A rag tag bunch of weirdos are the only ones who can save the Galaxy from destruction.
Marvel has a history of choosing unusual directors for their major movies – Joss Whedon was relatively unproven, Kenneth Branagh was a bizarre choice for Thor and even Iron Man’s Jon Favreau had no experience with blockbuster fare.
But even by these standards James Gunn was an anomaly. His movies to date – Super and Slither – have both been unrelentingly R-rated, with tiny budgets and very limited success. And yet, this strange combination has somehow created not only one of the most entertaining films of the year but what might actually be the best Marvel movie to date.
Guardians of the Galaxy is weird. Really, really weird. And I say that as a massive compliment – being able to create something this strange and funky and fresh within the studio system is quite the achievement. And having parent companies like Marvel and Disney stand by that vision is really an incredible thing.
James Gunn kicks things off with a sequence you might not expect before serving up his opening credits. And he’s not at all subtle about establishing his intentions, if you’re not laughing your ass off by the time his director credit hits the screen, then there’s a chance the film isn’t going to work for you.
Personally, every element of the humour resonated perfectly. There’s a sense of the ridiculous about it, with a gag-a-minute script that is so layered you’ll need multiple viewings to catch them all. But there’s also a keen attention to the reality of the characters, placing well realised human and humanoid sorts into situations both terrifying and insane and thinking about how they might react.
This leads to plenty of hilarious exchanges between the talented performers. You could call these moments tangential to the main plot but they’re all about establishing the world, drawing us in and – not incidentally – keeping us entertained.
Chris Pratt roots the film; as a human and generally incredulous character, he forms the point of view of the audience. And it’s not an exaggeration to say that this is a star-making performancefor him. He looks the part of a hero and sells the heady mix of humour, ballistic sarcasm, strength and vulnerability of Peter Quill brilliantly.
With Pratt as our necessary anchor, that gives room for the supporting sorts to go all out. Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Racoon is an angry furball of pain, sarcasm and sadness. Dave Bautista’s Drax is damaged and vicious but his quirks make for some of the funnier moments in the film.
Then there’s Groot, a tree-like thing who is guaranteed to be your new favourite Marvel hero. With three or so words, he is both the heart of the group and the film. Part puppy-dog, part killing machine his relationship with Rocket is complex and his contributions, especially in the latter part of the film, are as touching as they are memorable.
Zoe Saldana doesn’t get a lot to do, mainly because she’s cursed with a straight role in what is otherwise a galactic action/comedy and Gunn never really gets a handle on his villains – Karen Gillan is scary but underused and Lee Pace is a bit limp.
Otherwise, everything else is a riot. Gunn is clearly having an incredible time playing with his $170 million budget and puts it all on screen for the biggest Marvel movie yet. The locations are far flung and varied – from a wind-swept moon to the inside of a Celestial skull – and the climactic battle makes the war in New York look like a storm in a very small tea cup.
The set pieces are fantastic, the character work on Rocket and Groot looks amazing and the touchstones from Earth in the 80s are perfect for nostalgia fans. And then there’s the music, with song choices that both echo the situation and set up a beautiful contrast to just how bizarre the far away galaxy truly is.
But it’s really the humour that sets Guardians of the Galaxy apart, and its generosity in terms of gifting the audience with so many entertaining moments. It's just chock full of fun- from its cascading colours to its rousing scenes of heroism and laugh out loud gags. By the final act I was wishing that there was more than 130 fast paced minutes to enjoy.If you surrender to its madness, you’re bound to have an incredible time. For my money, this is the best Marvel movie yet!