Marvel couldn’t have dug much deeper into its vast back catalog than Guardians of the Galaxy. Recent fares such as Iron Man, Captain America and Thor all had brand recognition and future projects such as Ant Man and Doctor Strange might not be well known but are at least recognisable in pop culture vernacular. Guardians of the Galaxy, though? What the hell is that? Sure, we could delve into the annals of comic book history to determine who this vagabond band of ruffians are but the easiest way to identify them is this: the Guardians of the Galaxy are Marvel’s newest comedy troupe.
Stolen from Earth as a child, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) takes on a life of tomb raiding adventure across the universe as the infamous (or un-famous) Star Lord. After looting a significant orb he finds himself trailed by two bounty hunters in the shape of a cybernetic racoon and a humanoid tree. An alien warlord, Ronan (Lee Pace) sends mysterious assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to retrieve the artifact and the hulking maniac Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) puts his attention to Gamora in order to avenge his family, murdered by Ronan. Before long it becomes evident that the treasure in question is dangerous enough to kill them all…if they don’t kill each other first.
Written and directed by James Gunn, who is well known for both the subversive Slither and the explicit Super, Guardians shows Marvel once again making bold choices in regards to who they employ to helm such major projects. Gunn is an established hand at off the cuff comedy but little in his career so far points to any signs of success when operating a CG-heavy space opera. Still, he succeeds by keeping scenes contained and focused. Although almost constantly filled with effects the screen often sticks to singular locations for hefty chunks of time, grounding the story and production. There is little in the way of balancing multiple plots because before long everyone is moving to the beat of the same drummer, all coming to the same central story.
Guardians‘ other success is that Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman know how to write a funny movie. The jokes come thick and fast with as many mild smiles as hard laughs. Just about every line sticks the landing which, for a movie with such a high a gag-to-minute ratio, is something of an achievement. Each of the titular guardians get their own moments to shine, especially Pratt who has the most experience with a comedy background. Although only working with voice and mo-cap Bradley Cooper strikes a perfect sarcastic note as Rocket Raccoon and Vin Diesel works wonders as the herbal monstrosity Groot, giving the vegetative behemoth a distinct limited range that he last showed in The Iron Giant. Bautista stands out as the real surprise: having taken a few small movie roles since he jumped from the WWE to Hollywood this is probably his largest role to date and he wryly portrays Drax with a stubbornly hilarious literalness. If it feels like anyone got the short end of the stick it’s Saldana who is mostly relegated to plot device. Still, as far as physical comedy goes, Gamora gets one good early scene and Saldana, as ever, cruises along on the strength of her own natural charm.
With such a large cast, budget and scope, Guardians is clearly the biggest movie that Gunn has been tasked with so far and he doesn’t hesitate to paint the money all over the screen. Guardians is a bright, beautiful movie awash with colours and detail inhabiting every inch of the screen. When events turn to action the results are generally adequate; when playing to Gunn’s comedic strengths the urgency delivers in spades but when expected to portray gravitas or grit the action isn’t likely to blow anyone’s mind failing to handle gravitas or grit with the same tautness as its comedic strokes.
Although distinctive, Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t going to draw anyone new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the way that Iron Man, The Avengers or the recent Captain America: Winter Soldier might have. This is a film that although almost entirely separate from it’s predecessors it’s still absolutely a Marvel movie. with a tone that previous efforts have presented before. For those already along for the ride, though, there are no better protectors than these galactic guardians.
Visually lush, with a great cast and some staggeringly good jokes, Guardians of the Galaxy is a great addition to the franchises already aboard the good ship Marvel.