Following the remarkable Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel Studios continues to impress with the intergalactic excursion of an unlikely team of crusading criminals in The Guardians of the Galaxy. Blasting off from cookie-cutter crap that has characterised many superhero films in recent memory, Marvel’s trend of differentiating each saga through tone and genre keeps the continually expanding universe fresh—if there’s one word that summarises this film, it’s ‘fresh’. In a lot of ways, Guardians plays as a parody of the superhero genre with its hilarious rag-tag collection of flawed heroes, but its fun tone sits extremely well with deeper themes of friendship, unity, and support which could easily have felt superficial in a less confident film. Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy delights with its chaotic sense of humour, its incredible ensemble, and its surprisingly touching sincerity.
There’s no way to beat around the Groot with this one, Guardians of the Galaxy is the funniest film I’ve seen this summer. I knew to expect hilarity, but it took some time for the humour of the film to really hit its stride. I initially thought, this is funny, but it’s not that funny. This all changed when all the Guardians finally teamed up. The chemistry between all the performers was electric, and in this case, the whole was astronomically greater than the sum of its parts. Chris Pratt’s bumbling badassery as Peter Quill always came as a delightful surprise, as it was easy to forget his combat prowess given his general dopiness throughout. His impromptu, seat-of-his-pants superhero-ing contrasted nicely with Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana) calculated and precise combat style, and though their onscreen chemistry wasn’t the most believable, they suited one another. Alongside them, Rocket Raccoon’s ridiculing, Groot’s childlike glee, and Drax the Destroyer’s stoic literalism come together to form one of the most hilarious (and totally kickass) teams in cinematic superhero history. I think Groot deserves a shout-out in particular, as his exceptional character design with Vin Diesel’s emotive use of his three-word-vocabulary made him an absolute highlight of the film.
My knowledge of the Marvel Universe is almost exclusively limited to its cinematic excursions, so I knew virtually nothing about the content of the film going into it other than it was going to be a bit wacky and set in space. For most cinemagoers, the unwieldy nature of the Guardians canon is quite a change from the more familiar Earth-dwelling Avengers. However, the scope of the film’s universe is awe-inspiring rather than overwhelming, with lovely little exposition bombs dropped during the rapid-fire repartee of the team. The world seems both massive and intimately interconnected, and was a nice change from the asinine Asgardian sprawl. There’s still some magical-stone maguffinry, but the science-fiction setting lends the ‘Power Stone’ a sense of awe and wonder, rather than seeming like just another powerful pebble being pulled out of the plot-device hat.
Some of my biggest criticisms of previous superhero films have been the unadulterated crappiness that studios try to dress up as villains, and Marvel has suffered from this on many occasions (most recently with their laughably two-dimensional trans-dimensional fiend in Thor 2). Though the big bad in Guardians won’t blow any minds (though the surprise appearance of a really-big bad might), I found Ronan to be a functional and fairly believable adversary. His self-righteous religious fanaticism contrasts nicely with the goofy Guardians’ off-the-cuff heroics. Also, Ronan’s notoriety in the film’s world really gave him a sense of opposition that is rarely built up to in such an escalating way. Kicking his ass (spoiler: they kick his ass) actually has a massive impact to the universe in a non-apocalyptic sense; not only do they save the universe, they also dismantle the reign of a religious extremist. In one sequence, Ronan commands his squadrons to divebomb civilians, their craft exploding as they smash into the chrome buildings of Xandar. I mean, Ronan’s first line of dialogue is literally ‘Some call me terrorist’. Like Hydra’s obvious NSA parallels in Cap 2, Ronan’s holy war unfolds uncomfortably close to reality, expanded to a galactic scale by the flashy comic book narrative.
Upon a second viewing (yes, I saw it twice and could easily see it again), I realised how exceptionally well-paced Guardians is. With tremendous setpiece environments and jaw-crunching battle sequences, the film never slows down (except in the seldom-used slow-motion shots, which punctuate particularly intense sequences, rather than the inane Zach Snyder cure-all for indecipherable scuffling). On top of this, every event seamlessly raises the stakes, and every strand winds together in the tremendous final act. Looking back at trailers, it’s clear that a lot of material was cut. As a result, the exceptional editing grants the film an ability to flow from one plot point to the next while feeling like a genuine adventure.
I could easily have written a one-sentence review of this film. ‘Guardians is fun and hilarious and touching and gorgeous and enormous and mind-blowingly badass.’ But as important as that recommendation is, there are plenty of other reasons to drop some cash to see this spectacular superhero romp. Guardians almost didn’t happen because studio execs thought it would be too ‘out there’ for audiences to handle. Sure, go see Guardians of the Galaxy because it’s entertaining as hell, but also remember that every ticket sale is a vote against the bland studio-sponsored shit-smoothie superhero films of yore.