01st Aug2014

‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro, Peter Serafinowicz, Josh Brolin | Written by James Gunn, Nicole Perlman | Directed by James Gunn


As a kid growing up in the late 80s/early 90s in a small town in Lancashire there weren’t many places to buy the comics I so adored. I had to rely on the book stall in the local market to pick up the comics I wanted to read – and those that just caught my eye. Back I had three staple titles I would collect: Justice League International, New Warriors and Guardians of the Galaxy. However these cinematic Guardians aren’t my Guardians of the Galaxy

Back then it was the adventures of Vance Astro, Charlie-27, Starhawk and a certain Yondu Udonta, who would travel the galaxy battling the Badoon. There was no talking racoon, no living tree, no Earth-man wannabe hero leader, no big green killing machine – they wouldn’t appear until 2008 following the massive galaxy-spanning mini-series Annihilation. As a fan of the original GOTG book I never really got into the adventures of Rocket Racoon, Groot, Drax the Destroyer, Gamorra and Star-Lord, I did dip in and out of the comic and, like all Marvel’s heroes do, the new team made crossover appearances in other books. But, even despite a badass gun-wielding, talking racoon, I never really got into this iteration of the Guardians. Yet this “reboot” of the comic is the one that Marvel Studios chose to bring to the big screen.

This Guardians of the Galaxy tells the story of Peter Quill, a child taken from Earth who grew up as part of the Ravagers, a space-faring fleet of intergalactic pirates led by Yondu Udonta (a character far-removed from the one I grew up with). Quill, who calls himself Star-Lord, finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan, a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits–Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon, Groot, a tree-like humanoid, the deadly and enigmatic Gamora, daughter of the cosmos-threatening despot Thanos, and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer. But when Peter discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last, desperate stand – with the galaxy’s fate in the balance.

As a comic fan I know the Marvel universe is populated with many different kinds of heroes, many different worlds and many different takes – even on the same character. After all, comics aren’t always written by the same person, characters are rebooted and whole backstories are re-written and re-imagined. So the Marvel cinematic universe should reflect that right? Not if you’re the handful of people complaining about this film it would seem.

There are a few, and I’ve seen one or two articles pop up online already, that will decry Guardians of the Galaxy as a drop in “standards” for a Marvel movie. Those people are wrong. I’ve heard people call for more serious Marvel movies like Nolan’s Bat-trilogy – whereas a comic fan I know that the Marvel universe is often much lighter in tone than the DC one. I’ve heard people complain this is “too funny” for a superhero movie – since when is it a crime to make a film funny, especially in the case of this particular band of heroes. How unfunny could you make a film that features a talking racoon and a living tree with a limited vocabulary? Those character scream funny and to ignore that would have been a huge mistake. A mistake James Gunn does not make. I’d even go as far as agreeing with those that said Marvel were even taking a gamble with Guardians of the Galaxy – imagine someone going into this film totally green. A super-serious take on these characters would be so off-putting it just would not work. The humour gives this films cast of characters humanity, and given that many of the characters are aliens from distant planets and our planet only briefly features in this space opera, thats just what Guardians of the Galaxy needed. Humanity.

Then there are those that complain there’s no real peril in this film… Er, since when has there been ANY peril in the Marvel universe?

In fact there’s no peril in ANY superhero movie – we all know in the world of the superhero that the good guys prevail. Especially when a story is limited to two hours. Fair enough the good guys can “lose” in a comic – Batman can have his back broken, Captain America can die – but in the comics there has always been an underlying theme that anything can happen and that anything can always be reset in some way. That wouldn’t work in the movies. For one Marvel Studios aren’t working with a monthly schedule in which they can string out stories; and two, I’m sure joe-public – whose never read a comic in their life but loves superhero movies – just wouldn’t stand for it. They want a story wrapped up, they want to see the good guys take a beating then mount a comeback and kick arse in the space of two hours. And that’s what they get from Marvel.

But the worst thing I’ve heard about Guardians of the Galaxy? That would be comments that said this film was a dangerous example of the Summer blockbuster, setting a bad precedent for things to come. Why? Could it be because Marvel took a risk with wild and wacky characters; or could it be that with this film they’ve [fingers crossed] successfully brought back the “B-movie” action-adventure (the type of which many of my generation grew up with thanks to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas) to the big-screen; or could it be the fact that Marvel let a former ‘underground’ filmmaker, used to making films on ridiculously low budgets, make a huge multi-million dollar blockbusting adventure. They did. And they should be commended for it.

As a kid I was enthralled by Star Wars, and its sequels, in particular Return of the Jedi – a film I saw multiple times in cinemas as a kid, often lying to friends that I hadn’t seen it yet so they’d get their parents to take me with them – and that infatuation with a sci-fi epic led to me watching a myriad of the “homages” that followed: Battle Beyond the Stars, Ice Pirates, Space Raiders. Movies that, at least in the case of Battle Beyond the Stars and The Last Starfighter, I have come to love MORE than the film that inspired them. Which, if I’m honest, is why I probably loved Guardians of the Galaxy as much as I did. This echoes the B-movie feel of those films I grew up on – the rollocking action and adventure, the strange characters etc., but on a much, MUCH, bigger budget.

Marvel have a history of making “interesting” directorial choices. From the first Marvel Studios film, Iron Man, to this, their latest, many of announcements of the people chosen to helm their productions have been met with a resounding “Huh?” But they’ve worked and nowhere moreso than here. The announcement that James Gunn would helm the next big Marvel summer movie couldn’t have been met with more stunned silence. Well, at least from the wider public. But from what I’ve read about James Gunn and reading the interviews he’s given regarding this film and those discussing his previous movies, he has always come across as some of a filmic fanboy. Why is why, I think, he was the perfect choice for this B-movie sci-fi space epic. Who else but someone who loves these types of movies, who’s experienced filmmaking of all types; hell, who was schooled by the legend that is Troma’s Lloyd Kaufmann (who, it turns out, has a hilarious cameo in GOTG), could pull off a film like Guardians of the Galaxy with such aplomb?

But it’s not just Gunn. It’s also his cast. You have to give kudos to Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, aka, Star-Lord. The same Chris Pratt who brought life to the underdog hero Emmet in The LEGO Movie, the same Chris Pratt who appears alongside Vince Vaughn in Delivery Man as his slovenly friend Brett, the same Chris Pratt who has garnered a army of fans from his role on Parks and Recreation. Here he does for Guardians of the Galaxy what Robert Downey Jr. did for Iron Man. He gives it a heart, A hero. A guy who you can’t help but love. From the cocky attitude to the impassioned speech he gives at the films turning point, Pratt literally knocks it out of the park. He has never been better. His performance is so good that I’m itching to see him go toe-to-toe with the cast of the Avengers – his characters cock-sure attitude would be a perfect foil for Downey’s Iron Man, his heroism a perfect foil for Chris Evans’ Captain America. In fact I’d love to see all of the Guardians of the Galaxy meet our Earth-based heroes. After all, isn’t that where we’re headed in the end with Marvel’s phased production schedule? Eventually bringing Thanos and these cosmic heroes & villains to Earth for an epic tale that has never been seen outside of comic book-dom? Oh and I do hope we get to see more of Lee Pace as Ronan, his performance brings the cosmic madman to life more perfectly than I could have imagined. Can we hope to see him actually go up against Thanos,as bombastically and as determined as promised in this film? Please Marvel. Please.

And don’t get me started on the possibilities that this particular film brings to the Marvel Cinematic universe. Here we have weird and wonderful characters that, under the guidance of anyone other than Marvel Studios, would never have been brought to life in the movies. Now they have it only opens the flood gates for some of Marvel’s other, more fantastical, cosmic characters to be given the spotlight doesn’t it? I’m talking Captain Marvel, Adam Warlock (who, at least in the comics, is key to the entire “Infinity Stones” stories), Black Bolt and all the Inhumans, Quasar, Gladiator and – and this is who I REALLY want to see in a Marvel movie – Richard Rider, aka Nova, THE greatest cosmic hero Marvel has; and I say that as a massive fan of Silver Surfer.

I will say that after watching Guardians of the Galaxy I was left with one burning question (well beyond whether we’d ever see another film featuring THAT fowl-mouthed Marvel character who cameos in the post-credits sting). Just what made Edgar Wright leave Ant-Man? There were reports that his vision and that of Marvel’s didn’t tally and so he left the production knowing hew couldn’t put his stamp on the film; yet there’s no bigger example of the “auteur” in the Marvel cinematic universe than this film – despite it’s source material and the undoubted demands of Marvel and producer Kevin Feige, Guardians of the Galaxy is a JAMES GUNN FILM. Not the James Gunn that gained a huge following from his indie hit Super (which it seems many critics are using as a benchmark to measure GOTG by), not even the James Gunn that made the fantastically ridiculous horror comedy Slither. No, this is the James Gunn that lensed episodes of PG-Porn, that worked on Troma productions all those years ago directing the likes of Tromaville Cafe, the James Gunn that wrote one of the best Troma movies of the 90s, Tromeo and Juliet. His particular brand of humour runs through this film like the very life-blood of the movie.

And the music, oh the music, I doubt anyone but Gunn would have chosen to put a 70s soundtrack on a modern day space epic – even if that epic was tinged with nostalgia and reminded me, in part, of the likes of Star Wars, The Last Starfighter and even Indiana Jones! It is at once both totally insane and a stroke of genius. The music is the hook through which we are introduced to Peter Quill, the hook through which he, and in turn the audience, are connected to “Earth”, and the hook on which this films heart beats. Gunn’s choice of music is easily as iconic and vital to this story as the music is to the films of Quentin Tarantino.

I could go on and on about just why Guardians of the Galaxy works but I think I might have gone on enough. If you’ve waded your way through this 2000-word plus review, which turned rambling defense of what I think looks to be the best film of the year, then thank you. If you skipped to then end to see a quick summary and my rating? Well it’s this:

Go see Guardians of the Galaxy. Now.

***** 5/5


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