One of the most admirable things about Marvel Studios and the way they make their films is that they are all, in tone and genre, nicely distinct from one another. We’ve had our typical superheroics with Iron Man, fantasy with Thor and war and espionage with Captain America. Now, in Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s finest film to date, we are treated to a sci-fi comedy which succeeds on just about every level, with genuinely funny jokes (after Lego Movie and 22 Jump Street, it’s the third funniest film I’ve seen this year), astonishing special effects and world building, and an absolute plethora of references and easter eggs for the more die-hard comic fans.
Spending only 5 minutes on Earth, GotG tells the tale of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a child of the ’80s mysteriously abducted into space after a family tragedy, and his journey from asshat thief (a mix between Indiana Jones, Han Solo and Captain Kirk) to asshat leader of potential galactic saviors. Once this motley crew is assembled, the film really kicks into gear, the chemistry between the actors coming across very clearly in their character interactions, from Quill’s pseudo-love interest Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to the brilliantly literal Drax (wrestler Dave Batista). The heart of the film is found with Rocket (a Bradley Cooper voiced raccoon) and Groot (a tri-syllabic tree creature played with genuine feeling by Vin Diesel). These two completely overcome the potential pitfalls of such inherently silly characters and their relationship and interplay form the emotional and comedic core of the group. Every character gets their moment to shine, and every actor does a really great job with what they’re given. A better ensemble would be hard to find.
A lot of credit for this, however, has to go to writer and director James Gunn, who wrangles this insane team brilliantly, keeping the key people layered and interesting and never getting swamped by the scale of it all. The fights are very entertaining, each Guardian bringing unique strengths to battle, whether it’s Quill’s wit and technology or Groot’s quite ridiculous strength and at no point does it get boring. The set-pieces fire on all cylinders, and the decision to build a lot of the sets rather than use green-screen was evidently the correct one. Then again, everything CG looks phenomenal, from the vast, colourful expanses of space to Groot and Rocket, both of whom are wonderfully expressive.
This is all grounded by Gunn’s script consistently keeping things funny. All of Marvel’s films have had an irreverent, quippy tone to them, but Guardians is the first one that could safely be categorised as a comedy. Pretty much every scene contains a laugh, even at the most romantic and dramatic moments. Not only that, but the humour also feels decidedly genuine, rather than just snarky, a problem sometimes faced by Iron Man. Some of the gags are also pretty rude, the most obvious example being an inspired moment which I shan’t spoil here other than to say Quill’s ship could probably benefit from a deep clean.
However, the film is not without its problems. For example, despite its great visuals, the climactic battle is a little too similar to the climactic battles from Marvels last 2 films (Thor 2 and Winter Soldier) and the core plot is rather too Macguffiny, although that is nicely addressed by the characters themselves. Clearly this is a film aware of its own limitations. Also, once again, the villain is a little lackluster. That is not to say that the big bad Ronan (Lee Pace) is as bad as Thor 2‘s Malekith – he has actual motivations and, in a rather ballsy move, is quite evidently based on modern-day fundamentalists, ordering suicide bombings and displaying an alarming degree of fanaticism to his people’s ‘old ways’ – more that a mask and a gravelly voice aren’t quite enough for a character to really spring to life on screen. His lackeys, Korath (Djimon Hounsou) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) fare worse, acting as throwaway ciphers whose only purpose is to be a bit more difficult to defeat than the Kree – the race to which Ronan belongs – goons. This problem is only accentuated by how exciting the heroes are, but a proper glimpse at Thanos reminds the audience that the ultimate villain is still on his way.
Ultimately, these issues did not in any way detract from my viewing experience during my time with the film, cropping up as afterthoughts after it ended, and Gunn’s screenplay’s wit and humour make sure that the criticisms that could have potentially been leveled at the movie become redundant. Guardians is not about saving the galaxy so much as it is a 5-person buddy comedy that just happens to be set in visually stunning deep space. The action is exciting, the jokes consistent and each lead actor is perfectly cast. This will almost certainly end up as the year’s best blockbuster and raises high hopes for the next few years of Marvel movies to come.
Written and Directed by James Gunn
Starring; Chris Pratt, Lee Pace, Bradley Cooper
Run Time; 121 minutes