James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy is the first Marvel film for me based on unfamiliar source material. The characters and setting were little known to me and I decided to keep it that way going into the movie, mainly hoping to be charmed by these new heroes and awed by this annex of the MCU. Gunn serves up a decidedly different proposition and is fully invested in his unconventional central cast as he attempts to sell the world this new film franchise through great characters and surprisingly ever present humour. The characters have this deep rooted daring irreverence and it is quite fitting they meet in a prison facility.
The first member of the titular team we meet is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) or Star lord if you will. It is 1988 and he is just about to see his mother die in one of the film’s heart-wrenching scenes. Fast-forward 26 years and our man has stolen a unique orb that sets the film in motion. Enter Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the merc with a fluffy tail, Rocket and his partner Groot who seek out Quill for their special intentions. Heads are bashed, arms are chopped off and we get to see some hi-tech weaponry in action before our team is carted off to prison where we meet the heavily tattooed Drax (Dave Bautista) who of course has his own agenda.
After six seasons watching Pratt goof around on Parks and Rec, I had to continually pinch myself as I watched him drive the film forward with his buoyant charm and comic nous. The slapstick is toned down but he is engaging enough to draw us into this Marvel world and keeps the film’s wit and sassy comical tone burning for 120 plus minutes as well as playing his part in the dramatic moments. The 60’s and 70’s pop soundtrack is introduced through his walkman, which he has had since his abduction and you get the sense he still holds on to that period in time.
Drax and Gamora are different propositions comedy wise. Bautista, another who impressed, isn’t the most flexible of actors but his portrayal here plays to his strengths like Schwarzenegger in T2. He literally takes everything literally and brings some welcome variance to the comic tone. Gamora, you could call the killjoy of the bunch. She always has her eye on the ball, finds no amusements in Quill’s antics, pretty much the stick up the butt character you see in comedies. Probably everyone’s favourite character is the racoon, Rocket. He is genetically engineered and a bit of a chatterbox and more than compensates for Groot’s limited vocabulary. He hates being called vermin or rodent and you suspect some heads have been blown up because of that. Bradley Cooper who voices him compares Rocket to Pesci in Goodfellas. C,lose enough I say.
The characters are worlds apart and at each other’s throats from the get but they are akin in the sense that the personas we see onscreen are forged by some tragedy and underlying darkness authoring their backstory and they identify with each other in that regard. Groot voiced by Vin Diesel is a bit of an anomaly as he has an aura of innocence and wholesomeness about him and watched wide-eyed as they gnarl and glare at each other, but mind you, he will turn a group of hostiles into Kebabs with a twinkle in his eye.
The script isn’t as interested in the villains who are a tad above 2 dimensional. The primary one here is Ronan who, like every bad guy ever, seeks a mysterious device to conquer the galaxy. He has by his side Gamora’s sister, Nebula who is herself quite twisted and you just know there will be some girl on girl action in the finale. Lurking in the background is the domineering Thanos, perhaps the only character I had some foreknowledge off and I won’t pardon the sequel if I do not get so massive pay off as far one of the most testing off marvel villains is concerned.
The film delivers on character as I have already expounded but the setting is a bit of a let-down – a bit. It is visually distinct from other Marvel productions but still seemed to be lacking in some originality and the worlds they visited always seemed like props instead of perhaps having a life of its own. Total Recall, The Fifth Element and Star Wars are a few of the visual comparisons which aren’t bad in itself but the whole green screen feel lingered as the team jumped from world to world.
Nevertheless, the characters are the major selling point of this film and I wouldn’t mind watching them bicker in an iron box for 2 hours. The director’s commitment to the comedy is pushed through them and skillfully transitions into hard hitting cathartic moments, the best of which provided by Rocket and Groot, endear us to the characters as we witness the start something new. Despite the shortfalls some have called it the best marvel film yet and that is open to debate but I can guarantee you will laugh, you will cheer and you will cry.