Saturday, 16 August 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

It was back in 2010 that Marvel started making public suggestions about a Guardians of the Galaxy film. I have to admit that I didn't really pay any attention to it. My limited knowledge of the comic book world had let me down again so I had very little knowledge of this part of the Marvel universe. With every new piece of information my eyes rolled with increasing exaggeration: chubby yet adorable Chris Pratt as a Hans Solo type? Karen Gillan? Bradley Cooper? Vin Diesel? Certainly nothing that really left me inspired enough to pick up a comic book. That was until the first teaser trailer was released... and I was fucking hooked. I bought some of the comics, found out as much as possible and made weird high-pitched noises whenever I saw new pictures of the newly buff Pratt.

Before Marvel film started the ball rolling, I think it's fair to say that Guardians of the Galaxy was fairly unknown outside of the comic book community. They certainly didn't have the same cultural reach that Marvel's other major players had. However, in an age of increasingly dark Nolan-wannabe films, these lovable, slightly pathetic weirdos are exactly who cinema audiences were waiting for.

Although it may not initially seem that way, as Guardians opens in a completely un-Marvel way: a young Peter Quill listens to his walkman whilst waiting outside a hospital room to say his final goodbye to his sick mother. It's an unexpectedly deep and emotional start to a film about space-adventurers. It is an unexpected moment in a world where comic book movies are normally brash, CGI-filled displays of non-stop action. Of course, anyone out there worried that they'll miss the brash, CGI-filled displays have nothing to worry about as, only seconds after a distraught Peter runs from the hospital, he is picked up by a fucking huge spaceship.

Cut to twenty odd years later and Quill (Chris Pratt) is now an intergalactic scavenger hired out to find exciting trinkets: think Indiana Jones meets Hans Solo. To say the general reaction to the news that Pratt would play the great Star-Lord was one of confusion, the actor excels in the role. Despite his new slim-line look, his adorable, everyman charm that made him such a hit as Andy Dwyer remains. Unlike a lot of comic book heroes, you walk out of Guardians still being able to tell yourself that, under different circumstances, you could be Star-Lord.

It is his seemingly simple mission to retrieve a mysterious metal orb that sets Quill's crazy space-adventure in motion. The fact that it turns out to be nothing more than your run-of-the-mill space MacGuffin fails to put a dampener on proceedings mainly because it’s the perfect way to introduce Quill to his future pals. They include fluffy bounty-hunter Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper); his bodyguard Groot (Vin Diesel), a tree of very few words; Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a tattooed warrior looking for revenge; and the beautiful assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana).

I have to say, the casting is fucking perfect. It is nice to see Saldana actually given the kind of role she deserves and not having to endure any gratuitous shots of her in tight leather. To the shock of pretty much everyone, Diesel is one of the major stand-outs and manages to bring a great deal of emotion and humour to his potentially wooden performance. In an equally shocking moment for me, Cooper successfully pulls-off the sassy fuzzball (with more than a little help from Sean Gunn who provided the motion-cap performance) and has a whale of a time verbally abusing those who underestimate Rocket. However, is ex-wrestler Bautista that provides some of the most memorable and hilarious moments as the unfortunately literal Drax. He is a joy to watch and Bautista has more than made up for the disappointment of Khal Drogo turning down the role.

This is a team that possesses all of the Avengers-style banter with their own touch of fucking badassery and teamwork. The moments when director James Gunn and Nicole Periman's script really flies are in these early moments when the team is slowly coming together. Their initial escape plan from a supposedly secure prison is a mesmerising and enjoyably sequence. After the sedate opening, Gunn and Periman ramp up the tempo and keep everything moving: perhaps even too fast sometimes.

We are in new territory and there is a lot of information to get across in a short space of time. You'll hear names, planets and concepts bandied around without really finding out about them. We are introduced to the Nova Corps, Xandar and Kree without every really knowing anything about them. It's a fucking bombardment of new info and you're always close to getting lost in the confusion.

The script itself is clever, witty and more self-aware than I'd have expected Marvel to be comfortable with. Guardians is well aware of what kind of film it is and makes sure that we never forget it. It has all the silliness of a Saturday morning cartoon, the style of those post-Star Wars B-movies and the budget of a Marvel Summer Blockbuster.

After all, Guardians is, underneath its unkempt exterior, is a typical Marvel output. We have the usual roster of big baddies who are set to get their hands on what the good guys have. Of course, in true Marvel style, these characters are hastily written and, frankly, absolute crap: think the dark elves in Thor 2 and the big twist in Iron Man 3. Seriously, Marvel villains ain't what they used to be.

In Guardians we have the deadly Ronan (Lee Pace) who harbours a deep resentment for the people of the planet Xandar for some reason we never really find out about. Ronan the Accuser certainly looks the part and does get the luxury of a few scenes to showcase his villainy but, considering he is the Guardians' main nemesis, he is incredibly thinly drawn. In an age where Loki is one of Marvel's most popular characters, audiences have started to demand greater things from their evildoers.

Although, he is given far more consideration than Nebula (Karen Gillan). Now I'm not a fan of Karen Gillan and, based entirely on her work on Dr Who I should point out, think she is fairly shit. However, even the greatest actor would struggle to make anything of Nebula. The adopted sister of Gamora has unfathomable motivations and has an incredibly confusing relationship with both her sister and their father. Guardians didn't need another mediocre villain when they could have spent more time fleshing out Ronan. Although, I have to say she looked fucking awesome.

With villains as lame as these it is only natural that the ultimate showdown is a bit of a letdown. The humour and relaxed attitude remains to the ends thanks to Star-Lord's unique methods of distraction but, once again, it's just very effects heavy and uninspiring. Anyone wanting to play Marvel film bingo would have an absolute field day. Despite all of the refreshing storytelling that preceded it, this is paint by numbers scriptwriting. Seriously Marvel, you don't need to end every film with a massive ship falling to Earth: there are other ways to create drama.

Despite this, Guardians is still one of the best Marvel films out there. I'm not confident enough to say with any certainty that I think it's better than The Avengers but, considering some of the material that the studio has released lately, it's the fucking Citizen Kane of the comic book films. It possesses an unavoidable charm, humour, nostalgia and energy that is just missing from the more established franchises. It's no wonder it's a hit with audiences and, if it's handled right, will prove to be one of their most successful franchises.

If the Guardians themselves aren't the Marvel heroes we are used to then the film itself stands out from the crowd. Despite the massive budget and visual aesthetic that goes with it, Guardians has the suggestion of much artier projects. It goes to show that, with a bit more encouragement, the studio might still be willing to experiment with their material.

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