The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
Guardians of the Galaxy

Reviewed by James Taylor.

Director James Gunn
Length 121 mins
Certificate 12A
Rating ********--
Filmmaking: 3  Personal enjoyment: 5

Photo from the article

Printer friendly format [Normal view]

Abducted by aliens as a child, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) grows into what any young boy with no parents, a whole galaxy as his playground and a mixtape of 1970s rock ‘n’ roll might: a space outlaw. After stealing an orb, he’s ambushed by aliens, firstly the deadly and green-skinned Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who he’d rather be seducing, and then Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), an anthropomorphic racoon and tree. They all end up in prison, where they’re joined by fellow violent criminal Drax (Dave Bautista), a burly extraterrestrial. Meanwhile, the orb, which conceals an Infinity Stone (effectively a cosmic WMD), is secured by Ronan (Lee Pace) and Nebula (Karen Gillen) under the orders of megavillain Thanos (Josh Brolin). In order to escape from prison and save the galaxy by reacquiring the Infinity Stone, Quill and his newfound cohorts form an uneasy alliance.

The superhero genre acts as the core around which this frenzied array of sci-fi, western and heist conventions intersect, all fused with plenty of comedy. While the oddball felons described above may not sound like your typical superheroes, they inhabit the role through their actions and development. For example, when superheroes first meet it’s almost obligatory that they fight one another. This trope is used to great ends in Guardians, with the individual traits that make its rogues so lovable and powerful, whether these be inhuman strength, acidic wit or the ability to sprout branches, vibrantly exhibited as they tussle physically and verbally.

While not as subversive as director James Gunn’s other ventures into the superhero genre, The Specials (2000) and Super (2010), Guardians is similarly concerned with the mindset of social misfits who adopt costumes and codenames. Like Pratt’s recent starring role as Emmett Brickowoski in The Lego Movie (2014), Quill’s an endearing loser with unquashable pep, although his wastrel mentality is closer to Pratt’s Andy Dwyer in Parks and Recreation (2009-). Furthermore, both Dwyer and Quill cultivate dual identities. When entrusted with great responsibility, or just invited to a fancy dress party, Dwyer becomes Burt Macklin, FBI agent, while Quill has dubbed himself Star-Lord, a legendary outlaw whose reputation struggles to reach beyond Quill’s fantasies. Unlike Dwyer, Quill has the requisite moves for his bad-ass alter-ego, but still just comes across as an ass. To attain the recognition he seeks he must use his heart, rather than just his mouth, fists and funky hips (although these are all integral to his arsenal). Similarly, Gamora, Rocket, Groot and Drax’s exceptional skills aren’t enough to equip them against seemingly insurmountable odds; to transcend their criminal identities and become the Guardians of the Galaxy they must, as put so eloquently by Quill, “give a shit”. If that’s not the essence of a superhero, I don’t know what is!

Whereas most of the characterisation sparks with vitality, the villains are flat and po-faced throughout. Another issue lies in the fact that, with the relatively large amount of characters and zippy plotting, it can sometimes be hard to follow exactly how everybody fits in. However, although you may not really care, or understand, why Ronan, Nebula and Thanos are so evil, this is compensated for by the intricate realisation of everything else in the galaxy. Furthermore, the film never loses its basic narrative drive of the pursuit of the Infinity Stone, which offers a clear route through its fantastic environments that bristle with vivid species, technologies and landscapes.

Bucking Hollywood’s current trend for moodiness and boldly going where few superhero films tread, Guardians is even brave enough to have Quill getting his groove on after Peter Parker’s much maligned jazz dancing in ,Spider-Man 3 (2007). Consistently charming, it’s a strong contender for the most unabashedly fun blockbuster of the year.

This review was published on August 01, 2014.