** (2 stars)
d – James Gunn
w – James Gunn, Nicole Perlman (Based on the Comic Book by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning)
ph – Ben Davis
pd – Charles Wood
m – Tyler Bates
ed – Fred Raskin, Hughes Winborne, Craig Wood
cos – Alexandra Byrne
p – Kevin Feige
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldahna, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro, Laura Haddock, Sean Gunn, Peter Serafinowicz
With the exception of The Avengers, I have found every film from Marvel Studios to be a toiling experience. A sweaty one, thrown into the pressure of knowing all the answers and acquiring every allusion or feeling bad if I don’t. Devotees either can’t believe anyone wouldn’t consider these the pinnacle of cinematic paragons or gripe with what isn’t there instead of griping with what is.
I preface by excluding The Avengers from this group because I felt, and still do, that Kevin Feige and the Marvel team were finally able to impress upon their intentions for this cinematic model. The main reason for this, I felt, was because The Avengers didn’t concentrate on any one single comic book character, none of which any writer, director or producer has been able to supply with the sufficient amount of weight or significance. Spending time with each member of The Avengers and then moving on to the next was a perfect solution to my aforementioned test-taking problems.
Guardians of the Galaxy, co-written and directed by James Gunn, pilots a similar flight. This intergalactic adventure marries a louche, eccentric ensemble of guardians: a human thief named Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), converted murderer Gamora (Zoe Saldana), bitter beast Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), and bounty hunters Rocket, a genetically modified raccoon with the voice of Bradley Cooper and Groot, a sentient walking tree with the voice of Vin Diesel, whose vocabulary is limited to “I am Groot.”
What brings them together is the search for the Orb – as Quill says, an item with a Lost Ark, Maltese Falcon vibe to it. What fortifies them as the Guardians of the Galaxy is their choice to keep the Orb from the evil Ronan (Lee Pace) and his enhanced female warrior, Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora’s sister. They are the estranged, adopted daughters of arch-villain Thanos.
Let’s start with what doesn’t work: The villains here, as with most Marvel films, are dumb. By this, I mean they are hardly villainous. It seems that one has to look to animated film these days to find a villain that is even remotely scary (like Drago Bludvist). The filmmakers know this, which is why all these villains are grotesque looking creatures that cover up the actors’ faces so no opportunity for a performance is allowed yet just enough to allow the sexuality of the actor to be ever present.
The film also suffers from its PG-13 rating. Jokes and bits of business are at times constricted. During Rocket’s introduction, he is about to shoot Star Lord and to do so, unveils a enormous, intricate fire-arm, to which he proclaims “Oh…Yeah!”. This, you would agree, is lame.
Despite these restrictions that I truly feel come from above, Mr Gunn has assembled an involved, sweet sci-fi comedy of manners. Comedy being key here. Although the other Marvel films contained comedic elements (especially The Avengers), Guardians of the Galaxy is an all out comedy, with many triumphantly delectable moments that mostly wash down all the bombastic residue. The opening credits sequence, for instance, is one of these moments, performed devotedly by Mr Pratt, where Quill, approaching the chamber where the Orb is kept, begins dancing and lip-syncing to Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love”, which he listens to on his 1988 tape deck.
The look of the film is more akin to the science-fiction films of the 70s and 80s than in anything Marvel has done before. Films like the original Star Wars (1997), Flash Gordon (1980) and Dune (1984). The performers are all over the top, none of them providing anything new to their on-screen nerve and charisma. But again, I am persistent in my belief that making this film about a team is what leads us to cinematic resonance. It allows the audience to establish a two-way connection with the comic book mythology without being concerned in having to “always identify” with the trials and tribulations of a single tormented soul.
This is also why I believe the Star Trek and Fast and Furious films are, for most part, successes. Yes, I do believe a great film can be made about a single superhero – hell, there is a tonne more to come – but only as much as I believe any movie about anything can be great. In any respect, I am glad to skew positive on Guardians of the Galaxy.