Sunday, 17 August 2014

The first trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy is one of my favourite trailers of recent years (competing only with The Social Network). The subversion of superhero tropes when the villains don’t recognise Star-Lord, Peter Serafinowicz declaring the heroes to be “a bunch of a-holes”, Blue Swede’s ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ over the drawn out hero shot. It’s irreverent, hilarious, and incredibly energetic, and I couldn’t wait to see what looked like Star Wars from the director of Slither.

So, does Guardians live up to the expectation?

Yes. But not entirely.

The latest offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians stars Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, who was abducted from Earth in the 1980s and re-invented himself as space-faring outlaw Star-Lord. After coming into possession of a mysterious orb (knowingly compared to the Maltese Falcon, king of all MacGuffins), Quill ends up in an unlikely alliance with assassin Gamora, terrifyingly muscular Drax, wise-cracking raccoon Rocket, and tree creature Groot. All with criminal records and troubled pasts, this space-faring Dirty Dozen have a mutual enemy – the radical Ronan, an alien warlord intent on wiping out the nice peoples of the galaxy.

It really is a joy to travel from planet to space station to planet with our heroes as they work out just how to deal with the whole evil warlord situation. Pratt, recently seen in The LEGO Movie and sitcom Parks and Recreation, is a surprisingly good leading man, and, while his relationship with the lethal Gamora feels like nothing we haven’t seen before, it’s the bromance between Rocket and Groot that steals the show. Rocket is Han Solo brought up to eleven, in a furrier guise, and Groot is his Chewbacca. Voicing him, Vin Diesel finds a remarkable variety of ways to say his one line “I am Groot”, and somehow, combined with the great design work, he turns this lump of wood into the most caring and endearing member of the Guardians.

The big weakness of the film is on the other side of the cast list – Loki aside, Marvel films have never had the best villains, but Lee Pace’s Ronan is one of the worst. Utterly one-dimensional, he has no real motivation, and all his scenes are awfully po-faced, lacking any of the wit that characterises the rest of the film and being actually quite boring. His cronies aren’t too good, either – I’ve heard criticisms of Karen Gillan’s performance as Nebula, but, while she does indeed seem to drift between being Scottish and American, the character isn't given nearly enough action or depth to make any real impact either way.

Nevertheless, director James Gunn never dwells on the villains for too long, and directs Guardians with a panache that makes it very difficult not to enjoy. From the enormous-skull-turned-space-station Knowhere to the beautifully clean streets of Xandar via Quill’s Millennium Falcon-esque ship the Milano, it’s a beautifully designed film, and the rocking 80s soundtrack is a brilliant change from the usual booming score. It’s just a shame that the Bowie track is only used for about thirty seconds.

Guardians may not be quite the masterpiece hinted at by the first trailer – it’s let down by its weak villains, and some sequences lack the wit and irreverence of others, making it a patchy affair that doesn’t live up to this year’s other Marvel offering, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But when it’s good, it’s very good. Not quite the new Star Wars, but a damn good effort, Guardians is daft blockbuster fun, with humour, heart, and a bit with a dog. A space dog.

Also, I found the post-credits scene hilarious, but literally no-one else in the cinema got the joke. Some people have no taste.


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