Once again, comedy comes to the rescue for Marvel’s latest, Guardians Of The Galaxy, says Fred O’Connor
Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t take itself too seriously and that’s probably the best frame of mind to watch it in. Sure, it’s another new franchise from the seemingly bottomless Santa sack that is Marvel’s comic book repertoire. And yes, it features all the action, spaceships, physiques, rocket boots, obligatory Stan Lee cameo and genocidal villains one would expect from such an offering. But, to paraphrase Darryl Kerrigan in The Castle, it’s what they’ve done with it.
For those who’ve been inhabiting the underside of a rock, Shia La Beouf’s answering machine or some other place that is beyond the reach of the entertainment industry, Marvel Studios has been doing rather well lately. The record-breaking box office and critical success garnered by the Avengers movies, would leave any studio feeling cocky. And it’s this cocksure swagger that Marvel has injected into its latest sci-fi epic. Actually it might be more accurate to say the whole film has been dipped in it.
The story wastes no time setting up our hero, Peter Quill – once a young boy abducted from 1980’s Earth, now all grown up and making a living as a Han Solo-esque scoundrel in the present day far side of the galaxy. An achingly retro walkman, ultimate mixtape and a few earthly keepsakes are Quill’s only reminders of his childhood. And it’s this walkman and the mixtape within it that act as midwife to much of the film’s swagger and humour. In the opening minutes, Quill (Chris Pratt) struts and dances his way around a forgotten, cavernous temple as he searches for a valuable artifact, luxuriating in his own awesomeness. It would be easy to imagine Kevin Feige – Marvel boss and driving force behind the brand’s renaissance – doing something similar when no one’s looking.
Marvel parades it’s growing confidence by filling the soundtrack with hits from the 70’s and 80’s, often in place of the expected orchestral pieces. Blue Swede’s Hooked on a Feeling, which featured memorably in the trailer, makes more than one appearance alongside classics from the Jacksons, 10CC and others. In what could be the cinematic equivalent of lighting a cigar with a hundred dollar bill, Face Man Bradley Cooper has been cast as the voice of a raccoon named Rocket. With so much commercial and critical success of late, Cooper is arguably the biggest star in this film and they don’t even show his face. Similarly, the world’s highest paid block of wood, Vin Diesel, plays Rocket’s sidekick, Groot. An inspired piece of casting considering the character is literally made of wood and has a vocabulary of 5 words. Glenn Close and Benicio Del Toro are dropped in, no doubt to give the credits some gravitas, but blink and you’ll probably miss them. That said, Glenn Close manages to illicit one of the biggest laughs of the film with one word.
A lot about this film doesn’t work on paper: Chris Pratt is a relative newcomer to the leading man slot (some may remember him as James McAvoy’s cuckolding work mate in Wanted); James Gunn, a comedy director by trade helming a big budget sci-fi blockbuster; the fact that Gunn shares the writing credit with Nicole Perlman, a virtually unknown screenwriter; the beautiful and talented Zoe Saldana almost unrecognisable as a horrific-looking green assassin; and top that off with a major character, Drax the Destroyer, played by former wrestler, Dave Bautista. That all said, the cast gels surprisingly well, with Diesel’s man-tree, Groot, being the standout character by a country mile. Let’s face it, if the creatives over at Marvel Studios were worried about how things looked on paper, the cinematic landscape over the last few summers would be very different. Robert Downey Jnr. and Jon Favreau may have seemed like odd choices for an action blockbuster back in 2008, but then, you know, Iron Man happened.
The meat of the story sees a thinly-veiled jihadist named Ronan the Accuser – whose name suggests he gets people kicked out of the Gaeltacht for speaking English – chasing an orb that will help him destroy the galaxy one planet at a time. Ronan starts with his least favourite world, Xandar, much to the dismay of Xandar’s military head, Glenn Close, who dusts off her politician face from Air Force One. Through a series of unlikely events, it falls to Peter Quill, and his rogues gallery of action badasses to stop Ronan, presumably, from accusing everyone to death.
The potent blend of jokes, action and ultimate weapons has served Marvel Studios well in the past and more than anything else is what sets their work apart from the well made but pretty humourless Superman and Batman franchise(s). But rather than an odd joke to break the tension, the comedy in Guardians of the Galaxy permeates the story. And to be honest, it needs it. With such a huge array of characters, planets and hierarchies of baddies on offer – all set up for the inevitable sequels of course – the audience really needs something to make the medicine go down.
On that note, Guardians of the Galaxy is not without its faults. The joyless, one-note villains are as flat a they come. Xandar, the world under threat of destruction, is rather thinly established and it’s hard to feel the same sense of dread one would would associate with the destruction of somewhere more familiar like New York. And while it is admirable how efficiently the story introduces so many people and places, it does at times feel overladen with set-up for the later films and clunky expository dialogue. But this is where the film’s ever-present comedy bears fruit. These minor weaknesses can easily be forgiven because Guardians of the Galaxy is just so much fun. The action sequences are entertaining and there are more gadgets and pop-culture references than you can shake a rocket-boot at.
If all of that doesn’t make you want to risk a tenner and two hours of your life, you should go just to see Vin Diesel in his best role yet: a violent, yet lovable tree. What more could you want?
Guardians Of The Galaxy opens in cinemas on Thursday 31st July.