Guardians of the Galaxy, a 3-D space opera about a ragtag crew of mercenaries, is Marvel’s most irreverent film yet.
Film review: Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy
Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper
At the height of their powers, our overlords at Marvel have deigned to prove, like an emperor tolerating a court jester, that they do, in fact, have a sense of humour.
The Marvel universe, of course, isn’t entirely lacking in comedy, as we’ve seen in Iron Man and The Avengers. But, on the whole, the Marvel kingdom is built on an unshakable foundation of self-seriousness.
The comic-book studio seems to fear that if the solemnity of its fiction isn’t diligently guarded, people might start questioning whether all these men in spandex merit quite so much attention.
Yet Guardians of the Galaxy, a 3-D space opera about a ragtag crew of mercenaries, is Marvel’s most irreverent film yet and has a welcome, slightly self-mocking tone that dares to suggest intergalactic battles over orbs might actually be a tad silly.
This is all very much to the good – but the problem with Guardians of the Galaxy, directed by James Gunn, is the weakness of the comedy it wears so proudly. It takes more than a soundtrack full of 1970s tunes, a talking raccoon and a few gags about Footloose to be funny. It’s “zany”, in quotes.
As if demonstrating its tonal distance from Marvel’s other planetary bodies, Guardians of the Galaxy takes place at the far reaches of space where we find Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) skipping along on an abandoned planet. He removes his mask, presses play on a Walkman and does something normally sacrosanct in Marvel-land: he dances. Blaring out is the irresistible 1974 hit Come and Get Your Love by Redbone, the first of many such old radio hits on the soundtrack.
The music, as we learnt in the prologue, is from a mixtape given to Quill as a child by his cancer-stricken mother shortly before her death. Distraught, he rushes outside only to be – in quite the unfortunate double-whammy – beamed up by a spaceship.
Twenty-six years later, Quill is a Han Solo-like scavenger who stumbles across a silver orb also being sought by some powerfully evil forces: Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace, obscured by make-up but still a severe presence) and his boss, Thanos (Josh Brolin).
The warm spirit of Guardians owes much to Pratt, the guileless, formerly doughy Parks and Recreation star. His casting is inspired.
The resulting scrum for the orb introduces several more seekers. There is the green-skinned Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the hulking Drax (Dave Bautista) and a CGI odd couple: a bitterly sardonic raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and his sidekick, a talking tree called Groot (Vin Diesel), who looks like he sprouted from The Lord of the Rings. All reluctantly unite like a sarcastic, short-staffed Dirty Dozen.
The Guardians, who were introduced in a 1969 comic, are far from Marvel’s star players. But their not-primetime-player status is freeing to Gunn, whose 2010 comedy Super starred Rainn Wilson as a wannabe crime fighter.
He wrote the film with Nicole Perlman, clearly aspiring to a rollicking adventure in the mould of Indiana Jones or Star Wars, which the movie’s poster evoked.
But the film is terribly overstuffed and many of the jokes get drowned out by the special effects.
Presumably awaiting meatier-work sequels to come, fine actors such as Glenn Close, John C Reilly and Benicio Del Toro come and go with just a few lines. (How can a movie seeking humour in outer space not fully utilise Reilly?)
The pervasive movie references detract from the stab at freshness, and Guardians depends all too much on the whimsy of 1970s anthems for an original beat.
Others eager for any playfulness from Marvel will surely be more excited by Guardians of the Galaxy.
For them, I quote Han Solo: “Laugh it up, Fuzzball.”
• Guardians of the Galaxy is out in UAE cinemas today