08/08/2014

Guardians of the Galaxy



Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel
Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman

Directed by James Gunn
 
The liveliest Marvel offering yet is funny, thrilling and wonderfully retro space opera.

If there really is a place where space battles happen you feel it is probably much more as
depicted in this film than either the gleaming or grimy universes usually imagined. Guardians of the Galaxy takes a lot of visual screen and comic influences, mashes them up and coats them in a deadpan humour garnished with a retro music feel that makes every minute of the movie so much fun you cannot fail to enjoy it. Even Iron Man will seem slightly po faced after this!


 



In 1988 young Peter Quill is taken by a giant spaceship moments after his mother has died and when we meet him a few decades later he is the self styled Star Lord, a sort of thief and adventurer in the spirit of Indian Jones and Lara Croft. As we see him take a valuable metal orb while grooving to the kitsch 70s soundtrack provided by his mother’s mix tape on his still working Walkman (!), it is clear that this film is going to be enormous fun. And so it proves, as Quill becomes entwined in a pan galactic plot while pursued by the pirates that initially took him and are now after his head.
He ends up in a high security facility with a disparate group of fellow outlaws with whom he teams up to escape and get the orb- which turns out to be more than simply a shiny prize- to the highest bidder. There are plenty of spills and thrills, with director Peter Gunn offering up the equal of any high budget romp including some breathtakingly shot action sequences against a variety of visually stunning backdrops. Each of these is delivered at high speed and easily matches the best of the year. It is in the character department though where Guardians of the Galaxy really stands out. Too many big budget fantasy features lack much colour or humour so the dialogue never reaches the same height as the action. This movie is very different in that respect adding plenty of wit and banter, trivia and nonsense as if acknowledging the absurdity of what is happening. Even the principal villain who has proclaimed and ranted for much of the film has one of these moments near the end and it makes all the difference.
What might go unnoticed to some extent is the way that the CGI characters mix seamlessly with the human ones. Two of the group are created in the computer but brought to life by vocal talent. Groot is a living tree who has three words of dialogue (“I am Groot”) but it is the way he says them that counts. Initially this plays into a joke but by the end even the audience knows what he means and you have to credit Vin Diesel with managing to say those three words in so many different tones and intonations. Rocky is an augmented raccoon who likes large weapons and is frequently snippy with his new associates. Voiced by Bradley Cooper he is tetchy, grouchy but also a technical genius.  Zoe Saldana’s green skinned Gamora and Dave Bautista’s tattooed Drax both have personal issues that spill over into matters and cause them to clash so they take a while to get on decent speaking terms. As Quill, Chris Pratt is laconic and keeps it light with plenty of wise cracks but avoids going too far and displays more traditional heroism at the appropriate moments. 


This mismatched group bicker and squabble as they somehow escape from increasingly difficult straits in a series of ambitiously mounted escapades.  Yet mixed in there is enough humanity an d occasional thoughtful moments to give each of them additional light and shade. By the credits you wish there was an ongoing tv series so we could watch them every week. The villains inevitably struggle to match this engaging camaraderie and are used more as something to react against
than characters in their own right. Caked in bizarre make up Lee Pace again shows he gives good nastiness while Karen Gillan makes the most of her thinly sketched role as Gamora’s half sister though the two have a powerful battle near the end.
The film’s look draws on a multitude of archetypes but is clever enough to find new ways of using them, often pricking any pomposity serving up delightful riffs on familiar situations. You might say that Quill’s eighties upbringing influences everything ; at times the riot of colours conjure up the original Total Recall film while the space battles will certainly challenge the new Star Wars film as much as they evoke the original 70s ones as it tugs at the same bubblegum comic roots.
Whereas a more serious film would have you gawping at the incredulous manner in which our heroes manage to escape assorted dilemmas- one set in space is just impossible in any context really, while the ending is fudged- here it doesn’t really matter because some obscure 70s pop song
will kick in, someone will make a witty remark and everything’s fine. In that respect the film is a hair’s breadth from being a cartoon and amongst the closest examples of a live action film mimicking that
medium. I wouldn’t suggest every film is made this way but it’s heartening to be informed at the end that the Guardians of the Galaxy will return.  I can hardly wait!

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