Director: James Gunn
Writer: James Gun and Nicole Perlman
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel
As the Marvel Cinematic Universe rolls into its tenth installment in six years, it has finally begun to expand its source material beyond the super heroes of The Avengers. And whilst it looks like a super hero film helmed by a female lead still looks like a bridge too far for the House of M (Marvel Studios president: “we’re too busy for that”), the Guardians of the Galaxy is a welcome new direction for the super hero genre. It’s a far more interesting proposition than, say, Iron Man 4.
The Guardians of the Galaxy are an intergalactic motley crew comprised of a space pirate, a warrior princess, a pro wrestler, a raccoon and a talking tree. The fivesome do not start the film as allies but they are brought together by a mutual goal to hunt down the film’s MacGuffin – an all-power space crystal coveted by Thanos, a space titan, who wants to use it to destroy and rule the planet Xandar.
There’s Peter Quill, a human who was abducted by aliens as a boy, who takes the alias Star-Lord. Quill is played by Chris Pratt, an actor who seems to be having one of those star-making years where everything he touches is box office gold. He currently has the momentum that other young actors kill for and Shia Lebouf wishes he hadn’t squandered. Zoe Saldana plays the spirited and tenacious Gamora, a green skinned bad ass who goes to great lengths to avoid turning into Star Lord’s token love interest. Pro wrestler Dave Bautista plays the part of Drax the Destroyer with surprising wit and guile. His character has a Python-esque quirk where he takes every statement literally and at face value. Plenty of the film’s laughs are derived from his angry and overblown reactions to misunderstood remarks made about him. Then there’s Groot, a tree voiced by Vin Diesel. Although Groot is only capable of saying the phrase ‘I am Groot’, he is given the R2D2 treatment where another character can interpret the different meanings of his speech to the audience. There’s actually an emotionally touching scene involving Groot near the film’s end which is some of Vin Diesel’s best voice acting work since The Iron Giant. Lastly, there’s Rocket, a genetically modified raccoon, voiced by Bradley Cooper, who is an aggressive little trooper that has a chip on his shoulder about his appearance and has a love of heavy weaponry.
What separates Guardians of the Galaxy from other sci-fi blockbusters of its ilk is its light-hearted tone and acerbic sense of humour. When I recommended the film to a friend and told him it was a sci-fi comedy, he replied “you mean like Spaceballs?” which tells you just how often films of this style come along. I like to think that Guardians of the Galaxy is a cut above Spaceballs and instead I would put it up there with Galaxy Quest. It’s funny, full of affection for its source material and not afraid to poke fun at its genre conventions.
Observing the positive feedback for this film on social media, I noticed a repeated sentiment that people wanted Guardians of the Galaxy to be an influence on the next Star Wars and Mass Effect titles. I don’t think they’re just talking about the humour either. The imaginative alien characters, the colourful spaceship and planetary designs and the endearingly quirky tone of the film are all a breath of fresh air.
Eight years ago, I watched the terrific remake of Dawn of the Dead and marked director Zack Synder as someone to watch out for. After many subsequent disappointments – Suckerpunch, Watchmen, Man of Steel etc -I was left wondering where the promise that was shown in Dawn of the Dead had gone. It turns out that maybe the person that made Dawn of the Dead so good was James Gunn. Gunn’s stock and trade in Hollywood has been as a writer where he has penned the screenplays of a number of indy cult classics that I have enjoyed including Tromeo and Juliet, Sgt Kabukiman, Slither and of course, Dawn of the Dead. Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t Gunn’s directorial debut but it is certainly his most high profile production and he handles it with aplomb. Most of the negative Marvel Cinematic Universe tropes – marginal roles for women reduced to being love interests, bloated third acts that feature lengthy battle scenes – are mercifully restrained here. Guardians is fast on its feet, full of laughs and leaves you wanting more.
Today’s super hero movie market is a billion dollar industry. Warner has announced that they will produce eleven super hero films between now and 2020. Unlicensed super hero films such as Jumper, Chronicle and Lucy are also increasingly common. Marvel are likely to continue pumping out two films per year and expand their super hero tv programming also. This kind of market saturation is doomed to eventual failure unless they are able to maintain a certain threshold for quality and original content. Guardians of the Galaxy is a promising sign that it doesn’t have to be the same old, same old.