Today I watched James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy opens on Earth in the year 1988 in a hospital where the mother of a young Peter Quill dies of cancer. Quill runs out of the hospital and into the night distraught, when he is suddenly abducted by aliens. Twenty six years later and Peter Quill has grown up into a bro-tastic outlaw and womanizer who has just betrayed his abductors, a group of outlaws known as Ravagers, to steal an orb like artifact that fetches a high bounty. Things go south when Quill tries to sell the orb though, a powerful warrior named Gamora ambushes him and attempts to steal the orb, she doesn’t get far though as Quill pursues her and the pair of a raccoon named Rocket and a tree man named Groot try to capture Quill at the same time. This violent altercation lands them all in a high security prison where they meet Drax, a warrior with a completely literal mind, and together they manage to overcome their differences for long enough to escape. After this they try to sell the orb to a powerful and strange collector at a mining station called Knowhere. Meanwhile a religious space-zealot named Ronan is after our protagonists with the hopes of getting his hands on the orb, which is actually something called an Infinity Stone which has the power to destroy worlds. He catches up with them at Knowhere after Drax tips him off to the location, an attempt to lure him out so Drax can kill him and avenge his family. Things go from bad to worse and Ronan takes the stone, intending to use it’s power to destroy the world of Xandar, and then the universe. So of course our heroes have to reconcile their differences, learn to respect one another, and save the Galaxy, as you do.
What James Gunn says with this film, I think, is very important. Every scene rings with his sense of humour and style, from jokes about sleeping with alien abominations composed of tentacles and teeth, to the irreverent attitude that drives the one liners. What he does is prove that an auteur can shine even in the restrictive Marvel Franchise and the film does not have to feel compromised. He is what really brings all the elements of the film together and his style and attitude is the glue that keeps it. The film is really well balanced between it’s creative action scenes, humourous beats and more complex gags, and the necessary dramatic moments to develop it’s colourful cast of characters.
That cast is the second thing that holds this movie up above many of it’s peers, though elements of it are also the biggest downfall of the film. Zoe Saldana as Gamora is particularly awful, her character is supposed to be the favoured daughter of Thanos, a harbinger of death and destruction, but she plays it like a whiny, petulant teenager. Her acting ability is community theater level here, there is nothing earnest or believable about it, her emotions are so staged and disingenuous it hurts. While not equally as bad, Lee Pace’s one dimensional portrayal of Ronan is just a bore. He highlights why these over the top, fun, roller-coaster type movies really need over the top hammy scenerey chewing villains. Pace’s performance is just grimacing and growling through gritted teeth, it’s just too restrained to be memorable. This is especially evident when compared to a great single scene appearance by Josh Brolin who plays the Marvel series big bad, Thanos, and utterly humiliates Ronan both in terms of villainous presence and energy of performance.
The rest of the cast are great though,Chris Pratt as Quill makes a character, who on paper is a total ass, into a lovable and charismatic ass. Dave Bautista plays Drax and I come to realize a rather odd thing about Bautista, despite his pro-wrestling background he is much better as a screen actor, a very odd thing indeed. He does a great job at being this very alien individual who some have pointed out as being the first realistically ‘autistic’ superhero. Then of course there is Rocket, who is voiced by Bradley Cooper, an actor who I think has a lot of talent and does not disappoint here. Finally, Vin Diesel is brought on to give life to the three word vocabulary of Groot, he was selected because of a similar performance he did in the film The Iron Giant and as it happens, the guy has a great skill with such vocally restricted characters.
Guardians of the Galaxy is just pure fun, creative entertainment worthy of asking you to turn your brain off. It is marred by one terrible protagonist of five and a truly boring antagonist, but the rest of the film manages to be quite great despite this. The film has to fight an uphill battle with it’s large cast and alien environment but succeeds handily. I think the licensed music and it’s use fully illustrate the best qualities of this film, the ludicrous pop music of the sixties and seventies is Quill’s connection to Earth and a cornerstone of the film’s comedy, like that element it is a fusion of well integrated character work with fun irreverence and abandon defines this rather wonderful flick. 4/5