Review: Guardians Of The Galaxy

guardians of the galaxy line-up

Awesome mish-mash Vol.1

In retrospect it seems difficult to recall what seemed so risky about Marvel’s latest outing, the relatively unknown Guardians Of The Galaxy. Perhaps timing is one fortuitous aspect to its success (no.1 at the UK box office opening weekend) – with constant buzz around JJ Abrams’ upcoming Star Wars Episode VII, space opera is very much in vogue.

The Avengers too, laid some ground work. Suddenly, superheroes were allowed to be as handy with a quip as an upper cut and cape. Darkness and brooding banished, comic-book goofiness embraced again, and celebrated. This is a galaxy where an anthropomorphised Raccoon and an arboreal version of Frankenstein’s monster (the timbered timbre signalling an awesome smack-down contrasts sweetly with the gifting of a flower to a little girl) get equal share of the limelight, and some of the best lines.

The hero, played by Chris Pratt, is no “mewling quim” either.Well, maybe at the start, understandably. Running from his dying mother’s sick bed, the self-denial of 10 cc’s I’m Not In Love playing on his Walkman, he’s whisked from his mid-80’s Earth misery to a Galaxy not quite “far, far away“. He grows up (kind of) to be a cocky freebooter, the self-legendary Star-Lord, raised among the Ravagers, space-pirates cum mercenaries, led by the blue, mohawked Yondu (Michael Rooker). We next meet him shucking and jiving his way across a deserted planet pathway, orange foamed Walkman headphones playing his mother’s bequest, the Awesome Mix-Tape Vol.1. He’s off to steal the wizard, the wonderful wizard-y orb: a macguffin with a “Maltese Falcon, Lost Ark Of The Covenant vibe”, so setting up the Marvel factory standard issue, “bad guy wants unbelievably powerful object, good guys have to stop him” plot.

Plot takes a back seat to introducing this disparate group of losers, and uniting them in a common cause – Marvel’s squabbling family, part deux.  Director James Gunn co-wrote the script with Nicole Perlman, and it’s full of zingers and great character beats. He directs with a surety of wit, verve and panache – this is a major step up for him, while retaining his trademark sass. The Guardians journey is about mutual growth, respect and grudging friendship, whilst throwing in kick-ass moves in comic-book whip zooms, and shooting really big guns. As Rocket would say, “Oh, yeaaahhh!!

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Chris Pratt as Peter Quill is excellent, a dashing, cocky, charming Han Solo / Mal Reynolds-like big dumb hero: he’ll save the Galaxy in style sure, but he may drop the ball, or Orb, while doing so. He’s got a lot of heart, and the gift of the gab. Footloose and fancy free in his cool space ride The Milano (named after childhood crush Alyssa Milano – isn’t it a bit weird a grown man does that? Has he checked her, um, development? ) all he lacks is a noble purpose.

Zoe Saldana’s Gamorra, a ruthless assassin appalled by step-father Thanos’ cruelty, is all about the nobility. She’s no-one’s damsel in distress or love interest, all serious intent, with blades a speciality, but she’s also an endearingly shy dancer.

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Dave Bautista is Drax The Destroyer, built like the proverbial outhouse, a literal minded lunatic with revenge on his mind. Thanos killed his family, see, although I think his wife left because he refused to ever wear a shirt around the house. He has a pleasing line in missing metaphors, and shares a lovely rapproachment with Rocket after their tribulations.

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That brings us to the actual Han and Chewie of the group: Rocket, a genetically enhanced Raccoon-like creature, voiced by Bradley Cooper, and his muscle and friend, Groot. Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel  is a walking, talking tree, to all int-Ents and purposes (well, “I am Groot” covers a multitude of expressions that only Rocket can translate).

Phenomenal animation and voice work (and reactions from the live cast) absolutely convince that these are real characters. Cooper plays Rocket as a slyly snarky, aggressive New Yorker, a bit like George Lucas’ original idea for C3PO to sound like a “used car salesman” .  Like everyone else, his flinty carapace gets chipped away. In a drunken brawl we see what drives him, the bitterness behind the front (“I didn’t ask to get made this way.”).

Groot will warm your heart in a way that the Ents from The Lord Of The Rings never could. He’s an innocent abroad, but fiercely protective of Rocket and his new found friends, literally branching out from his past profession as a bounty hunter. Watching these guys walk around Xandar’s capital, I thought to myself, a D.R & Quinch movie would look amazing.

Then there are the visuals. Oh my. Pure old school, sci-fi pulp. As Matt Zoller Seitz memorably put it to me on Twitter, “The colour palette was pure late-70s about-to-decay cheap-ass Kodak. Lava lamp red, disco light blue, rec room mustard. Glorious.” James Gunn gives a visual guide to the film to Film Divider here.

The space ships are pure Chris Foss designed joygasms. They swoop and dance around not so black outer space, multi-coloured nebula caressing the planets, up and over the camera, as the Milano and crew reach Knowhere (“That’s no moon, it’s the excavated head of a dead space Titan!”).

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Sets and locations are stunningly detailed and realised, a brilliant mix of live background and CG, densely populated by background characters of multi-hues. That’s London’s Millennium Bridge citizens are fleeing across as Lee Pace’s Ronan The Accuser descends on the city in his leviathan ship, The Dark Astor. Another ho-hum multi-ship pile-up over another city. But what lifts it is the gang working together, and the eye-popping colour, where you can see everything that is going on. As the yellow star shaped Nova Corp ships join together with Yondu’s Ravagers to fight back, I wanted Queen to kick in and Brian Blessed to boom, “DIVE, MY NOVA CORPS PILOTS, DIVE!”

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Yes, it’s that kind of a movie. A love letter to Star Wars, but even more so, every B-movie wannabe that came out after it, hoping to recreate the same vibe. Guardians has that vibe in spades. It provides Nova-caine for the soul, if you will. Catch these Beautiful Freaks on the biggest screen you can find, but don’t worry – such is Marvel’s confidence, the credits state at the end, “The Guardians of The Galaxy will return.” Punch it.

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