Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)
It looks like the intergalactic gamble has paid off, doesn’t it? The second phase of Marvel’s assault on the multiplexes warped into theatres this weekend with Guardians Of The Galaxy, a movie based on a significantly less known second tier comic book which my research leads me to a surprising conclusion – these misfits never even had their own series until 1992, which kinda explains why I never read any of the stories during my comic-reading phase back in the distant aeons of the 20th century. Far from being the household names of Spidey or Captain America it was presumed that this was a risky project as the material didn’t contain initial brand awareness, of your Joe Public in the street knowing how these ragged reprobates were, but having seen the film my appreciation of just how far Marvel are ahead in mapping these franchises, of linking them into each other grows with each issue. We now have the wider celestial universe of the Marvel comic book legandarium represented on-screen in all its infinite glory, and that unlocks numerous possibilities for other projects, teams and books to supernova into existence – these people are going to make more credits than the entire GDP of the western spiral arc. Although I’m still bathing in that warm, fuzzy post-coital screening glow I’m fairly sure of one thing – that terrifically fun final battle in New York and odd Whedonesque fan service flourishes aside this is a more impressive, exhilarating and polished blockbuster than The Avengers true belivers….
The opening coda begins the film with an emotional whimper rather than big-bang – A hu-man adolescent Peter Quill’s (later to be played in adulthood by Chris Pratt who is gonna be fucking huge after this and The Lego Movie) spends his final moments on earth and witnessing the passing of his mother in a cancer ward, before being spirited away in an announced alien intervention. Some years later and on a jagged foreign plateau and an initial action beat sets up the McGuffin caped plot in motion – everyone’s chasing a mysterious artefact known as ‘the orb’, a relic which promises to offer infinite power to the rightful bearer. Peter has a client lined up to purchase the item, but the fanatically murderous Kree zealot Rodan (Lee Pace) seeks the orb in order to vanquish and cleanse a few worlds by exchanging item for the services of a titan of the Marvel Universe whom it was nerdgasmic to finally see rendered on-screen – ’nuff said. The film starts accelerating through the quantum gears as Peter is reluctantly partnered with a criminal crew including a sour-voiced anthropomorphic Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), his mono-syllabic living tree partner (Vin Diesel as easily this years best genre character creation), a burly vengeance seeking behemoth named Drax The Destroyer (Dave Bautista) and a pan-system green-hued assassin (Zoe Saldana) who also seeks the orb for her own mysterious purposes…..
For the entire run-time of this movie I was grinning like a lunatic and bursting into laughter at some of the asides and fan-service flourishes, with rarely a pause in the tempo the film warps through its constellation of well choreographed action beats, amusing character leaks, pulp-fiction escapades and Marvel hued mayhem, Guardians Of The Galaxy is a rebellious rascal of a movie, swashing and buckling with a density of the very deepest black-hole. Main hero Chris Pratt has something of a cheeky trickster Han Solo about him, although there is a curiously refreshing lack of sentiment about his missing family back on Earth among the cultural riffing on the 1988 Walkman primed soundtrack to his life, or indeed anything resembling an explantion why he never went back. Director James Gunn, he of Slither and Super fame retains his rambunctiously rowdy pop-cultural sense of humor without being too diluted by the parent Disney brand, quite shockingly the film has, (and there’s really no way of dancing around this phrase) the Marvel Universe’s first PG13 certificate cum gag. His fans will also delight in the casting of his twin actor talisman’s Michael Rooker (a turquoise pirate trader with a mean telekinetic arrow) and Greg Henry (Quill’s opening coda Grandfather) as well as blink and you’ll miss ’em appearances from Nathan Fillion and Troma supremo Lloyd Kaufman – Gunn started his movie tutelage at the home of The Toxic Avenger. It’s from these auspicious origins that perhaps the films major achievement is rendered (well, apart from pulling off the feat of not making a talking Racoon innately ridiculous and stupidly distracting) this is a superhero picture with no superheroes either in power or attitude, as all the main malcontents aren’t motivated by some noble purpose or moral championing as the whizz around the universe (well, not all of ’em anyway but we’re avoiding spoilers), instead they are oddballs, freaks of nature, outcasts who find themselves thrown together to battle wicked forces threatening the lives of billions of interstellar inhabitants, and if they get rich on the way then hey, that’s cool.
The ride is not without its hairpin screech’s and tumultuous tumbles , the villains are underwhelming and unfocused, some linking and exposition scenes seem to be omitted from the final voyage, and motivation and purpose flit away as one combat scene blends into the next – Zoe Saldana’s viridescent Gamora being a particular case in point as a mere reprise of her turn in Avatar. But the pace and visual design are enough to distract wonder-eyed punters from some elemental script oversights, the movie presents a truly cosmopolitan and well, ‘alien’ universe, brimming with a diversity of species and associated flora and fauna, all aligned with a dizzying wallow in exotic space opera which will ensure repeat visits on your home viewing system of choice. I’m assuming there are numerous so-called ‘Easter Eggs’ buried in the films cacophonous CGI canopy, thankfully it doesn’t suffer the optic pollution of a certain other space series which shall remain nameless (yet has generated numerous allusions across the positive reviews), and I’ll bet you all the stars in the heavens that the film pulses with hidden references, grinning in-jokes and fellating fan-service (a couple equal to this crowd pleaser), in particular a memorable visit to Benico Del Toro’s criminally underused The Collector must be infested with pixel buried visual gags. Much of the humor is derived from Chris Pratt’s clumsy interlocutions (on reflection he kinda reminds of Jack Burton) but plenty of the other leads get there chance to shine, Guardians building a genuine camaraderie among the off-beat and celestial cunning comrades.
For a film which was quite obviously 85% generated in a computer (I speed counted something in the region of 300 key animators alone when grinning through the credits, patiently awaiting the obligatory post-text sting which is eggciting this time around) the movie breathes and feels fantastically tangible and exciting, both the pixel supported carapaces of Groot and Rocket Racoon are given a plausible weight and conviction to immerse you in the elite Hollywood holography, the definitions and scope expanded by an immersive deployment of 3D technology. This generates a real sense of space and dimension in the, err, space scenes, for the most an appreciation of where characters are in relation to each other in the melee scenes, as the film sprints through the usual Hollywood blockbuster schemata – parallel action, character beats, dual pronged climax, final victory salute. The wider Egyptian iconography meets HR Giger of the Kree tyrant is nebulously nasty, so its a shame that the villains are so undercranked and illustrated, heck even I managed to think of a pretty cool quip during an exchange between one of the Guardians and Ronan which is subsequently revisited in the final act pyrotechnic (just for the record for when you finallky see this I’m thinking ‘I’m sorry, you’ll have to more specific?”). Next summers adamantite adventure The Avengers 2 is gonna have to emit some major thrillpower to top this blockbuster brilliance, and a certain franchise forger at work in Pinewood might be shivering in his space-boots, but for now Marvel’s magnificent mustering of its celestial cosmic cerebellum are off to a gigglingly grandiose galactic start – Excelsior;