It all seems so obvious now. From the moment you first see Chris Pratt miming “Come and Get Your Love” as he dances along a desolate alien landscape, you’ll be scratching your head as to how anyone ever thought Guardians of the Galaxy would be anything but a slam-dunk. The James Gunn-directed space-opera is bursting with a personality and swagger that will charm the pants off you as it instantly elevates Star-Lord and his fellow outlaws as some of the most captivating characters in Marvel’s already excellent roster. It’s not just that Guardians is the first time we’ve seen something wholly new from Marvel since their first wave of films, or that it’s likely the most revitalising take on a tired genre since Zombieland. It’s not even the punchy dialogue, quick-fire comedy or the oh-so-charismatic cast. It’s that it manages to be all of these things while still being a tightly plotted character drama about 5 lonely souls becoming a family. 2014 has been a colossal year for epic franchise movies (especially ones based on Marvel comics); so it’s not to be taken lightly when I say Guardians of the Galaxy could be the most exciting blockbuster of the year.
While that signature Marvel tone and interconnectedness are absolutely present, the world of Guardians is far removed from the other 9 entries and gives us a living, breathing, sci-fi universe that sits somewhere between Star Wars and Firefly (tell me that doesn’t get your nerd-blood pumping). When a peace-treaty is signed between the Xandarian’s and the Kree, the radical fundamentalist Ronan (Lee Pace) sees it as a betrayal and seeks to continue his people’s war with Xandar. To do so, he seeks to strengthen his allegiance with Thanos (who we saw a glimpse of at the end of Avengers, since cast as Josh Brolin) in exchange for retrieving him an ancient and powerful artefact. Our ragtag team of space-faring fugitives are thus thrust together by a plot to acquire the artefact and sell it to a third-party, disrupting the fanatical Ronan’s plans and making a small fortune along the way.
Hands down the film’s biggest gun is the Guardians themselves, whose eclectic personalities and chemistry already rivals that of the Avengers. Nary a one is relegated to the Hawkeye zone, with all 5 members rendered fully and brandishing a history you can’t wait to uncover. First and foremost is Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord, played by the impossibly loveable Chris Pratt. In what is easily Marvel’s most inspired casting since RDJ made the world fall in love with Iron Man, Pratt shows us he was born for the spotlight and gives us a leading man that redefines the term ‘space-cowboy’.
If Quill is Guardian’s Han Solo, Gamora is its Luke. An archetype to be sure, the sexy green assassin played by Zoe Saldana boasts the noblest motivations. Though largely unapologetic for the blood on her hands, she has betrayed Thanos and Ronan and seeks only to keep the aforementioned artefact out of their possession. Dave Bautista’s Drax is the only other member not driven by money, but rather a bloodlust towards those responsible for the deaths of his wife and child. Though at first glance he seemed likely to be the least engaging of the five, his melodramatic dialogue and sheer inability to understand sarcasm or metaphors make him a hilarious counter-point to his more grounded peers.
Though everyone will surely have their own favourites, it’s hard to imagine anyone not falling in love with the anthropomorphic tree Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). Marvel’s very own Chewbacca (OK, I promise I won’t make anymore Star Wars references), Groot can only vocalise the words “I am Groot” and relies on Rocket for translation. Groot’s child-like innocence and fun power-set make him feel like the heart of the team, despite having by far the least amount of material to explore. Which brings us to Rocket, who was likely the reason behind all the trepidation that Guardians would be a bridge too far for the average moviegoer. Admittedly, a gun-toting, smart-mouthed raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper does seem pretty goofy in concept, but as always, Marvel fully embraces the wackiness of their world and injects depths of frustration and insecurity into a character that others would treat as a half-baked mascot.
If the movie has one flaw, it’s that Marvel, once again, fail to craft the villains with the same care they do their heroes. While one of Marvel’s biggest villains is introduced in Thanos, he is largely an off-screen presence akin to the Emperor (sorry, I swear that was the last one). While it’s understandable that the antagonists are going to get lost in the background when you’re introducing so many new characters, Ronan’s lack of depth and the overly menacing design do little but detract from the tone the rest of the film builds so brilliantly. Karen Gillan’s Nebula is a little more rounded out in terms of motivation, but aside from one action sequence she’s mostly there as a lingering thread for Gamora to come back to in a later film.
Aside from introducing Thanos, Guardians gives us a look at many of the races and concepts that enrich the world of the comics but haven’t really been seen in the films. Fans will immediately recognise some of the concepts the film teases (not to mention a brief cameo from one of my favourite characters from Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s run of comics), but it isn’t presented in any way that alienates more casual viewers. Likewise, Guardians is easily one of Marvel’s most accessible films. Despite this being the deepest voyage into comic Lore, you could have never watched another entry from Marvel and still have a blast with the energetic cast and epic sci-fi action.
Given how ambitious Marvel Studios have been over the last seven years, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that they’re still willing to take big chances and try something different. If Guardians was the gamble everyone was making it out to be, it paid off big-time. Once again we see that Marvel is willing to let directors with big personalities inject themselves into their properties and give each one a chance to be special rather than just another chapter (don’t think about Ant-Man, don’t think about Ant-Man, don’t think about Ant-Man…).
For all the blockbusters that rocked our world this year, Guardians of the Galaxy is far and away the most memorable. X-Men may have been the biggest comeback, Winter Soldier may have had the most to say, and Planet of the Apes may have been the most emotional, but none of them felt as new or as special as Chris Pratt trying to inspire an alien assassin by telling her the legend of Footloose. Whether it’s the breakout cast of characters, the instantly quotable script, or the awesome 70s and 80s pop soundtrack that ties the whole package together, Guardians of the Galaxy might just be the most fun you have at the movies all year.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10