One of the most exciting things about Guardians Of The Galaxy is that it is a departure from the Marvel feature film template. Guardians Of The Galaxy is very much a Marvel movie, but it’s also (way) out there, doing its own thing.
22 years ago, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) was abducted by a band of alien scavengers. Now, he’s on the other side of the universe attempting to break off on his own, but the orb he’s trying to sell has psychotic terrorist Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) after it, who dispatches Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to retrieve it.
When Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) try to collect the bounty on Quill’s head, the whole lot of them are thrown in jail where, along with the vengeful Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), they realise they might have more to gain from working together.
There are so many factors that make Guardians Of The Galaxy an exciting event. First of all, it’s Marvel doing space opera. Secondly, it’s made by James Gunn, a filmmaker who would struggle to make a film without personality. Thirdly, it stars a raccoon and a talking tree. Finally, Guardians Of The Galaxy had the potential to stand apart from the rest of the Marvel canon, where everything has to tie in and set up the next seven or eight sequels and a TV series.
Like Peter Quill, Guardians Of The Galaxy had the opportunity to put on its headphones and dance like nobody’s watching.
For the most part, this is what happens. Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman succeed in creating a richly detailed universe for their heroes to tear apart. The details that tie it into the larger Marvel universe are mostly peripheral: the infinity stone is the MacGuffin, Thanos (Josh Brolin) appears briefly, and Benicio del Toro’s Collector returns to dish out some exposition (del Toro makes him a weird blend of Werner Herzog and Andy Warhol, and it works.)
This is a film that doesn’t shy away from all the strange creatures, but the wonderful oddities are made accessible by the script, loaded with zingers, pop culture references and a great sense of humour all set to a perfectly chosen Eighties soundtrack.
Pratt was born to play Peter Quill, locating the heart underneath his brash, impulsive exterior to make his dick-ishness charming. Bautista makes for a fantastic Drax, a violent behemoth who takes everything personally and literally. Saldana is given the fewest opportunities for humour, but she makes the most of them, and she’s terrific (if slightly warmer than her comic-book counterpart).
Of course, it’s Rocket and Groot who steal the show. Cooper is simply perfect as the voice of the easily offended and gleefully violent raccoon, giving him a psychotic energy that bounces perfectly off Diesel’s Groot, who unexpectedly acts as the film’s heart.
It’s also refreshing to see a film where the villains aren’t having the most fun. As good as Pace, Karen Gillan and Djimon Hounsou are, their desire to destroy worlds isn’t as compelling as watching our antiheroes struggling to come up with a plan that won’t get them all killed, bouncing between the square-jawed Nova Corps (led by Glenn Close) and Quill’s furious old boss Yondu (a brilliant Michael Rooker).
Gunn’s ability to combine action and humour makes Guardians Of The Galaxy a huge amount of fun, but he also understands the importance of keeping things moving. The script rattles along at a tremendous pace while making sure that the universe it creates is engaging and compelling.
The main thing working against it is the fact that it adheres to the rigid Marvel movie structure and the shifting gears are too visible at the halfway point, but it’s also got the most engaging final action sequence of any of their films since Avengers Assemble.
It’s a tremendous relief to see Guardians Of The Galaxy swagger into cinemas with such a clear sense of what it is. It’s hilarious, thrilling and feels like something new. Risks be damned; this is excellent.