Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Dir: James Gunn
Academy Award Nominations: Visual Effects, Makeup and Hairstyling
When Marvel announced that this team of anti-heroes were going to get their own film in Phase 2 of the Cinematic Universe, some said it was a big risk, a mis-step, and that Marvel had finally set themselves up for a huge failure! Nearly $800m later… Those same people can hardly wait for the sequel!
Taken from Earth when he was a boy, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, ‘Parks and Rec’, ‘The Lego Movie‘) is a ‘Ravager’ travelling the galaxy trading valuable items, but his latest item is far more powerful than he could have ever imagined. The orb is wanted by Ronan The Accuser, a Kree fanatic who sends Gamora (Zoe Saldana) after it, but she’s disloyal to him and her adoptive father Thanos, wanting to sell it on to The Collector. Quill is also being pursued by bounty hunters Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), but all of these are wanted by the Nova law keepers, end up in prison, and break out with the formidable Drax ‘The Destroyer’ (Dave Bautista). They unlikely band of misfits realise that they must keep the Orb out of the hands of Ronan due to its destructive power, and join forces to take him down.
I heard it discussed on a movie podcast that Ronan is a weak villain, but to be fair he’s a lackey, not really a top-notch adversary, the story is clearly being built up to feature Thanos as a far more formidable foe. You do need to start a little gentler especially with a new hero or in this case team of heroes, not pushing them to the limits in their first outing, this film needs to introduce them and form the team, and it does that in great style.
And what a team they are! I really liked Zoe Saladana in this far more than I expected I would, I’ve not been much of a fan of hers in the past with most of her roles leaving me unimpressed, but this character is a fascinating one anyway, and Saldana does manage to get the different elements of her across very well. Vin Diesel is great as the voice of Groot, he may only have one line, but he does vary the delivery beautifully. One of his previous voice-only roles ‘The Iron Giant’ didn’t say much but he was superb as that voice too, his voice does suit good-natured tall beings. Dave Bautista is fantastic as Drax, I’m really looking forward to seeing him in the next Bond film ‘SPECTRE’ and also in this role again in the future.
Chris Pratt though… What a transformation! From Andy Dwyer on ‘Parks and Recreation’ to “legendary outlaw” Starlord via an awesome ‘blocky’ phase! This guy is simply superb, having shown off his comedic abilities brilliantly over the last few years this film proves without a doubt that he also has skills to be an action hero, ready for his upcoming lead in ‘Jurassic Park 4’ which I expect will be a perfect fit. Peter Quill is a fascinating character and this film sets him up for ever-increasing depth and complexity, showing his mother’s tragic passing away, transformation from outlaw to hero, and dropping piles of clues to his mystery father, who will reportedly be a deviation from the comics so as to provide a bit more of a surprise to anyone who has read the comics… or can Google!
The film embraces the weirdness of the characters, and doesn’t shy away from humour as seems to be the weakness of some of the recent DC adaptations for example. Quirky moments abound, and there are one-liners especially from Drax that help set the perfect tone. Another distinct aspect is of course the setting, taking place on a number of planets and locations far from Earth. Marvel have been off Earth before of course with Thor, but Asgard is a very different setting, this is unlike that at all it’s another level of other-worldliness entirely. The locations provide settings for some really beautiful moments. Gunn fills the entire movie with lots of colour, both with the multi-coloured team and throughout, vast panoramas and characters display a beautiful array of colours. These planets could so easily have been designed like Krypton in ‘Man of Steel’ which was mainly cold and grey, but is the other end of the spectrum entirely and it makes it such a pleasure to look at all the objects and characters in every scene. It’s these elements that have gained the film its two Oscar nominations this year, and very deservedly so.
One of the things that most stands out about this film is the often diegetic soundtrack, taken from Peter Quill’s ‘Awesome Mix Vol. 1’, a cassette tape given to him by his mother, which was even released to buy as a collectible on tape! It’s such a good compilation that it is nominated for the ‘Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media’ Grammy award next month, and I would expect it to have a good chance of winning, however it does face competition from the formidably loved ‘Frozen‘ soundtrack.
Aside from the ubiquitous Stan Lee, there are many cameos from very recognisable people, you get the distinct feeling that they all really wanted to be in the film even if only briefly. Gunn’s family and friends including the ever-brilliant Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Castle, Much Ado About Nothing) make small appearances, and I also spotted Brendan Fehr who of course has previous experience as an alien in ‘Roswell’. I must also mention the post credits scenes, featuring a brief cameo from a Marvel character who is among those least likely to get his own film (again) but who Gunn has cleverly popped in there in a rewarding moment of oddity for those in the know.
I have a huge amount of respect for Gunn’s work here especially in how he avoids forcing unnecessary signposted links to the rest of the MCU through some shoehorned reference or cameo, something that would be all too tempting for many others to do. Sure enough the links are there, and we can see that the story will end up tying in very pivotally, but there are for example no silly links to Earth, it stands alone and apart from that world for now, unaffected by the Avengers and not yet effecting them. It’s clear that there’s a lot to come for the Guardians but for now they exist in their own part of the Galaxy and are developed properly before joining in with the rest of Marvel’s universe.