Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Directed by James Gunn; Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista

Rating: 4/5

The latest in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe… hold on, is it still the latest? I’m reviewing these things too late for even the DVD release. Anyway, yes, it is still the latest. Avengers: Age of Ultron isn't out until May, so I'd better get writing.

So this is the film I eschewed last summer in favour of Inbetweeners 2. I didn't see Guardians of the Galaxy until it came out on DVD in December and quite honestly it’s the better of the two. I didn't really know what to expect. I knew it was adapted from a lesser known Marvel title that’s appeared in various incarnations since the ‘60s. I knew that I know next to nothing about comic books beyond the fact that Superman, Batman and Spiderman are a thing.

The vast interconnected multimedia project known as Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is a tangled web indeed, and Guardians of the Galaxy is only one small strand. People talk about these comic book movies as though they just couldn't wait for this beloved classic to hit the big screen, but this particular team of Guardians are only from 2008, so they’re hardly cherished childhood companions.

Forget about that. See Guardians of the Galaxy as a standalone sci-fi romp. See planet spanning empires, sprawling sci-fi cities, celestial worlds, fantastic alien races, spaceships, space prison-breaks, an atmosphere informed by the big leagues like Star Wars and Star Trek, but with none of those franchises’ inherent baggage.

Well almost; we do have Star Trek’s Zoe Saldana and Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan, suitably aliened-up in green and blue body paint as the duelling adopted ‘daughters’ of galactic arch-villain Thanos (Josh Brolin), a who employs a genocidal enforcer called Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) to do his dirty work.

The story follows the Han Solo-esque Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a scavenger, smuggler and all round space scoundrel who finds a MacGuffin while searching an ancient temple. It’s a mysterious orb of unprecedented power, and soon everybody’s after him. Along the way, he acquires a disparate crew of bounty hunters and outlaws, including deadly assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), genetically experimented-on raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper), taciturn tree-being Groot (Vin Diesel) and vengeful warrior Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista).

The cast is further padded by bit players including Glenn Close and John C. Reilly, although here we hit a slight snag in that the large cast of heroes and villains is almost too much for one film and many of them don’t receive adequate focus.

Under the titular moniker of the Guardians of the Galaxy, they are forced to put differences aside and team up against the much more despicable warmongers Thanos and Ronan. It might nominally be a superhero movie, but with such fantastic surroundings, it hardly feels like one. The characters too are not naturally noble, but outsiders and oddballs who have to really rally themselves to fight the good fight. Well, maybe that part’s not too different from the internal struggles or your average gritty 21st Century superhero.

A little like Futurama’s man-out-of-time Philip J. Fry, Pratt’s character Quill keeps it grounded with plenty of well timed 20th Century references (In fact the whole gang keep it light with plenty of well timed comedic interplay), as does the soundtrack which is all ‘70s and ‘80s rock pop and soul. In universe, it’s the playlist from Quill’s Walkman, a cassette tape labelled ‘Awesome Mix, Vol. 1’ which he listens to while speeding through the galaxy. Needless to say, I swiftly downloaded said playlist.

It all looks fantastic and more importantly is great fun throughout, with plenty of light hearted comedy balanced with the action and a solid cast who work well together. I'm sad to have missed the spectacle on the big screen.

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