Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy is Space Opera Joy

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The most exciting thing about Guardians of the Galaxy, APART FROM THE TALKING SPACE RACOON, is how little it feels like a Comic Book film. Kevin Feige has often gone on record as saying that the “Comic Book Movie” is not a genre. The Dark Knight proved it could be a crime drama, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a spy thriller and now Guardians of the Galaxy shows us it can be a Space Opera. Aside from following a pretty standard structure it feels different enough to show that these films aren’t just a fad. With enough creativity, it seems,  you can turn a comic book into anything.

And it’s funny. Oh so funny.

Just as Iron Man Three was without question a Shane Black film, Guardians is a James Gunn film through and through. From the first teaser we knew the film would be funny but the laughs are backed up by the same surprising amount of heart that made Super so oddly touching.

The first act is a master class of world building. Whenever a Sci Fi adventure comes out and nails it like Guardians does people start throwing ‘Star Wars’ around. Here the comparison might just be apt. Guardians won’t change cinema like A New Hope did but that immediate sense that you’re watching a fully realised world is unmistakable. When Starlord struts around Xandar trying to flog his trinkets you can’t help but think of Mos Eisley. When Rocket and Groot bicker it’s Han and Chewie. That makes it sound derivative but the film forges it’s own personality and identity. Many films have tried to emulate that Star Wars spark but only few have managed it. Throw Guardians onto that list.

The plot is almost gleeful in its simplicity and it essentially boils down to a thief stealing something that turns out to be a weapon that the villain needs to… etc etc. The plot being a little on the weak side is disappointing but the main purpose of this film is to throw the gang together. And what a gang it is.

It takes a very deft hand to make ensembles work. We’ve all seen what happens when a film maker has too many characters to juggle. Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman perfectly judge that balance and the chemistry and interplay between the Guardians is incredible. Each gets a moment to shine, an insanely cool action beat or a killer one line.

Chris Pratt is headed for super stardom after this. He sort of plays Peter Quill (AKA Star Lord) as Andy Dwyer with a six pack but he feels dangerous and capable. Quill is a human who was taken from Earth as a child. He has a goofy Whedonesque manner but there is loss there. Pratt is known for his charm and comedy chops but he rises to the more emotional places Quill goes to.

Rocket Racoon was in danger of being over hyped the minute this film was announced. He is such a ridiculous idea that he was either going to work or sink the film. Bradley Cooper does a incredible job with him making him angry, funny and damaged. One key moment where his tragic past is hinted at really shows us where his head is at but it’s just that, a moment, and it’s all that’s needed.

Vin Diesel voices the second ludicrous character Groot, a walking, talking, punching tree. Like Rocket, Gunn knows exactly how to use him and he damn near steals the film. I honestly didn’t think adorable would be a word I’d use to describe him but it’s appropriate. Your Facebook feed has probably seen a lot of “I am Groot!” Over the last few days and with good reason.

Zoe Saldana has a pretty tough job. Calling Gamora the weak link isn’t fair but she is required to be the straight one to characters far more showy than her. Oddly, the films seems to skip her redemptive arc as by the time we meet her she has already decided to betray the villain. She does get the funniest line in the film, but it would have been nice to see Gamora get the same attention that the rest of the crew got.

The biggest and best surprise of the film is how great Dave Bautista is. In any other film a guy called Drax the Destroyer played by a wrestler would just be the muscle, but here he’s a revelation. Gunn clearly relished writing a maniac who is completely literal and Bautista’s deadpan delivery brings some of the biggest laughs of the film. He also looks like he could break you in half.

There’s a ridiculous amount of talent filling out the supporting roles. Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Benecio Del Toro, Michael Rooker (who, brilliantly, doesn’t even try to not sound like Michael Rooker) all bring that little something extra to their roles and help flesh out this weird world.

The film just drips with character. Even the soundtrack (my God that soundtrack) is a part of the story and informs so much of the films personality. The only thing Quill has from Earth is a cassette player and a mix tape. The first time we see the grown up StarLord he’s exploring a cave singing Redbone’s “Come And Get Your Love” using a space rat as a microphone. The tape and, by extension, the soundtrack is probably more important to the story than the weapon everyone is chasing.

If there’s one criticism, and it’s one I was expecting, it’s that the Ronan the Accuser, the film’s antagonist, trained at the Malekith school of villainy. Lee Pace looks the part but never gets that one moment where he scares us or intrigues us. His motivations are spelled out to us but there’s nothing there to really connect us. I wasn’t expecting Darth Vader but perhaps something akin the to The Operative from Serenity. He felt like an unstoppable force and if Ronan had a little more of that menace we would have had a more memorable villain. With that said, if more time had been spent with Ronan and his assassin Nebula it would have meant less time with the Guardians and who wants that?

As it is though, that lack of a truly intimidating villain lessens the stakes of the film somewhat and the third act falls a little flat. This is Marvel’s achilles heel and it’s plagued them since Iron Man. That character and spark that is bursting out the screen for the majority of the film fades away a little to make room for the money shots and here the action threatens to get a little pedestrian at times. The legwork in this film is so good that it barely registers but like a lot of Marvel’s output Guardians lacks that amazing climax that would make it a classic.

It’s a minor quibble because the rest of the film is irresistible. I’m still being reminded of small left-field lines that crack me up, “That’s my favourite knife”. Guardians of the Galaxy is just fun, probably the most fun you’ll have in the cinema this year. A slightly wobbly finale can be forgiven if the character work is this good and by the time the credits are rolling to the The Jackson Five you’ll be too busy trying to decide your favourite Guardian to worry.

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Posted on August 5, 2014, in Film and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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