REVIEW: “Guardians of the Galaxy”

“Why would you want to save the galaxy?!”
“‘Coz I’m one of the idiots who lives in it!”
— Rocket [Bradley Cooper], Peter Quill [Chris Pratt]

Like 99.9% of people (and 99.8% of all comic book nerds), I’d never heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy before this film was announced. A talking racoon, really?! But then, once upon a time, most people had never heard of Iron Man (no, seriously), so introducing a concept from scratch can sometimes pay off. I mean, everyone knows what to expect from a Batman movie; it’s predictable (dead parents back-story, puts on an impractical black suit to beat up colourful villain with a stupid plan… been there, done that). “Guardians of the Galaxy” is definitely not predictable! (Beyond the obvious “The good guys win and the bad guys loose”, of course.)

Peter Quill is a young boy in the eighties whose mother dies; he runs away, and is abducted by aliens. In the present day, he’s an intergalactic thief who steals an orb coveted by a bad-ass religious nutter named Ronan who wants it for his evil plan to destroy the galaxy (because, uh, he wants to, I think). A bounty is put on his head, and Quill is arrested along with several other criminals trying to collect the bounty on him; they escape prison together, and realise that they alone can defeat the dark lord and bring balance to the Force– wait, scratch that, only they can save the galaxy! (Although you can be forgiven for mistaking this for Star Wars; the usually-frugal Marvel Studios seem to have gone all-out to make this one of the most beautiful and epic movies you’ll ever see.)

From the opening credits sequence, you get to know and love Peter Quill (who prefers to be known as Star-Lord, for a surprisingly good reason which I won’t spoil), a jackass adventurer who dances (yes, you heard me) his way through life without a care in the world, running away from his troubles and towards anything which can make him a profit. Chris Pratt does a great job of making the idiotic thief a likeable character; daring enough to get into trouble, and stupid enough to be amusing when it all goes horribly wrong for him.

Gamora is a bit less relatable; incredibly beautiful (for a green chick), smart, deadly, a trained killer for the most dangerous being in the galaxy (Thanos, aka the creepy mastermind behind Loki’s army in “The Avengers”), and subject to the standard Hollywood ‘Main male character and main female character are attracted to each other’ shtick, the closest this film comes to being predictable and plodding. But she gets some cool scenes, especially with her foster sister, Karen Gillan’s Nebula (Doctor Who’s Amy Pond rockin’ bald blue sadism), and she’s definitely the most sane person on the team (which isn’t saying a lot)!

Drax is an odd one. He’s the straight guy; when he says nothing goes over his head, he really means it (“My reflexes are too fast; I would catch it”; cue exasperated looks from everyone who gets metaphors), he’s a thug who’s suffered great tragedy at Ronan’s hand, but when offered a chance for revenge, he jumps at it with suicidal fanaticism, which gives him great drive. He’s a blunt instrument, the proverbial bull in a china shop, but his amusing honesty makes him great fun.

Rocket is the one reason why most people won’t go to see this film, and he’s one of the main reasons why you should. Yes, he’s a talking racoon, but he’s sarcastic, clever, loves weapons and inflicting pain, and is utterly self-centred… except when it comes to his bodyguard (and only friend), Groot. Rocket’s simple joy in blowing stuff up masks a world of pain from his past, and seeing him reluctantly open up to a group of people who are as damaged as he is makes the character a joy to watch (“Oh, what the hell, I don’t got that long a lifespan anyway”). Still, it’s nice to see (well, hear) Will Tippin from “Alias” again. I hear that he’s become some kinda Hollywood A-lister since then. Go figure.

Groot. He’s a walking, talking tree (yes, an Ent from “The Lord of the Rings”, if you like). And he only ever says “I am Groot”, although Rocket seems to understand what Groot is actually saying (think Han Solo understanding Chewbacca). He’s weird, doing things at his own pace (he’s a tree, for Pete’s sake), just wandering through life like a bemused cow; half the time, it isn’t clear if he actually knows what’s going on. But Groot offers a surprisingly touching performance, from offering a girl a flower he grows for her, through to his final scene (which had the cinema in stitches). And his smile is both the sweetest and the creepiest thing you’ll ever see. Vin Diesel does a fantastic job voicing the character, from grunts and yells to a dozen different versions of “I am Groot” which perfectly convey Groot’s feelings of joy or sadness or terrifying anger. Groot is a compassionate, uh, person, and his tender friendship with Rocket makes for a great on-screen partnership.

Ronan is a bad-ass alien who doesn’t want to stop trying to kill his enemies (because… uh… it passes the time?), so when his people sign a peace treaty, he carries on the war regardless, and plans to use a super-weapon to destroy the galaxy (which surely would kill his own people?). Lee Pace doesn’t really get much to do with the role (although anything he does which isn’t “Pushing Daisies” is frankly a waste of potential Pie Maker rom-com goodness); he’s the big bad, having a power tantrum (as Thanos himself remarks), and going all supervillain when he gets his hands on the orb (yes, the one Quill steals, which like all super-weapons was just lying around a deserted planet waiting to get plundered). Ronan at least has a good mix of delicious over-the-top evil plotting, physical strength for throwing the main cast around, and military forces that make him a credible threat to the Nova Corps, his sworn enemies! (Seriously, did they run over his dog or something?)

As for the rest, Nebula is entertaining (although the name baffles me; she’s from space, so she’s named after something commonly found in space? That’s like someone on Earth calling their kid Tree), although I would have loved a bit more of her sisterly rivalry with Gamora. Yondu is a great pirate captain, self-serving and ruthless, a tour-de-force who keeps everybody on their toes. The Collector has disappointingly little to do, besides explain what the orb is; after appearing in “Thor: The Dark World”, I expected the Collector and his desire to collect the orb and the other super-powerful stones to be central to the plot of this movie, but never mind, his final scene is hilarious. And the Nova Corp characters are very good; space cops trying to keep the peace, who reluctantly accept help from our band of misfit criminals-turned-heroes when the end of the galaxy is nigh.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is, in a word, fun. It’s grounded enough to feel real, humourous enough for you to care about the characters, and colourful enough that you’ll be leaning in your chair in time with starfighters soaring through space and singing along with the catchy eighties songs which keep the movie rolling along to its inevitable yet awesome conclusion. You don’t need any prior knowledge of the Marvel films or the original comic books to appreciate this awesome movie.

There are, of course, plenty of little treats for us geeks. If you sit through the closing credits hoping for a first look at The Avengers 2, you’ll be disappointed (but for a film set far away from Earth, it’s not that much of a surprise). But there is an amusing little coda that comic book fans will love (featuring a cameo by the character you’d least expect!)

Overall, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is Star Wars-levels of space drama epic, but with a sense of humour that keeps it grounded and enjoyable. The characters feel real; humourous, yes, but no more than any of us would be in a foreign country. Quill’s trouble communicating with aliens, Rocket’s anger issues, Drax’s feelings of loss… it’s simplistic, it’s a movie about a bunch of misfits, it’s not meant to be the works of Shakespeare, but when these five idiots learn to work together, and stand up against the big bad and give him what’s coming to him, when they declare themselves to be the Guardians of the Galaxy, it means something, and you’ll be cheering in the aisles for them.

9/10

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