as a stiff in his WWE run under the name Batista. Also turning in his best performance was Vin Diesel as Groot, although his only dialogue was “I am Groot”. Oh and Zoe Saldana still looks foxy despite being buried under a ton of green make-up!
Guardians Of The Galaxy both exceeded my expectations yet failed to completely live up to the immense hype that surrounded it, although as an unabashed popcorn flick it does everything it is supposed to a lot better than most other Marvel films.