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Marvel are at it again; successfully reducing comic book fanboys to awestruck goopy blobs of excitement with the release of Guardians of the Galaxy. As you may have guessed, I was one of those blobs.
I will admit writing this review without being overcome by fandom has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to do (second to missing comic-con), however I believe I have come out with an article as free from fan bias as can be. That said, I will not be held responsible for any misconception of praise being fandom, even if this movie will rock your hypo-retro space socks off. Ahem, I’m sorry, that just slipped out.
‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (or hereby known as ‘Guardians’ because I’m lazy and you’re smart – we’ve been over this) is the most recent in the long line of blockbuster Marvel comics films, this one produced by the recently birthed Marvel Studios and directed by James Gunn. The film is led by Chris Pratt as the loveable Peter ‘Star-Lord’ Quill, and features a crew of rag-tag misfits including Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista and Vin Diesel, who plays a tree. So that was nice.
Guardians is compelling straight out of the gate as it opens with an emotional intro to Peter Quill’s character, then fast-tracks to a fully grown Quill as he dances and lip-syncs his way through an alien world in search of a relic to snag. Oh, didn’t I mention he was a criminal? That’s right, your loveable hero is the infamous criminal ‘Star-Lord’ (a name he is adamant people call throughout the film – with little success), and on top of this Quill is revealed to be less of an honourable man and more of a ladies man. Don’t let this discourage you though, like the many iterations of this character before him (Mal Reynolds from Firefly and Han Solo from Star Wars), Quill is an endearing loser whose sense of humour outshines all of his inherent flaws.
Now that said, Quill should not take all the spotlight; Guardians is an ensemble piece (and might I add a damn fine one), comprising a varied cast of species and personalities. The ever present femme fatale and romantic interest is found in Gamora (Zoe Saldana); the adopted daughter of ‘The Mad Titan’ Thanos (we will be seeing more of him), she is a deadly combatant who has a hard time opening up to anyone. Brutality is embodied in Drax ‘The Destroyer’ (Dave Bautista); a revenge seeking mass of muscle who wields dual deadly fighting knives with savage fury. However Drax is not your ordinary berserker, as he often displays a very literal way of thinking, which leads to some of the most hilarious lines in the entire film. Then there is Rocket- yes the racoon- and his giant pot plant/bodyguard Groot. This deadly tag-team is a blast to watch as Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) runs his mouth and fires up a bullet storm, while Groot (Vin Diesel – I know right) smashes his enemies with his roots, uttering his only line ‘I am Groot’. Rocket displays a devil-may-care attitude while still revealing he has a heart, while Groot makes our hearts ache with his adorable nature. What’s more, this strange duo are also bounty hunters; appearing at the beginning of the film to capture Quill and retrieve the bounty on his head. Not bad for a genetic experiment and his pet tree, right?
Other notable cast members include Michael Rooker as Yondu; leader of an outlaw band called ‘The Ravagers’ and a paternal figure to Quill, John C. Reilly as Corpsman Rhomann Day, Benicio Del Toro as The Collector; an illusive and sinister collector of exotic flora and fauna and everything in between, and Glenn Close as Nova Prime- the leader of the Nova Corps and defender of the Xandar people.
However no film is complete without the villains, which is actually the only point I could complain over. The main antagonist is Ronan ‘The Accuser’ – a Kree Zealot who is basically space Hitler; on an relentless quest for genocide fuelled by racism. Played by Lee Pace (Elf King Thranduil from The Hobbit Trilogy), Ronan is imposing but… that’s about it. He’s just your generic bad guy, who is only defined by his goals. Outside of this, Ronan is very two-dimensional, having no apparent depth to his personality. He had a big hammer that goes smashy smash though, so that’s something I suppose.
At his side is Nebula (Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan) who is actually the most well rounded of the villains, and who I personally thought outdid Ronan. And no it’s not because I have a crush on Karen Gillan, though if she turned up at my doorstep asking for a coffee I wouldn’t exactly say no. Nebula is the sister of Gamora who differs on most other points, she is deadly, near unstoppable and relentless in her single-mindedness. Lastly is Korath (Djimon Hounsou – Papa Midnite from Constantine) who is just as bland as Ronan, and who really just serves as another barrier the heroes must pass through to reach him.
Now all of this said, I cannot say any of these performances were bad, I believe the problem with these characters lies in their writing, as I personally am a fan of all three of these actors and would not credit these performances as a mark against them.
The retro style of Guardians is refreshing given how dark the sci-fi scene has become, and in my opinion is the key to this film’s success. Director James Gunn has successfully recaptured what made space fun; vibrant worlds, exciting action and awesome alien technology. Guardians is an incredibly colourful movie, reflected in costuming and the varied skin tones of the aliens seen therein. Alongside this is the nostalgic feeling of returning to your childhood, as you revert to watching the film like the little girl you once were; amazed by the effects and totally engrossed in the story, cheering for your heroes all the way. I feel that this is something very special about Guardians, as no movie of late has made me feel that movie magic that seems lost to your younger days. James Gunn has successfully touched on what made us so giddy as kids watching these films, and brought it back to us as adults, which it something truly special in my eyes.
Continuing on with the retro styling of Guardians, everything from costuming to set design has been made to put you back into that old familiar territory of blocky control panels, yellow/orange colour schemes and even tape decks. That’s right, Quill’s ship features a tape deck that is constantly playing his ‘awesome mix #1’ cassette tape. On top of this, Quill’s bunk is adorned with other old school items like ‘pogz’ and a troll doll, how retro! The design of ships and architecture is also reminiscent of familiar sci fi scenes like Deep space 9, Farscape, Alien and Firefly. However Guardians has a very distinct style all of its own, which is only further accented by its soundtrack. Gunn made a point of the soundtrack’s importance early in development of the film: played exclusively through Quill’s ‘awesome mix #1’ cassette tape, the soundtrack constantly comes into play to enhance the moment or a direct link to Quill. Sequences such as Quill kicking his way through alien wildlife listening to ‘Come and get your Love’ on his Walkman (A WALKMAN!!! REMEMBER THEM???) bring a charm to this movie that is just awesome. However, while the soundtrack may be great, the accompanying score by Tyler Bates (a favourite composer of mine) should not be overlooked. Bringing a retro-yet-contemporary vibe to the film, Bates really drives home both the nostalgia and the futuristic themes. I think I even heard a synthesiser in there at one point.
All in all, Guardians of the Galaxy is a fantastically good time that really will leave you feeling like a kid again. Between the loveable heroes, the tight ‘old school’ action sequences, and that overriding feeling of youthful wonderment, it truly is hard to fault this film. I guarantee you, if you had any kind of wicked cool childhood you will love this movie – nostalgia will jump up and bite you and you will become another one of the many singing its praises.
Guardians of the Galaxy will quickly climb to the place of many people’s ‘favourite Marvel movie’, and should most definitely climb to the top of your ‘must see’ list. I know I will be seeing it again,and again and again.
Rock on with your bad self,