Guardians of the Galaxy is the world’s most expensive jumble sale; a one hundred and seventy million dollar affair that is rough and ready and subtly lampoons its sci-fi and superhero roots at every opportunity. A seat of the pants send up of what has become a self serious genre since Christopher Nolan gave us Batman Begins and made everyone else feel a little silly for making their silly little unimportant superhero movies.
Well Guardians revels in being fun and irreverent. It wilfully ignores the modern day template, peppering the air with joke after joke, layering and building until the big laughs arrive, before throwing in a few more while you’re still catching your breath. Iron Man had jokes, but they were rationed through the film. This is wall to wall. There’ll be jokes to discover in the first blu-ray viewing that were cloaked under the laughs in the cinema. And there’ll be a blu-ray viewing, because this will be one of the rare releases that I will purchase first weekend.
Their first contact is found in conflict, a fightin’ and a fussin’ over a mysterious orb that seems to draw attention from all over the galaxy. We don’t initially know what this orb does, but we can be confident that it isn’t a Kinder Surprise filled with cheap plastic crap to be put together and immediately left on the floor.
There are five of them, and they are of course a grab bag of oddness. A human, a lean green woman and a huge red bedazzled man, a talking raccoon and a walking tree with a three syllable vocabulary (was originally more but y’know… Vin Diesel). It’s like the first draft of The Avengers that went horribly wrong. You can imagine the marketers screaming ‘give me something I can sell!’ down the line. Even the so called central human figure would be the ‘third from the left’ in any other ensemble action film, standing on the edge of frame while Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel – and not just furry and barky things emitting their voices – hog the limelight.
Drawn together by the money and vengeance that this orb represents, but united by adversity in their subsequent stay in a top security prison – yes that old chestnut – and forced to co-operate once more organised parties make their intent for the orb known. Dangerous blue bounty hunter Yondu (Michael Rooker) would have the payday that it represents, more obviously ominous Ronan (Lee Pace), a younger Emperor from Star Wars via Skeletor, promises much more BANG for the buck…
Now when I earlier suggested this was a big budget film with low budget aspirations, I didn’t mean the production. The sumptuous backdrops are reminiscent of the classic Star Wars matte painting masterpieces. The characters could fit in that universe or that of The Fifth Element, and a few scenes matched anything that the bazaar sequence in Hellboy 2 offered. The attention to detail is incredible, and the effects sublime.
No, it is the dialogue and actions of the characters that are rough, ready and seemingly unrehearsed. After the getting to know each other period, where the differences and eccentricities are examined and weak spots probed mercilessly, the fivesome settle in to an easy banter, never falling out of character or settling for obviously scripted quippery. Like the best of friends there is never direct abuse, but previously discussed ‘no go’ topics are skirted in the name of humour, and if someone messes up they are immediately and mercilessly baked for their transgression. All in good humour of course.
None can shoot flame, or fly, or hack into computers with their minds. Some are strong, some are small, some are… Groot, but these things don’t define them. It is this very lack of definition that allows their characters to develop before us, rather than being laid out from the beginning. It’s far more enjoyable to learn about things than it is to be force fed them.
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is the opportunistic ‘junker’ (scavenger) who tiptoes the fine line between confidence and self doubt. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) the former assassin who knows no such indecision, she is cool composed and ruthlessly logical. Drax (Dave Bautista) is the large red gentleman, driven by vengeance and lacking a funny bone. His literal interpretations of throwaway jokes and inane dialogue is priceless. Rocket (Bradley Cooper’s voice) is a genius strategist in a raccoon’s body, a fact he resents. A small bundle of braggadocio wracked by feelings of inadequacy, who is somehow bestest buddies with ever-growing tree man Groot (Vin Diesel’s voice), who… is Groot.
This is where director James Gunn has added value. He effortlessly found both humour and horror in the hugely underrated Slither, and that film too boasted creatures and effects that showed immense vision and creativity. Here he has wisely cribbed the irreverent back and forth easy dialogue of Shane Black, and included a couple of callback jokes (a la JJ Abrams) to reward those who pay attention.
But this is where the homage stops. Gunn has never been a big budget director and he doesn’t seem too keen to embrace the concept just yet. The rest of the film ignores protocol in favour of laughs. Inspiring speeches break down before the crescendo, triumphant moments peter out just as they should be peaking, and even the patented slo-mo hallway ‘line up and walk toward camera’ is in constant danger of being derailed by a random raccoon crotch adjustment.
I didn’t even realise until after the credits that there were no ‘discovering our powers’ moments and no real ‘tooling up for battle’ sequences, nor were there distracting side missions or clumsy messages about learning and growing. That said the most heartfelt moment came from a giant tree who can only say three words. And this is a superhero movie?!?
Furthermore there is only one real battle scene in the film, and while it’s a lengthy fifteen minute sequence it’s still the most forgettable quarter hour in the film – more a contractual obligation than a labour of love.
That’s the thing though; Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t a big explosion / cool powers film. It isn’t a ‘together we are stronger’ film. It sure isn’t a lazy and callous ‘buy our expensive figures’ film (hi Transformers 4). It’s a bunch of guys and a gal who happen to be from very different origins, thrown together on a dangerous mission and cracking jokes all the way. It’s not violent, it’s not profane, it’s not especially scary. Just funny from go to whoa. It is the Goonies grown up and shot into space – and the funniest, most fun and most family accessible superhero film yet made.
It’s the most fun I’ve had at the movies since Looper. And most important of all it is
Final Rating – 9 / 10. Don’t let the lack of star power and marketing hooks fool you. This is a hilarious film that deserves both accolades and an audience.