When Marvel Studios, the behemoth behind The Avengers and the Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and Captain American films, announced they were making Guardians Of The Galaxy, many people were surprised. This property wasn’t well-known, quite the contrary in fact: even many comic book aficionados didn’t know all that much about Marvel Comics’ intergalactic band of misfits. Which is exactly why this James Gunn flick and Marvel gamble works so well: it’s a breathe of fresh air, a space opera unlike any other you’ve ever seen, and a comedic romp that’s equal parts heartfelt and crude. Guardians Of The Galaxy is a quirky ride with idiotic but loveable characters, a significant break from the superhero fare and heroes we’ve grown used to. To put a spin on a line by Rocket, a machine gun-toting raccoon and one of the movie’s main characters says at one point: “Ain’t nothing like Guardians Of The Galaxy, but Guardians Of The Galaxy.”
Right from the word go it’s obvious that director James Gunn was able to put his own stamp on the film. Whoever has seen Slither or another one of Gunn’s movies, can tell that Guardians is infused with the signature style and tone the director’s known for. What makes Guardians so unique though is that Gunn’s fingerprints are all over a big-budget sci-fi mega production, which gives this blockbuster the feel of a strange and off-the-wall indie flick. It’s a strange combination that works very well and because of it Gunn is able to flip some conventions on their heads: yes, GOTG is still a Marvel Studios movie, but here the familiar moments get undercut frequently. Leave it to director and co-writer Gunn to follow up an emotional beat with a crude and childish joke that makes you laugh out loud, or to have his main character Star-Lord work his way through catacombs like a dancing Indiana Jones and Han Solo mishmash. Where the first and third Iron Man movies were humorous and serious in equal measure, Guardians definitely tilts over into comedy territory and that’s a choice that works out really well for the film.
It also allows the characters to really pop off the screen. Guardians‘ crazy ensemble is truly a joy to behold: Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill a.k.a. Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, Bradley Cooper’s Rocket, Dave Bautista’s Drax and Vin Diesel’s Groot all have wonderful personalities that bounce off each other’s very well and their interactions is where GOTG is at its best. These five actors are visibly having fun with their parts and they make you believe that this ragtag group actually sticks together throughout the film; even when the writing’s iffy and some of the character’s decisions come off as forced, it’s Pratt and company who make you go along with the story because their characters are just so much fun to watch. The visual effects wizardry also has to be commended here: Cooper and Diesel’s voice work is fantastic, but the animation team makes you believe that their talking raccoon and tree are actually there and that these two experience just as many emotions as their human (-oid) team mates. Their feelings are gorgeously illustrated through subtle facial changes and a hint of a tear welling up the duo’s eyes; excellent work that rivals that of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes creations. GOTG makes you believe a raccoon can smack-talk.
The cinematography, visual and practical effects work, set and art design also presents audiences with a one-of-a-kind galaxy, a creation we often explore while listening to the movie’s wonderful soundtrack of ’70s hits. The movie’s action scenes are also wonderfully realized and work well thanks to the functional and equally crazy antagonists the film presents our heroes with. Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser, Karen Gillan’s Nebula, Djimon Hounsou’s Korath and Michael Rooker’s Yondu are all visually striking opponents and quite intimidating whenever they are on screen. But it’s here that GOTG drops the ball a bit: Ronan is a very scary and menacing villain but he has very little to do and because of it his presence isn’t felt whenever he is not in the frame, as it really should’ve been. There are definitely shades of Darth Vader in his character, but Vader’s relentless search was always in the background of the Star Wars films, which isn’t the case with Ronan’s fanatical pursuit. When he’s not there physically, the Guardians wise-crack, have drinks or perform crazy hijinks that are all fun to watch, but take away from the fear the film wants us to feel for the big bad. The movie settles for mentioning time and time again how dangerous Ronan is and how worried our heroes are, but instead of telling us about it, the film and script should have shown us Quill and company’s fear. GOTG never does though; in this case the movie is just too breezy and easy-going for its own good.
Guardians Of The Galaxy could have benefited from a stronger narrative, but its characters and James Gunn’s great and infectious tone really make up for the sole flaw the film has. 8/10