They’re a weird mob – ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Review

Guardians Of The Galaxy

By Simon Miraudo
August 6, 2014

Even the most casual fan could name Marvel Studios’ ten features, starting with 2008 trend-setter Iron Man and arriving at 2014’s not-so-surprise hit Guardians of the Galaxy. Where they’d be reasonably stumped is correctly identifying the villains. Names like Malekith the Dark Elf, Aldrich Killian, and now, Ronan the Accuser don’t quite send shivers down the spine the way DC madmen The Joker and General Zod have never failed to do (explaining why Marvel’s trotted out Loki twice). But in this battle between comic-book titans, Marvel remain unsurpassed in introducing to the big screen immensely-likable, emotionally-attuned superheroes with a quip for any occasion. Meanwhile, DC are stuck pouring unsold Ryan ReynoldsGreen Lantern dolls into a furnace somewhere. Guardians of the Galaxy skilfully unveils five new protagonists – all-instant favourites, for myself and any sane audience – and one of them is a tree. This, friends, is what we call a streak.

The tree, Groot, is voiced by Vin Diesel, of having-difficulty-speaking fame. His barky extra-terrestrial is only ever charged with saying three words – “I am Groot” – and yet Diesel manages to imbue them with humour, heart, and a healthy dose of pathos, much like the movie around him. (Can Fast & Furious 7 similarly cut down his dialogue to one pithy, versatile phrase?) Groot doesn’t need to talk much anyway. He’s merely the alien muscle for bounty hunter Rocket Raccoon, a genetically transmogrified cyber-creature and munitions expert who sounds a hell of a lot like Bradley Cooper, one of our more adaptable leading men. They find themselves in space prison after snagging intergalactic criminals Peter Quill (it’s Star Lord though, if anyone intimidating asks), played by Chris Pratt, and slinky assassin Gamora, a dyed-green Zoe Saldana. In jail they meet the ultra-literal Drax the Destroyer, performed by wrestler and improbable deadpan zinger-deployer Dave Bautista. Like Gamora, he’s intent on taking revenge against hopeful universe-conqueror Ronan (Lee Pace). Quill, however, simply wants to bust out and recover the last remaining relic from his time on Earth: a Walkman, armed with familiar 80s hits, the very same era from which he stole his Harrison Ford/Bruce Willis swagger. Eventually, they team up. You don’t want me to get into the whys and wherefores. Just know much cosmic action ensues, and later Benicio Del Toro turns up as The Collector, a true space oddity indeed.

Guardians Of The Galaxy

Troma disciple James Gunn directs, following on from Slither and Super, meaning this is his first actually good film. It feels fresher than much of ‘Phase Two’, which is what they’re calling the era that joins The Avengers to its sequel, and has so far included Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Much of that fresh feeling has to do with Guardians effectively being the beginning of an all-new franchise, as opposed to the others, the seventh, eighth and ninth parts of Marvel’s sinkhole-like expanding saga. There’s been a squabble behind the curtain for scriptwriting credit, with Gunn claiming he reshaped Nicole Perlman’s draft, as well as injected much of the humour, installed Ronan as the baddie (err… thanks?), and changed every character arc. I’d suggest they take a cue from their own tale, learn to share the glory, and potentially the blame. Guardians of the Galaxy has many of the same issues that plagued Iron Man 3 et al: a shapelessness that leads to each new set piece feeling like a further disconnected step towards a destination that lay in some future flick; a Big Bad who lacks presence; a climactic, city-demolishing showdown we’ve seen elsewhere; maybe too many winks at the few fanboys familiar with all the intricacies of the wider mythology, making numerous sequences seem totally bewildering to us normies. Thematically, it’s not really about anything, either. By this point, ten entries in, these are the elements that classify something as belonging to Marvel. It’s the rest that makes it much, much more.

Guardians is, without question, the loveliest looking thing to roll off the Marvel Studios’ production line, not only because of the nutty, eye-popping delights on offer (including the town within a giant, floating rotting head, or Benicio Del Toro’s hair), but also cinematographically; DP Ben Davis gives each Guardian plenty of hero shots, the purple haze of the cosmos their backdrop, and doesn’t rely on Dutch tilts to inspire wonder. The CGI bringing Groot and Rocket to life is ungodly good. The energetic action scenes have a lot of moving parts, thanks to the breadth of the Guardians roster, and Gunn slickly corrals each element, resulting in a cohesive, and, more importantly, relentlessly enjoyable final product. The whole thing is particularly funny too, even by the standards of its predecessors, which are largely joke factories for absurdly muscular dudes. When Guardians of the Galaxy is firing on all cylinders, you’ll think there’s nothing better in this world, or any other.

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All five of the main performers are wonderful; great tastes that go great together. Saldana is the closest to a seasoned professional the main cast has, and despite her forever being amazing in this type of role, it’d be nice to see her one day given a more grounded, less skin-bleached character to complement her spunky sci-fi turns. Still, it’s a delight to watch her and Pratt’s reticent romance slowly unfold. Pratt, previously known for being the goofy comedic relief in the already-goofy Parks and Recreation, has emerged as the unlikeliest action man since Michael Keaton. (Here’s an even unlikelier stat. For the past three years, Pratt has appeared in consecutive Best Picture nominees: Moneyball, Zero Dark Thirty and Her.) He is Guardians’ most welcome presence, and his underlying sweetness helps him sell the stealthily-inserted dirty jokes. Hopefully in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 he’ll be called upon for more than merely reminding us of Han Solo. Pratt is an endearing actor who could create an original entity, equally iconic for legions of children to emulate for decades. Today, I’ll happily settle on him as a much-needed respite from the current bland-bots leading these tentpoles (… yes, I’m mostly talking about Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

4/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

Guardians of the Galaxy arrives in Australian cinemas August 7, 2014.

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