Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (M) (USA, 2014)

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Marvel Studios and the Disney team had a huge amount of reputation riding on this film after setting the bar ridiculously high with their ensemble action superhero fest that was The Avengers. With a bunch of characters who are mostly unknowns unless you’re a comic fan, this film would need to pull out some wicked moves to win critics and nerds alike and thankfully it manages to succeed.

The premise of Guardians Of The Galaxy follows the story of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), he’s a pirate/smuggler/bounty thief type who roams the galaxy looking for treasures to onsell. After attempting to steal a mysterious orb he gets tangled up with not only the law but Gamora (Zoe Saldana) who is after the orb, as well as Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his sidekick Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) who are after Quill and the bounty on his head. However the orb is also on Ronan’s (Lee Pace) wishlist for his own planet-destroying and Thanos-usurping plans.

As with all films where we’re starting from a relative blank slate writer/director James Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman have a bit of an uphill battle to establish not only our characters but our universe as well as drive the story. Unlike Marvel’s previous ensemble efforts such as The Avengers or even this year’s X-Men Days Of Future Past where we are amongst established characters who we know and love (or hate) and are familiar with their stories, Guardians takes a necessary but different approach. We are thrown almost completely into the deep end from the beginning, and instead of attempting to explain we’re just taken along for the ride. The first 15 to 20 minutes can be a little daunting at first, all these new names and crazy aliens and planets we’ve never heard of but Gunn works on the assumption that we’re all smart enough to pick it up as it goes along.

And to be honest, most of it doesn’t really matter anyway, by the halfway point we know what the deal is, who the goodies and baddies are and we’re hooked, and the pace at which everything moves keeps us glued to the action regardless. The story itself is a little thin but the film more than makes up for that with a focus on our characters and their development and how they “become” the group that ends up saving the galaxy in the end. Also the biggest thing this film has going for it is its comedy, there are a lot of laugh out loud moments with a combination of witty dialogue and pop culture references. This movie also in some ways makes fun of itself, by not trying to be too overly dramatic and it only ever takes itself seriously when it needs to, which isn’t very often.

Our main cast is wonderfully crazy and eccentric, and each one of them gets a chance to shine. Chris Pratt is a charming occasionally dorky but smooth criminal in Quill. Pratt’s performance is endearing for all the right reasons as our “everyday hero” who just so happens to be a thief. Zoe Saldana’s Gamora is a mysterious warrior who oozes badass but at the same time retains a deeply moral core that helps to steer the rag tag group in the second half of the film. Our two animated in both look and traits characters of Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) are a surprising dynamic duo. I barely recognised Cooper’s voice and could only see Rocket, a wisecracking weapon wielding super intelligent racoon. Whilst Groot who I initially wrote off as being somewhat redundant due to his dialogue only being repeated various intonations of “I am Groot” was wonderful in a dorky simpleton kind of way. The highlight for me though was Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer, we didn’t see much of him in the trailer and that’s probably a smart move because honestly he has some of the best comedic lines in the whole film and it would’ve been spoilt if we’d been made wise to how much of a gem his script is.

Our villains on the other hand sadly seem to suffer due to lack of screen time, what we do see of Lee Pace’s Ronan is not nearly malevolent enough because we’re never given any real background to his character except for a few almost throw-away descriptions told to us by other characters. Karen Gillan’s Nebula is probably the only villain worth caring about purely because she kicks some serious ass in the movie and also looks fantastic whilst doing it. We get a little bit of a taste of Thanos (Josh Brolin) but it’s only just a smidgen so we can only assume that he will make more appearances further down the track in future releases. Some of our supporting cast are fabulous, particularly Michael Rooker, and John C Reilly, though I felt that Glenn Close was probably underutilised, as was Benicio Del Toro as The Collector who we were teased about at the end of Thor: The Dark World, it just felt like a little bit of a letdown because his onscreen time was so short. Admittedly though he plays a vital part in putting together some of the pieces of the bigger Marvel jigsaw puzzle, I’ll give you a two-worded spoiler clue “Infinity Stones”.

One of the other standout features of this film that you will have noticed from the trailer is its use of kitschy 70’s and 80’s pop, rock and soul songs. I had reservations when I first saw the trailer about how they would make the music work in this sci-fi space opera without it sounding out of place but the execution and song choices are perfect. From Blue Swede’s “Hooked On A Feeling” to “I’m Not In Love” by 10cc and David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream”. Not only do they provide a plot point for our hero Peter Quill, but they also provide context and atmosphere for some of our character interactions and events that are occurring in the film. Also if you don’t find yourself chair dancing along to some of those songs you may want to check you’re not some sort of a robot.
Lastly we can’t go past the visual effects in this movie. With visual effects provided by the workhorse that is Industrial Light & Magic as well as Luma Pictures and Method Studios who also did work in other Marvel films like Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3 it’s clear to see that keeping some consistency with using the same production houses has worked in retaining that wonderful other-worldly and comic book feel.

Guardians Of The Galaxy brings together a disparate and diverse set of characters, each one uniquely entertaining, who then join forces out of coincidence and circumstance to become the superhero team we never knew we needed or wanted. The story is a little bit silly and the villains a little weak but these are only minor flaws in a film that is a purely fun romp and leaves you grinning like a fool after.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Running Time: 121 minutes

Guardians Of The Galaxy has advance screenings this weekend, and is officially released nationally 7 August 2014 through Walt Disney Studios and Marvel Studios