1 August 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy is a ton of fun

It's a well know fact that Marvel Studios take risks, a tradition that started during production of Iron Man. Based on a second tier superhero that few people had heard of, starring an actor that was still trying to get his career back on track after highly publicised substance abuse problems, the script hadn't been completed when filming began and much of what you see in the finished product is improvisation. The result? A critical and financial success, paving the way for Marvel Studios to create some of the highest grossing films ever made. The risk had paid off.

This, however, feels like a bigger risk than Iron Man was. With James Gunn at the helm, Guardians of the Galaxy takes the action of the Marvel Cinematic Universe into deep space, following Peter "Star Lord" Quill, Gamora, Drax the Destoyer, Groot and Rocket Racoon as they attempt to save the galaxy from Ronan the Accuser, a Kree supremacist who is attempting to destroy Xander, home of the Nova Corps, an intergalactic peace keeping force.

Yeah. It's pretty far removed from anything we've seen so far. There were fears that Marvel Studios were rushing into exploring the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe too soon and that audiences may not accept that these events can take place in the same universe as Captain America or Iron Man, but fortunately, everything works perfectly here. Nothing feels out of place or unbelievable, a real feat of film making when there is an entire act set in the giant disembodied head of a dead ancient being that has been converted into a mining town with a thriving black market. The film is entirely unafraid of exploring the strange or surreal and simply trusts audiences to buy into it whole-heartedly, which is easy to do when you are seeing this world through the eyes of such strong, likeable characters.

It would be easy to talk all day about how each character fulfils an important part of the group and how each of them shine in their own special way, but I feel that going into too much detail might rob some of the fun from seeing the film yourself - discovering these characters on screen was an absolute joy. Needless to say, each character is fantastic, but it is Drax the Destroyer who really stands out to me, taking the simple premise of his race being unable to understand metaphors and making the most of it, becoming the funniest running joke in the film. Bautista plays Drax perfectly, equal parts sincere and serious and fun-loving and dangerous, delivering his eloquently written lines like an angry Shakespearean ogre. I certainly didn't expect to come out of Guardians with Drax as my favourite character, but it feels like it would be impossible for any audience to not love him.

This isn't to say that the film doesn't have it's flaws. The action sequences feel lacklustre compared to other Marvel Studios films, and although each sequence serves a character moment or a plot point, there is no stand out moment in the action scenes - it's missing the visuals that made the finale of Avengers Assemble so fun, or the intensity of the hand to hand fight scenes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I've been saying for a long time now that the best action scenes are ones where you care about the characters involved rather than ones where the action is visually impressive, and Guardians of the Galaxy illustrates this point perfectly - the amount you care about the Guardians is more than enough to make up for slightly disappointing action sequences.

As well as this, the same praise I gave to the protagonists cannot be extended to the antagonists, with the standard Marvel issue of the villains being under-cooked very much present here. Despite have great screen presence and coming across as truly intimidating, both Ronan the Accuser and Nebula fail to be anything more than one-note characters, despite the best efforts of Lee Pace and Karen Gillan respectively. It's not that they are poorly written or handled badly, it's simply that the film doesn't have time for them while it is developing the Guardians themselves, a pay-off that seems more than fair to me.

There are other frustrating aspects to this film such as the main characters tendencies to simply monologue their back stories at one another, but this obvious exposition is done to allow you to move past origin stories as quick as possible, which again pays off over the course of the film. The first act feels rushed and the story is thin to say the least, but it is all in service of getting these characters together and showing you what the film wants to show you, as well as building up this world in the most believable way possible. Ultimately, some of the structure of the film at the start is sacrificed for more fun later on, but it's hard to grumble that the balance is off when one side of the scale is pure gold.

It would be easy to just gush over everything this film does right. The Guardians feel familiar moments after meeting them for the first time, and by the mid point of the film they feel as natural a team as you could ask for, interacting and rebounding off one another just as well as the Avengers do. The films looks gorgeous, colourful in ways that Warner Bros and the DC Universe could only ever dream of, imagination bursting from the screen. It's probably the funniest of the Marvel films, but in the smartest way possible - the dialogue is sharp, witty and infinitely quotable.

In short, the risk that is Guardians of the Galaxy seems to have paid off, at least as far as quality is concerned. It will be interesting to see how much this film actually makes at the box office considering just how strange it looks in the trailers and how far removed it is from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the critical response, word of mouth and the name Marvel Studios on posters should hopefully get bums in seats. It's the most fun I've had in the cinema since the final act of Avengers Assemble, and while it doesn't quite top the list of Marvel Studio's best films, it certainly gives the others a good cause for concern.

And the soundtrack is pretty bitching too.

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