Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
Director: James Gunn
Guardians of the Galaxy is a film which, despite itself, I am glad exists. To think that not so long ago, superheroes weren’t exactly fashionable and their movies were often dismissed, the fact that we now live in an age where a bunch of C and D list Marvel characters can get their own multi-million dollar space opera is in itself very cool.
Of course, it’s easy to forget that characters such as Iron Man and Thor were so little-known to the general movie-going public before Marvel’s Avengers-centric movieverse took off; unlike its Distinguished Competition, Marvel trusts in its source material enough to take risks and embrace the weirder side of its comic book lore, something which should be applauded. That this film can even exist, let alone be wildly popular, is a good thing.
With that made clear, however, GotG is hardly devoid of problems. The film may feature such ostensible weirdness as a talking, gun-wielding raccoon, but this is all just so much aesthetic. In terms of plot, structure and character interplay, this is essentially The Avengers in space, only less exciting and with only a couple of genuinely interesting characters. It feels safe and conventional, churning out all the standard plot beats and character moments you can imagine being ticked off a checklist in a producer-attended boardroom somewhere, wasting its more offbeat setting on uninspired action set pieces (the likes of which you’ve seen before – but better – in other Marvel movies) and marred with a sickly, ill-judged vein of mawkish sentimentality throughout.
The story follows Peter Quill, also known as the outlaw Star Lord (to nobody but himself). Quill/Star Lord is played with a certain goofy likeability by Chris Pratt, who has strong comedy cred from his work on TV’s Parks and Recreation; but from his womanising to his one liners, he often ends up feeling like a galaxy-trotting, cut-rate Tony Stark – a remoulding of a popular character, rather than his own distinct entity.
After unwittingly stealing one of those pesky Infinity Stones (items of immense cosmic power, including the Tesseract last seen in The Avengers), he is thrown into an intergalactic prison and forced to team up with a motley crew of ne’er-do-wells, in order to make sure the orb stays out of the hands of today’s villain, Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). Ronan wishes to use the orb as a weapon against a planet he has a personal grudge against, and with his grandstanding speeches and impertinent huffing, he comes across as a kind of less-compelling Loki.
Zoe Saldana is tough and assured as Gamora, the green-skinned warrior assassin who defies her tyrannical adopted father, Thanos, in order to protect the galaxy (fans of the comics will probably know that Thanos is the Big Bad of the Marvel universe, attempting to collect the Infinity Stones for his own nefarious ends. His appearance in this film is brief and inconsequential, feeling crowbarred in solely to remind audiences that he exists for future films, and one can’t help feeling his full ‘reveal’ should have been a much bigger moment). Bradley Cooper does a serviceable voice job as Rocket, the aforementioned talking raccoon, but the script does him no favours; Rocket is an insufferably irritating character, and much of his dialogue feels like the kind of forced wise-assery that Marvel had so far done well to avoid. Vin Diesel lends his voice to sentient tree creature Groot, and aided by some impressively nuanced effects work, he creates an empathetic and well drawn character despite mostly having just one repeated line of dialogue (“I am Groot”).
It’s Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer who is the film’s real pleasant surprise, and its secret weapon. Drax has no concept of metaphor or sarcasm, making for some laugh out loud moments wherein he totally misinterprets everyday figures of speech. Bautista’s formidable physical presence (the man is a WWE wrestler after all) and comic timing make sure he steals nearly every scene he’s in.
The film’s pacing is one of its key issues. Early scenes feel so caught up in irreverent dialogue and moments of lackadaisical whimsy that once the plot really kicks into gear, it somehow feels like it’s struggling to catch up with itself. The final act in particular is full of lazy deus ex machina moments and clunky expositional writing, with events unfolding completely illogically in the context of the movie’s world as it has thus far been presented to the viewer (to go into real detail here would be to spoil things, but suffice it to say that certain things work out ‘just because’; the good guys need to win in order for there to be a sequel, narrative logic be damned). It all feels very convenient and difficult to care about.
Guardians of the Galaxy is not exactly a bomb for Marvel – looking at it purely from a financial standpoint, it’s already been hugely successful – but it does feel like a missed opportunity. Aside from the moments of humour that work and a couple of enjoyable characters (and despite featuring perhaps the most brilliantly audacious post credits scene of any Marvel movie since Nick Fury’s appearance in Iron Man), it plays as insubstantial fluff when it should have announced a bold, fresh new facet to the Marvel cinematic universe.
– Nathan Scatcherd