Now firmly into “Phase Two” of their sophisticated master-plan for total cinematic domination, and following on from the shield-swinging mayhem of Captain America’s second outing, The Winter Solider, Marvel Studios return with their weirdest property yet. The comic-book giants’ 10th film (since 2008’s Iron Man) sees them take an unexpected detour away from their post-Avengers world to explore the outer reaches of the universe and its alien inhabitants. The kicker here being that the property in question, Guardians of the Galaxy, is based on a mostly-overlooked comic series from the 1960s and is directed by none-other than cult film favourite and general gross-out gore fiend James Gunn. It’s clear that Marvel do not like to make things easy for themselves.
The resulting gamble, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, finds human loner Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) abducted as a young boy by an alien race known as the Kree, and taken to the outer-reaches of the solar-system. After many years as a petty thief, Quill finds himself unwillingly thrown into the middle of an inter-planetary war after chasing a mysterious and highly sought-after orb. His only hopes of survival lie with a band of misfit warriors comprised of green-skinned former assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), permanently shirtless maniac Drax (Dave Bautista), fun-loving tree-being Groot (Vin Diesel) and trash-talking raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper). Together, they try their very best to, well, guard the galaxy.
Confused? It’s no secret that Guardians is a giant leap in a new direction, not just for Marvel but for blockbusters in general. There’s a whole new mythology of alien races and planetary histories to learn as well as a metric-tonne of brand new characters that haven’t been bigged-up by years and years of comic-book fandom to absorb and get behind. But the result of all this rambling madness is something really quite special. A joyously operatic multi-generational sci-fi extravaganza that somehow sticks firmly to its own guns and as a result, delivers a fun, fresh and mind-blowingly weird dose of summer mayhem.
Much of this praise though must first-and-foremost be heaped onto the shoulders of the film’s true creator, James Gunn. Where Guardians surpasses most other summer blockbusters is in its fragrant style; a bizarre blend of 70s disco pop, crude-yet-clever laughs and that classic grand-scale action we’ve all come to expect, all forming a film that manages to be consistently tense but still roaringly funny at every opportunity. Gunn has built something that somehow seems to tick every box: it’s emotionally grounded, character-based and incredibly expressive, whilst still remaining light and hugely entertaining. Most importantly though, Gunn’s film never feels false or forced and is always delivered exactly as it should be; an oddity for a movie of this scale but one that pays off incredibly.
The other half of what makes this Marvel’s most solid effort yet lies in the Guardians themselves. Chris Pratt’s bouncy leader Star-Lord stands as charming as he is wounded; a chirpy and well-rounded hero that’s so infectiously hopeful it’s difficult not to love him. Zoe Saldana’s Gamora is a definite far-cry from the heroines of other worlds: fierce, punchy and never once concerned with glamour. Whilst Dave Bautista’s Drax is possibly the most oddly somber and honorable character to ever be deemed a “maniac”. Much of the film’s comedy lies with oddball tag-team Rocket and Groot, easily the weirdest pair out of the bunch but also the most consistently entertaining: Groot’s three-word vocabulary is bound to melt hearts everywhere.
Even with a killer supporting cast comprising of a fiendishly sinister Lee Pace and Karen Gillan and an unsettling cool Michael Rooker, the Guardians themselves still hold the movie solidly and equally. There are no scene-stealing turns here and that’s part of what makes Guardians such a unique and thrilling movie: each of the five leads are just as moving and funny as the last. In fact, if Guardians is to be criticised for anything it’s that there are simply too many great characters floating around it and so, as a result, none really have their extended moment in the sun (Rooker’s Yondu specifically).
Ultimately though, Guardians of the Galaxy is a bold and risky step into completely new territory and does so, surprisingly, without a hitch. It’s a huge-scale multi-coloured adventure story through outer-space, the sort we haven’t seen done this well and with this much scope in a long time (maybe since Star Wars) and for this reason alone, it deserves our support. It seems that Marvel have proved themselves to not be a one-trick pony after all.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), directed by James Gunn, is distributed in UK cinemas by Walt Disney Studios, Certificate 12A.