Mild spoilers contained within- you have been warned!
Ooga chakka ooga ooga, ooga chakka ooga ooga. Hooked on a Feeling by Blue Swede. Hear it now, sing it now, and get it out of your system if you can, because it’ll be stuck in your head forever after watching Guardians of the Galaxy. It features on a mixtape made for Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) by his dying mother, and it’s the last thing he has left from her when he’s abducted and taken into space as a child. Years later- in the modern day- he gets drawn into a galaxy-wide powerplay between Ronan the Accuser, a Kree fanatic, and the Nova Corp, space police, which hinges on a mysterious orb Quill has stolen. And- after Gamora (Zoe Saldana) tries to kill Quill- Groot the talking tree (Vin Diesel) and Rocket the talking raccoon (Bradley Cooper) get sucked in too.
As you might be able to tell from that potted introduction, Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t too concerned with being serious. Sure, there’s the occasional planet-razing by the Kree, a surprisingly high bodycount, and the weepy back story of Quill, but apart from that, the most severe thing is Glenn Close’s haircut. Yes, this movie’s content with being light and breezy, which may be a welcome breather between the grim (and world-changing) events of Captain America: The Winter Solider and the decidedly gritty-looking Avengers: Age of Ultron.
The film zips along at a quick pace, moving from exotic locale to exotic locale as the various parties chase the Guardians and their MacGuffin orb. It’s a close cousin of the Tesseract and the Aether (from Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor: The Dark World), and it’s going to figure big in Avengers 3 most likely, so pay close attention in these bits. Otherwise, the film pops along, papering over the somewhat rickety plot with an abundance of humour and good will.
Of the two major strengths of the film- its humour and its style- the former definitely outlasts the latter. As it is, no matter how pretty a thing is, you will get bored of it eventually; humour by its nature can’t be boring, and it’s in the jokes where the movie finds its feet most surely. Rocket is, as I’m sure you can tell from the trailers, a hilarious character; he’s full of quips and quotables. But others are a revelation- especially Dave Bautista as Drax, who turns out to have the most amazing sense of comic timing. Pratt is already a known comic talent, but Bautista – who I assumed was purely cast due to the fact he’s built like a house – gets a surprisingly large portion of the laughs.
Once the humour and the visuals are removed from the equation, the film is a less attractive proposition. Quill’s backstory seems tacked on, barely mentioned in the film when it should take centre stage. He is, after all, the main character, so establishing his emotional arc should be the first order of business. The multiple locations lend the film some of its visual allure, but their endless variety forces the plot to twist as it tries to reach as many points as possible; the same is true of the large cast, some of whom are underused- particularly Benicio del Toro, who got a whole previous film’s stinger, and about as long on screen in this film. And let’s not forget John C. Reilly’s character, whose sole purpose seems to be to offer exposition.
As a result, the film feels fragmented at many points, and its strongest moments are those that actually stage extended sequences in single locations, primarily because the characters stay still long enough that the audience can get to know them and understand where they are. The strangest problem is that, for all its surface originality, elements of the film feel like a retread of previous Marvel properties. Quill’s problem with his mother mirrors Tony Stark’s feelings about his father in Iron Man 2; Ronan’s motivations, ship and costume design are all mysteriously close to Malekeith’s in Thor: The Dark World. How bad this is depends on your view of those films and the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; for some, more of the same may well be great news, and obviously even Marvel at its worst usually have the best action movies of the year. But having gone into the film expecting something a bit different, this was a disappointing aspect for me.
The good news is that these flaws are largely covered by the humour of the movie. After all, goodwill goes a long way, and the gorgeous visuals help bridge the remaining gap. And there’s no denying that this year, the film will be one of the best blockbusters available in the cinema. So throw your sensibilities out the window, wrap yourself up in twigs and duct tape, and roll on down to your local multiplex in your improvised cosplay, ready to roar ‘I AM GROOT’.
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It is perhaps the most visually impressive MacGuffin movie of all time.