BEFORE we get started, I’d like to give those who do not wish to read my personal views on the Marvel Cinematic Universe the chance to leave by summarizing my review in as bite-sized a chunk as possible:
“Guardians of the Galaxy is a truly fantastic and fun film. Exhilarating, exciting and a surprisingly dark and anarchic sense of humour. Very different to what I’ve come to expect from Marvel in the best possible way. Great turns from the whole cast with the best villain since Loki. My only complaint is that it ended.”
I recommend this film highly. If that is enough for you, then fair enough. For those of you who are willing to humour me, I’d like to go a little bit deeper.
This film could so easily have been a terrible, terrible idea. Upon its announcement I was sceptical of virtually everything on offer; the Guardians themselves I was unfamiliar with and I wasn’t altogether sold by the choice of the inconsistent James Gunn as a director, despite loving some of his earlier work (Slither, Super), but all of my fears were assuaged within the first 15 minutes of screentime.
The ensemble cast is truly fantastic. It’s easy for characters in a cast this large to feel somewhat anaemic and underdeveloped; while each member of the core group is given ample time for their characters to shine through, there’s also plenty of room for the exceptional supporting cast. Chris Pratt works wonders as the likeable-but-dishonourable Peter Quill, and it’s immediately clear that his natural charm and presence is a key asset to the film. Zoe Saldana as the badass alien assassin Gamora does a great job of appearing incredibly dangerous with an underlying fragility that is interesting to watch.
Even Dave Bautista’s portrayal of Drax the Destroyer, an aspect of the film I had previously dismissed as definitely-going-to-be-a-disaster did not take the direction I had expected. It’s so easy to turn a character like Drax into a walking tough guy cliché, but Bautista’s performance ended up being a charming and amusingly unique look at what could easily have been a throwaway character and ends up being a major strength of the film’s second and third acts.
The vocal talents of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper are every bit as quality as you would expect from the man who brought the Iron Giant to life and the recent perennial Oscar favourite. Their performances paradoxically make the most inhuman of the five Guardians into the most living, breathing and believably alive parts of the film, with Cooper’s Rocket being quite possibly the strongest part of the film.
Karen Gillen and Djimon Hounsou put in strong performances as supporting villains, despite the latter suffering from a two-dimensional character and a lack of screentime, and I would feel terrible if I did not mention Michael Rooker’s appearance as YonduUdonta, or Benicio Del Toro’s oddly offbeat return as The Collector being personal favourite moments of the film. The real highlight, however, was Lee Pace and his obscenely intimidating portrayal as Ronan the Accuser. Pace is fantastic as always, but the transformation between Ronan and his previous roles was so intense that, had I not been aware of the casting, I would never have guessed it was him donning the armour.
Ronan is a powerful presence physically and casts a shadow over the protagonists, upping the ante in a way that is both believable and understandable, an achievement that not many sci-fi films can match when trying to create greater stakes. The greatest directorial choice when choosing this character, however, was the choice of a villain who utterly outclasses the Guardians in every way. At no point in the film does it feel like Ronan is vulnerable and therein lies one of the major strengths of the character. He ranks among the stronger screen villains of recent years, and certainly the best Marvel villain since Loki.
The story does nothing that hasn’t been done before, but does it in such a way that makes the whole film feel like a love letter to Marvel and science fiction as a broader genre. Upon leaving the cinema, bathing in the almost-post-coital glow that occasionally accompanies a great film, I asked my friend what he thought of the film.
He thought for a moment and then responded:
“So that’s what happens when you make Star Wars and all of your main characters are Han Solo.”
It was such a perfect way of summing up the film that I had to include it here and, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed appropriate. The universe construction and the threat of galactic empires at war, the nebulous threat of a powerful, zealous and superior foe and the swashbuckling adventures of a misfit crew of unlikely heroes all point to classic space opera, albeit with a segue through B-movie territory.
The art direction is fantastic and the CGI is by far among the strongest I’ve seen with particular praise going to the creation of Groot and Rocket Raccoon, the latter of which is so perfectly rendered that I found myself forgetting very quickly that the character was not really there.
It’s a testament to the quality of the design and how much work has gone into the post-production of this film that this level of immersion should even be possible. The makeup and costumes are detailed and beautiful; I don’t think there’ll be a cosplayer in the world who won’t want a Ravager jacket or a Nova Corps uniform.
The universe is realised in stunning detail and every environment and strange alien world/race/faction has its own aesthetic and technological theme, which only enhances the effect of the fantastic soundtrack. Awesome Mix Vol. 1 will be a staple of every viewer’s mind-jukebox for weeks to come and adds a quirky and offbeat sensibility to the film that borders on Tarantino-esque homage to the trashy, loveable B-movie stock from which so much of this film’s charm is drawn.
In short, I could not recommend this film highly enough. If you love science fiction, or super-heroes or even if you, for whatever reason, disliked MCU films that have come out in the past, Guardians of the Galaxy could very well be the film that wins you over.