Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
I had my doubts about Guardians of the Galaxy when I first saw it back in 2014, mainly because it's a franchise that I wasn’t familiar with. Also, because the movie is a throwback to a genre that has been conspicuously absent for several decades; namely the “space opera”. Readers over a certain age group may well have fond memories of movies such a Battle Beyond the Stars or The Last Starfighter. They may also have bad memories regarding Ice Pirates and Lorca and the Outlaws. The other thing that was a talking point about Guardians of the Galaxy upon its release, was the fact that it represented a somewhat of a gamble for Marvel Studios (Disney) and the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). Taking a punt on a lesser known franchise at a cost of $170,000,000 is not something you do lightly.
Director James Gunn is an interesting film maker who until this movie has not achieved the level of success he deserves. Slither, an enjoyable and quirky horror/sci-fi movie, was somewhat overlooked on its release. Mercifully, Guardians of the Galaxy rectifies this situation. Gunn along with co-writer Nicole Periman, find a great balance between action, drama and humour. The script is full of amusing banter, pop culture references and unabashed nerd bait. The characters are actually likeable and accessible, while the story has a strong positive message about the power of friendship. Deliberately avoiding big names in the lead roles works very well and the cast acquits themselves admirably. Chris Pratt and Zoë Saldana fulfil their roles but don't overwhelm them as some "A" list actors do.
Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel provide voice and motion capture for their CGI characters, while wrestler Dave Bautista is surprising good as Drax, a warrior who takes all comment literally. Then with a second tier of character actors such as John C. Reilly, Michael Rooker and Glenn Close, the movie is more than equipped to tackle its initially complex storyline. Establishing who's who takes a while but the pieces soon fall in to place. Furthermore, Guardians of the Galaxy has a great sense of pace and moves forward through the narrative with assured ease. The visual FXs are outstanding and the production design is inventive and different but it never relegates the story or dialogue to the passenger seat.
Perhaps directors Gunn's best trick is managing to entertain on multiple levels. It's something the animation industry has managed for decades but it’s more difficult to achieve in a live action movie. There is plenty of spectacle, hardware and explosions to appeal to the young, where older viewers will revel in the pop culture references of mix tapes, Footloose and dance offs. Gun also uses sentiment wisely and to good effect. Groot and Rocket have an especially good dynamic. The more mature members of the audience will know that they're getting their emotional buttons pushed with Pavlovian mastery but it's all part of the ride.
Overall, there's not a huge amount to complain about with Guardians of the Galaxy. It is a well-conceived, polished example of a summer blockbuster. Lee Pace fans may be a little disappointed as he spends his time on screen swathed in cowl and under a lot of heavy make-up. I would also point out that younger children may find this movie quite scary. A person’s face crumbling in a cloud of purple hued plasma is still quite a potent image, so parents be warned. The screenplay is also liberally laced with minor profanity, which although I found quite amusing, I was somewhat surprised by.
What I took away the most from Guardians of the Galaxy was the feeling of being thoroughly entertained. There is a good ethical foundation to the story as it wrestles themes such as loyalty, redemption and self-sacrifice, yet they are presented in an engaging fashion with humour and wit. I laughed a great deal which seldom happens when watching movies these days. If we must have a steady diet of big budget blockbusters can we not have more like this, created by people such as James Gunn? Who knows, we may even see a return of the space opera genre. Would that be such a bad thing? I think not, as long as Michael Bay isn't involved.
NB The post credit scene with The Collector (Benicio Del Toro) still raises some interesting possibilities (even after my second viewing). I hope it means what I think it means regarding a certain iconic character.