Has James Gunn succeeded in opening up Marvel's Universe? The answer is - You're Welcome...
Before Marvel Studios released Iron Man in 2008 it was considered a risk. Few non-comic book readers knew of the genius billionaire playboy philanthropist and then Robert Downey Jr. swaggered his way onto the big screen, and the rest is history. Risk has once again been the watchword in the build-up to Guardians of the Galaxy, the tenth film in Marvel’s ever-expanding cinematic universe. Granted, it’s a lot stranger than a man in a metal suit, but Marvel have since proven how adept they are at realising their characters on the big screen. Guardians is their reward for those previous nine pictures, and as directed by James Gunn it’s a delightfully fun ride.
Guardians centres on Peter Quill a.k.a. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), an adventurer and treasure hunter who finds himself on the wrong side of a manhunt after stealing an orb sought-after by the villainous Ronan (a suitably intense Lee Pace), who desires it for his own ends. To evade Ronan’s clutches Quill is eventually forced into an unlikely alliance with a disparate quartet of misfits; the gun-toting Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), tree-like humanoid Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). When the true, galaxy-threatening purpose of the orb is revealed, Quill must rally his band of oddballs before it’s too late.
That Guardians opens with its main character dancing to Redbone’s ‘Come and Get Your Love’ as the title card drops is a well-played statement of intent and a perfect snapshot of the film as a whole; it’s unique, it’s bold, and above all else it’s fun. The efficient screenplay from Gunn and Nicole Perlman tells us just enough about the various guardians to inform their actions in the present. When we first meet each of them, they’re all very comfortable being the loners that they are which makes the organic manner in which these disparate characters put aside their own personal motivations in the name of friendship and family all the more heartfelt and moving. On a filmmaking level, it’s also impressive how accomplished the world-building is here; no matter how fantastical a location, it all feels lived-in.
Unsurprisingly the spectacle that takes place within this world is top tier. From Star Wars-esque spaceship battles to frenetic brawls and much more, action in a Marvel movie hasn’t been this much fun to watch since the Avengers assembled. This is especially true where Rocket and Groot are concerned – to that end, a prison break sequence is a riot – and it’s all augmented by 3D that is both immersive and showy. Additionally, even though there is a recognizable formula to these movies now with three or four big action set-pieces and an effects-heavy climax, the fact that they’re still building on and deepening the characters well into the final act makes it easily forgivable.
Whilst not being especially memorable, Tyler Bates’ score is a more than adequate complement to these big set-pieces. However, for the first time in recent memory, the wonderfully diverse soundtrack outshines the score in a comic book movie. The tracks range from the Jackson 5’s ‘I Want You Back’ to The Runaways’ ‘Cherry Bomb’, but each song choice proves to be inspired. More than just being background noise, it plays a significant role in an emotional subplot too.
Humour has been a big part of the MCU of late, and Guardians ranks as one of its funniest entries to date. Much of that levity stems from the rich dynamics between the characters as they play off one another; Drax’s deadpan delivery and some well-timed uses of “I am Groot” are consistently chuckle-worthy, but it’s Rocket’s cynical, brazen attitude that bring out the belly-laughs. Diesel and Cooper’s voices could not be more perfect for their characters, and you’ll want to see a lot more of these two all-CGI creations as soon as the credits roll. To paraphrase the raccoon, “ain’t nothin’ like them, except them”.
They aren’t the only scene-stealers here though. Pratt owns the movie as our half-human protagonist, his inherent likeability shining through in spades. Michael Rooker also leaves an impression as the blue-skinned Yondu, possessing his own fearsome weapon which he utilises to brutal effect. Saldana’s Gamora makes good use of her screen time, although the lack of focus on her complex relationship with sister Nebula (Karen Gillian) means certain scenes lack bite. Similar can be said for Djimon Hounsou’s Korath, who is sidelined for much of the film.
Those feel like minor grievances in a film with many positives; from its well-drawn characters to the tactile world-building and much more, this is as good a foundation you can hope to build on with characters you quickly learn to love. The film concludes with a caption promising that the Guardians of the Galaxy will return, and on this evidence we can only hope that it’s sooner rather than later.