Having come to define the superhero genre, after nine films and six years, Marvel has finally dared to go a little weird.
While there’s a definite built-in audience for the likes of Iron Man and Captain America, the Guardians of the Galaxy are relative unknowns. Still, with roughly five billion dollars in box office takings, producer Kevin Feige can afford to take a few risks.
What’s striking about Guardians of the Galaxy is how confident and assured it is in itself. From the moment the first image appears on the screen – a young boy in the hospital, Walkman on, waiting for bad news – it feels completely different from any of the other Marvel films that have preceded it. This would seem to be largely down to James Gunn and his unique vision.
Unlike, say, Captain America 2, which feels obliged to quickly get down to business, Guardians of the Galaxy gives us a know grown-up Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) grooving his way through alien ruins to the tune of Redbone’s “Come And Get Your Love.” Quill himself is half Han Solo, half everyman, with a bit of Indy thrown in on the side and maybe just a dash of James Tiberius Kirk.
The whole thing feels at once charmingly retro and excitingly new. Guardians of the Galaxy’s plot bears more than a little resemblance to that of Thor 2 – there’s an all-powerful MacGuffin, a looming villain with a honorific beginning in “Accu” – but it’s ultimately just an excuse to get the band together a la The Avengers, and, even compared to their more mainstream brethren, it’s an impressive group.
Though the goofy, well-meaning Quill sits at center stage, his presence is balanced with that of Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a green-skinned assassin looking for a new life; Rocket (Bradley Cooper), an attitudinous genetically engineered raccoon; Groot (Vin Diesel), a lovable talking tree with a limited vocabulary; and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a big blueish brute in search of vengeance.
Each of these characters is given a strong sense of personality and motivation. Most of Guardians of the Galaxy’s comedy – and yes, it is a very fun film – comes from their contrasting personalities, be it Drax’s literal mindedness or Root’s obnoxiousness. They’re all established quickly and cleaning, never overshadowing each other or jostling for space.
Out of the supporting cast only Quill’s would-be surrogate father, intergalactic hillbilly Yondu (Walking Dead’s Michael Rooker), gets much by the way of screen-time. Lee Pace brings a simmering fury to the genocidal Ronan the Accursed and Karen Gillan brings a sultry menace to the slap-headed Nebula, but they’re a staid pair compared to the main bunch.
Through prison breaks, double crosses, and planetary invasions, Gunn keeps the focus on the characters, rarely losing track of them. Though the wonderfully retro matte paintings of the opening scenes eventually give way to fully CG creations, Guardians of the Galaxy feels, more than any other Marvel film ever has, like a personal affair, a labor of love.
The eponymous Guardians are a bunch of misfits united solely in their loss and their striving for something better. They may bicker and fight, but they’re a family. In this – and in the design of Quill’s hot rod-style ship – the film brings to mind Joss Whedon’s Firefly: this too is a space opera, one with a lot of heart and a great soundtrack, and hopefully more long-lasting.
Amidst all the madcap fun – the film itself seems to be having a lot of it – there is also a deceptive amount of heavy lifting continuity-wise. Guardians of the Galaxy marks a huge leap for the outer peripheries of the Marvel Universe, introducing the wider mythology and the development of an overarching threat. This is an evolution of the franchise in every way possible, and one we feel lucky to have.
Guardians of the Galaxy is a busy film, crammed even, barely finding time for the likes of Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou, Peter Serafinowicz,and Benicio Del Toro’s Andy Warhol-like Collector. Nevertheless, it’s so offbeat, so relentlessly entertaining, you’re forced to just sit back and enjoy it, take it as it comes. Self-aware yet heartfelt, Guardians of the Galaxy shows that, for all its Phases and sequels, Marvel’s still got some imagination left.
And, man, if we don’t still love us some Blue Swede.