Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the GalaxyAbducted from Earth in the year 1988, mere minutes after the death of his mother, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) has grown up in the company of space pirates. While trying to retrieve a mysterious orb from an abandoned planet, Quill is interrupted by a group of Kree hunters under identical orders from Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). He escapes — just — only to run into a couple of bounty hunters and an assassin who want him for a variety of reasons. As Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) attempt to capture Quill in order to claim a reward and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) chases the orb they are all arrested by Nova Prime, an intergalactic police force lead by Nova Prime (Glenn Close). They manage to escape — just — before Ronan and Nebula (Karen Gillan) can arrive for the orb, having recruited a fifth member in Drax (Dave Bautista), who seeks revenge on The Accuser for murdering his family. Having struck an uneasy alliance, the Guardians of the Galaxy set out to do something good, something bad, or a bit of both.

The tenth instalment of Marvel’s long-running cinematic universe, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy is the first origin story of Phase Two. Although not quite stand-alone (a Dark Elf is glimpsed in The Collector’s gallery and Thanos makes his first appearance since The Avengers), it still marks something of a departure for the studio. A space opera featuring a talking animal, a walking tree and an arrow guided by whistles (not to mention an exclusively 80s soundtrack), Guardians of the Galaxy is out there even by Marvel’s standards. An inherent weirdness isn’t all it shares with Gunn’s previous films, as Michael Rooker, irreverent humour and moments of real, occasionally certificate-pushing gore add to the film’s oddball personality.

Things get off to a strong start, as Quill is bequeathed a final present by his dying mother only to be moments later plucked from the fog outside the hospital by a visiting alien. Having nodded to Spielbergian sci-fi, Gunn then homages Indiana Jones with a bit of high-stakes tomb raiding. When the title card finally appears, our hero is dancing around an ancient alien ruin to Redbone’s Come And Get Your Love, carelessly kicking womp rats as he goes. Gunn treads the line between nostalgia and iconoclasm beautifully, referencing a number of classic movies and pop culture phenomenon without ever doing so in a way you might anticipate. The film even has its own R2D2 and C3PO, only the former has been reimagined as a bad-mouthed, gun-totting raccoon (just don’t call him vermin) and the latter as a walking tree with a spectacularly limited vocabulary (“I am Groot”).

It’s an astonishingly tough call, but Rocket and Groot arguably steal the show. Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, despite only being cast in the last seven or eight months, give two of the best vocal performances of the year, breathing real depth into special effects that are just as impressive in their own right. Andy Serkis might — deservedly — be getting all the praise for his work on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but what Rocket and Groot lack in nuance and photo-realism they make up for in personality and presence. Rocket — whether he’s fixing a gun or, erm, himself — is a sardonic, short-tempered delight, while Groot gets one of the funniest scenes in the film — though to say any more would be to spoil the surprise. Pratt, Saldana and Bautista are great too, the latter (actually a WWE wrestler by trade) making a huge impression as Drax the Destroyer, a badass who takes everything at face value. Even John C. Reilly has his moments.

Like the rest of Phase Two, however, Guardians of the Galaxy is not without its problems. Having so expertly established their shared universe in Phase One, it’s disheartening to see Marvel so clearly struggling to maintain it. The joy of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger was the sense of cohesion and momentum which increased with every new, cross-pollinating instalment. When The Avengers rolled around its story followed directly on from each, furthering various character arcs while introducing new relationships. With Avengers: Age Of Ultron due for release next year, there is little urgency or sense of purpose for what should be the big event of 2015. That’s not necessarily a problem with Guardians of the Galaxy itself, but the tangential nature of it can’t help but slow things down even further. Even the re-appearance of Thanos does little to further the over-arching story, with the character limited to a mere cameo in favour of Ronan and Nebula, two of Marvel’s least engaging villains to date.

Guardians of the Galaxy‘s sheer disregard for logic and reason is often joyous (and even a running joke among the characters themselves), but it’s also at times incredibly frustrating. The first half an hour sees the audience bombarded with gobbledegook, as comic book mythology is introduced but never explained. Nouns like Xandar, Knowhere, Nova Corps, Ravagers and Kree are likely to go right over your head, and unless you’re completely au fait with Marvel’s comic book universe you are unlikely to pick up on a number of references — not just Easter eggs, but plot points too. You can no longer delineate characters solely on the basis of skin or costume colour; there are a number of blue characters in Guardians of the Galaxy, and it’s almost impossible to determine the relationship between them. There is precious little sense to the wider universe, at least beyond Asguard and Midguard, and it becomes particularly problematic during the closing battle when you’re supposed to be fearing for the lives of supporting characters you barely recognise let alone care about: random pink girl, for instance, or that alien with the eyebrows.

Guardians of the Galaxy is nevertheless a very entertaining space romp. It’s funny, exciting, beautiful and — given the preponderance of profanity, the dubiousness of the ethics and the occasional grisliness of the special effects — suitably edgy. Add to that the quality of the cast, the quotability of the script and general awesomeness of the soundtrack, and you have a film that it is destined for greatness. Sadly, however, your enjoyment will likely be marred somewhat by an incomprehensible plot, weak villains and moments which stretch your goodwill a little too far. The whistle-guided arrow, for example.

3.5-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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