Sunday, 27 July 2014
Guardians of the Galaxy (12A/PG-13, 121 mins)
Director: James Gunn
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
The Marvel cinematic universe took a step away from typical comic book shenanigans towards more serious fare earlier this year with Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
It’s all colour and flash again though for Guardians of the Galaxy, which arrives amid high anticipation levels as the summer’s last major blockbuster. It’s also the most standalone film set in this world, linked to previous Marvel entries only by post-credit Easter eggs in Avengers Assemble and Thor 2.
In fact in tone, humour and backdrop the film it most closely resembles is Serenity, and it’s unlikely to be a coincidence that the director of that film and Avengers Assemble are one and the same. Endlessly glib but rarely smug, it’s a thrilling diversion filled with more funny lines and perfectly timed comedic beats than many out-and-out comedies.
It’s not all yucks though, and there’s a danger of it sinking under the weight of its own ambitions during an opening salvo that can border on gibberish. We’re bombarded by character names and place names to the extent that it seems like there might be an in-between film somewhere that we haven’t seen where we were supposed to have learned all this.
In a way it’s refreshing that over-explanation isn’t a problem, but a little more time spent on details might have been nice. But that passes reasonably quickly and what it boils down to is pretty much a treasure hunt between a bunch of interested parties who are after an orb that Peter has pilfered.
His efforts land him prison alongside a ragtag group of criminals and mercenaries. It takes quite a while for this lot to actually be announced as Guardians, and what it might be that they're guarding the galaxy from, but it’s worth the wait. The threat turns out to involve Lee Pace and Karen Gillan as murderous aliens whose stories and motivations are hashed out during the gibberish phase.
Despite the initial setbacks, it evolves into an effortlessly entertaining fantasy adventure. It’s an astonishing piece of world-building, filled with evocative locations, wildly imaginative gizmos and gadgets and some amazing characters. No one is able to steal the show among the Guardians because everyone, both the character and the actor playing them, is fantastic.
It’s a star-making turn from Pratt, who uses his roguish charisma to move up from amiable supporting roles in Her or voicing the lead in the Lego movie. Zoe Saldana is his match as the bloodthirsty Gamora, and while less might have been expected from wrestler-turned actor Dave Bautista, his portrayal of the vengeful Drax is as heartfelt and funny as any of the Guardians.
The computer generated Guardians are great too: Rocket, a raccoon with a plan voiced with real fizz by Bradley Cooper, and a walking tree voiced by Vin Diesel who can only say “I am Groot”. There’s an exuberance to the violence too, facilitated by all of the main characters being completely psychotic.
Pause for a moment to put Guardians of the Galaxy under any serious scrutiny and perhaps there isn’t really very much there. The plot is minor and the finale suffers from the same big-fight syndrome as most movies of its ilk, but it’s so slick, so entertaining and so funny that its flaws are easily overlooked.