Over the past few years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become something of a powerhouse, and with the release of Guardians of the Galaxy as their tenth feature film, it doesn’t look as if it will slow down any time soon. Being one of my most anticipated films of the year, it had such a bizarre concept that was a risk for the studio. A risk that, considering critical reception and box office takings, has paid off. Chris Pratt (The Lego Movie, Parks and Recreation) plays Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord, an intergalactic thief that was abducted by space smugglers when he was just a boy. He steals an artefact known as the Orb that attracts the attention of the wrong crowd, namely religious zealot Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace, The Hobbit, Pushing Daisies), forcing him to make an uneasy alliance with Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Avatar, Star Trek), Drax the Destroyer (wrestler Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper, The Hangover, The A-Team) and Groot (Vin Diesel, Fast and Furious, The Iron Giant).
Tonally, the film is perfect, having a good balance of action and drama, peppered with hilarious one-liners and a killer 70’s soundtrack. This is seen in the best two scenes of the film, one involving a prison break, and the other with the group discussing a plan. While the plot is quite basic, it sidesteps complex storytelling in favour of focusing on the five leads, which works considering that, unlike, The Avengers, these characters haven’t had a prelude film to introduce them to audiences. Star-Lord acts as our window to this colourful universe, with Pratt’s performance cementing him as a lead actor. He imbues Quill with both the physique necessary to carry out the action sequences, nails the roguish sense of humour that has caused many Han Solo comparisons, and has some pretty cool dance moves to boot.
Saldana continues with her streak of playing strong female sci-fi characters, who hints at her character’s tragic backstory, intriguing the audience, especially concerning her relationship with a certain other villain. Unfortunately, the same can’t quite be said for Drax, the weak link of the team. His wooden acting and deadpan delivery is perfect for his character thinking literally and the action scenes, but I couldn’t emotionally connect with his tragic history and quest for vengeance.
Cooper and Diesel have the hardest jobs of trying to sell a talking raccoon and an anthropomorphic tree to the audience. Despite not being my ideal cast, Cooper does a great job at voicing Rocket, turning him from what could have been a fluffy sidekick to a damaged gun-toting mercenary and tactical genius. However, he didn’t steal the film as I expected him to, because that role goes to Groot. In spite of the fact that he only ever says “I am Groot”, Diesel uses his past experience as the Iron Giant to showcase that less is more, giving his character a sense of innocence and heart that we can truly connect with.
The downside of this focus on group dynamics means that the villains get the short straw. Ronan’s motivations are kind of glossed over, and we don’t know much about him apart from he wants to destroy a planet for making a peace treaty with his race. Faring slightly better is Karen Gillan (Doctor Who) as Nebula, Ronan’s lieutenant. She has an interesting connection to Gamora, and no doubt we’ll be seeing her in the future. Some other supporting roles that stick out include Glenn Close (101 Dalmatians) and John C. Reilly (Wreck-It Ralph) as members of the Nova corps, a peacekeeping force, Michael Rooker (The Walking Dead) as Yondu, the bandit who raises Peter Quill and Benicio del Toro (Che) as the Collector, an eccentric character who didn’t get enough screen time.
Combining the best aspects of Star Wars, Star Trek and Firefly, yet at the same time putting his own spin on things, director James Gunn creates a truly memorable film. While it isn’t ‘the best Marvel movie to date’ as some people claim, Guardians of the Galaxy is truly unique; it succeeds in establishing Marvel’s cosmic universe and proves that not all of their films have to be interconnected to be good.