Guardians of the Galaxy (12a)
Directed by: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel & Bradley Cooper
Running time: 121 min
In the far reaches of space, an American pilot named Peter Quill finds himself the object of a manhunt after stealing an orb coveted by the villainous Ronan.
When you hear a project has an interesting director attached and they follow this up by announcing an exciting cast, it’s pretty easy to get carried away. Then the marketing kicks in, but they take a left field approach, make the trailers funny, throw in a few notable seventies pop songs cut to high-concept action beats. You get excited, it looks good and it looks different.
Wouldn’t it be awful if such a thing wasn’t quite as good as you’d led yourself to expect?
I’ve spent most of this year trying not to get too excited for GotG, just in case it couldn’t live up to my lofty expectations. After all, the film is something of a wild card, a joker in the Marvel pack if you like. Ten years ago it seemed impossible that people would flock to see a movie about a C-list character like Iron Man, now we’re looking at a Summer blockbuster based on one of the most obscure Superhero teams in mainstream comics. And look, it’s directed by that guy from Troma!
Having said that, I’m extremely glad that I can make this statement; James Gunn is the best thing to happen to the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Joss Whedon (I don’t really care for Buffy and I haven’t seen Firefly – come at me, internet!). The Guardians of the Galaxy is funny… very funny. It’s also dramatic, thrilling, well made, acted, written and staged with just the right amount of cheeky self-awareness that never quite tips over into absurdity or all out farce.
Plus it has a really filthy sex joke in the first half hour. Make of that what you will, the audience at the press screening applauded it. Including me.
Gunn works from his own script with supreme confidence, his biggest strength has always been blending broad comedy with different genre tropes and he manages it here in a big way. Get ready to laugh a lot. More importantly, by setting the action away from Earth and introducing a cast of all new characters (with some notable exceptions) the film is free from the kind of continuity-baggage that has unfortunately hamstrung a few films in the Marvel line-up so far (stay where you are, Iron Man 2). The references and Easter eggs are all there, sure, but at no point are you expected to have in-depth working knowledge of any previous films or comics for the film to work.
On a purely visual and technical level, the film is stunning. The production design is lavish, the practical effects and make-up are top-notch and the cinematography and editing never falls into the Michael Bay trap of choppy editing and wobbly camera work. Visually, everything feels thoroughly considered, shots are allowed to breathe and each cut makes sense. It’s a shame to say it, but that sort of thing seems almost like a novelty in this day and age.
It’s definitely worth giving the excellent cast their due here, Chris Pratt was born to play Star-Lord, the swaggering d@#khead with a heart of gold. Dave Batista is absolutely outstanding as Drax, getting some of the biggest laughs of the film, Bradley Cooper is probably the most memorable anthropomorphic Raccoon since Burt and Doctor Who’s own Karen Gillen gives an excellent turn as a blue-skinned space cyborg with an axe to grind. It’s a great ensemble, one that features more actors than I can list here and has a few great turns and surprise cameos thrown in for good measure. I’d be bold enough to say that the combination of good casting, writing and acting makes the Guardians a more compelling team than the Avengers themselves, but you might want to ask me again after The Age of Ultron comes out next year.
It’s not often that I get to gush so much over a new release and I feel my reaction so far has been overwhelmingly positive, so I think it’s only fair to address the other side of the debate. The negatives, such as they are, are few and far between. I clocked one or two moments of slightly ropey CGI and the odd slightly stiff bit of dialogue, but that’s about it. Making any genuine criticism is pretty difficult in this case; I just had way too much fun. That said, I can’t see this being everyone’s cup of tea. Those that didn’t like the high gag rate of Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 or prefer their superheroes a bit more sombre and serious in the vein of Man of Steel probably won’t get much out of Guardians, but that’d be their loss in my opinion.
There’s genuinely something here for everyone; plenty of stuff for us nerds to spot and enough broad humour and star presence to draw in the Saturday night crowd or the uninitiated. If early screenings generate enough good word-of-mouth there’s every chance we’ll have either a sleeper hit or a bonafide box-office smash on our hands.
I’m calling it now; Guardians of the Galaxy will be the film of Summer 2014. Go and see it immediately.
4 out of 5 Nerds