Director: James Gunn
Cast: Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista
Watch Guardians of the Galaxy online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
What, another superhero movie? It’s an understandable reaction to Guardians of the Galaxy, which arrives in the middle of Marvel’s gargantuan production line. But from the opening moments, it’s clear that this is not your usual comic book flick.
A short, moving prologue introduces us to Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a young boy given a mix tape by his dying mum, before he’s whisked away in a spaceship as a kid. Fast forward several years and he’s on another world, ransacking a cave for a priceless orb with his Walkman firmly plugged in. More Indiana Jones than Superman, he’s as far away from your typical hero as you can get. He doesn’t fly across planets; he dances.
That ramshackle mood seeps into almost every part of Guardians of the Galaxy: a comedy first and a superhero movie second, it counters each serious moment with a silly one, something that suits its cast down to the ground. After years of scene-stealing facial reactions on Parks and Recreation, it’s a joy to see Chris Pratt in a lead role. Buffed up and kitted out, his knack for physical humour makes him perfect for the neatly choreographed set pieces, while his pained puppy-dog delivery gives his unlikely action star an unexpected credibility. Of course he can talk himself out of danger. Of course he knows how to fly a spaceship. Of course no one’s heard of him, or his adopted outlaw name, “Star-Lord”.
Pratt’s joined by an equally game group, from stubborn green warrior Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and unhinged raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) to talking tree Groot (Vin Diesel) and the even dumber Drax (Dave Bautista), a big, blue brute who takes everything literally. “Metaphors are gonna go over his head,” says Cooper’s violent furball. “Nothing goes over my head,” replies Drax. “My reflexes are too fast.”
In between the verbal humour, the visual spectacle is equally impressive: Infinity Stones, hovering arrows and space blockades are all stitched together with verve by director James Gunn, whose enthusiastic world-building is infectious. Best of all is his use of music: that cassette compilation gets woven into the fabric of the film, giving Quill a human point of reference that juxtaposes the galactic chaos. Blue Swede’s Hooked on a Feeling plays as our gang go to prison, prompting a brilliant mass breakout, while one showdown is interrupted by The Five Stairsteps’ O-o-h Child.
For all the ingenuity and wit on display, though, our assembled oddballs are let down by the same problem as most Marvel movies: a bland villain. Lee Pace does his best as Ronan, a radical outcast with plans to take the Infinity Stone from the beginning and rule the universe, but he’s instantly forgettable. The same is true of his henchmen, with both Djimon Hounsou and the impressively diverse Karen Gillan wasted, despite some fantastic make-up work. By the time the finale arrives, complete with a big ship bearing down on a planet, the feeling of watching something fresh and new is replaced by a haze of familiarity. Even a subversive speech from Rocket about how unlikely our heroes’ union is becomes undermined by the comic book formula that follows.
It’s to the cast’s credit, though, that Guardians of the Galaxy remains such fun to watch. A lot of the joy just comes from watching the actors interact, whether that’s a sentimental moment involving Groot or the sight of a small, homicidal mammal wielding a machine gun. If it ultimately bows to convention – leaving Saldana, like Gillan, to make the most of a shallow female role (Gamora, at one point, is inexplicably called a whore) – that streak of smart silliness makes Guardians of the Galaxy just different enough to be fun for comic book fans and skeptics alike. Another superhero movie? Stop worrying, put your Walkman on, and succumb to its pelvic sorcery.
Guardians of the Galaxy is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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