Twitter Plot Summary: Marvel risks it by giving us a bunch of characters most people have never heard of. It’s also set in outer space.
Five Point Summary:
1. I must get my hands on this soundtrack.
2. Avengers, assem…. hang on, never mind.
3. The Collector… any point, really?
4. That whistle weapon is evil.
5. Behold, the immense scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe!
Guardians of the Galaxy has been regularly touted as Marvel’s “big risk” in terms of providing a cinematic experience to audiences who have been used to Earth-bound stories featuring the likes of Iron Man, Captain America and, for the most part, Thor. This story is one that takes place in a far-flung corner of the Marvel universe, a full-blown space opera that revels in the joy of its setting and establishes itself as a modern and incredibly colourful variation of the Star Wars template.
Our lead character is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) who was kidnapped from Earth at the age of 8 and now, some 26 years later, is effectively a mercenary completing jobs for hire out in the galaxy. In quick auccession he’s united with fellow outcasts Gamora (a green assassin), Drax The Destroyer (brute, has no concept of metaphor), Rocket (a genetically modified raccoon-like creature), and Groot (a plant). This unlikely group join forces to stop Lee Pace’s Ronan The Accuser from destroying the planet Xandar. Their interactions, and the humour laced through the script specifically, are what marks Guardians out from its fellow Marvel movies. It positively zings with James Gunn’s dialogue and his handle on slowly giving the audience background detail on its characters is second to none. To introduce this many main characters and still tell a solid story in two hours is a feat, and Gunn succeeds where others may have failed.
It wouldn’t be a James Gunn film without Michael Rooker’s presence, and he does of course show up in some striking blue makeup as the mercenary who kidnapped Quill back in the 1980s. He’s a delightfully sinister presence, controlling a weapon solely through whistling. More of him in the sequel wouldn’t go amiss.
The rest of the cast are surprisingly ideal in their roles. Chris Pratt achieves leading man status with barely any effort and bodes well for his turn in Jurassic World next year. Quill is he Han solo archetype, but with a personal history that leads to him being as conflicted and morally grey as he is when we meet him in full Indiana Jones mode following the opening credits. Zoe Saldana seems keen to work her way through every possible skin colour in existence as the green assassin Gamora, having previously been a blue Na’avi in Avatar. She’s perhaps a little under-served here but with any luck will have a bit more to do in the follow-up. Then there’s the biggest surprise in the form of Dave Bautista, who proves that it’s not just The Rock who can transition successfully from professional wrestler to film actor. His Drax The Destroyer is layered and combines brute strength with a level of emotional vulnerability.
In the CGI department it’s amazing how much Gunn makes us care for both Rocket and Groot, the former voiced by Bradley Cooper and the latter voiced by Vin Diesel, who had perhaps the easiest time in the recording studio through only having three words to say – “I am Groot”. Groot gets most of the laughs, but both of them feel real despite only being a collection of special effects. Rounding off the human cast is a random appearance from Glenn Close, with able support from John C McGinley and a welcome appearance by Peter Serafinowicz, all of whom work for the galactic police the Nova Corps.
There are a couple of minor issues overall that may affect your enjoyment if you think about it too much, such as the lack of purpose The Collector has on the story, or the lack of definition given to the villains. Ronan The Accuser is a big part of the comics world yet hasn’t much to do here beyond growling and spouting the same old tired cliches we’ve come to expect from a typical big bad villain. Whilst it’s always nice to see Karen Gillan, she too is terribly two dimensional and exists solely to act as a blue counterpoint to Gamora. There’s also the story structure itself – the final act in particular rips off the final act of all of Marvel’s other Phase 2 movies and it reeks of unnecessary repetition. Why couldn’t we have an epic space battle instead?
Despite falling into the same story structure as the rest of Marvel’s Phase 2 movies, Guardians of the Galaxy remains a thoroughly entertaining film that manages to maintain a constant source of laughter mixed with a slow drip-feed of information about our central quintet that gradually reveals their history and depth to their personalities. There’s a big galaxy out there that’s opened up and ripe for new adventures, and Marvel would be foolish not to try and do something with it.