Running time: 121 mins
Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel
Genre: Comic Book, Action, Sci-Fi
Marvel Studios are known for being adventurous…risky even and in hiring James Gunn (Super) for the duel hats of writer/director it has gone all-in with the biggest high stakes game of its history. The question is, is it a straight flush or a toilet flush?
As a film-maker I have a lot of admiration, time and respect for James Gunn. He’s a director with a clear vision on every project he comes to and regardless of the source material has a very distinct signature to his output that has him flirting with the label modern day auteur. Guardians of the Galaxy is the closest thing to a pure James Gunn movie we’ve been afforded to date with everything from his humour, sensibilities, taste in music, and even his brother poured into the intergalactic tale of mass genocide and heroics.
In the casting of Chris Pratt (Parks & Recreation) as Peter Quill/Star Lord, Gunn has his unlikely hero in more than one sense of the word. Pratt is the comedic on-screen personification of his director and a rather unexpected lead for such an enormous movie (another big tick in the Marvel risk category). He does, however, fill Quill’s boots perfectly. Believable and pitch perfect in humorous scenes is unsurprising for a performer of Pratt’s skill but he’s also incredibly believable in action mode and has a physicality that’s impressive (especially when you measure him up against Diesel and Bautista), powerful and almost effortless. Similarly Zoe Saldana (Gamora) carries with her a impressive action-based punch. Having showcased her powerhouse credentials in Colombiana and The Losers you’d be forgiven for assuming to know what Saldana has in her locker; but you’d be wrong. Though this is not her finest action/acting performance (that would be Colombiana) it is a strong outing and provides the first two-thirds of the movie with the majority of the narrative conflict. Vin Diesel (as the monosyllabic chunk of wood, Groot –playing to his strengths) is heartwarming, funny and demonstrates just how much you can do with three little words, Bradley Cooper (as Rocket) is decent enough though once you move pass the novelty factor his performance falls flat on more than one occasion, and Dave Bautista (Drax the Destroyer) is nothing short of a revelation in a role that, like Diesel, plays right into his strengths.
The cinematography and CGI of GOTG is rich, flash, almost awe-inspiring. It’s clear that Gunn is a massive Guardians fan as not since Watchmen has there been a superhero movie with such a full-fat joy to its colour palette. Similarly the soundtrack is something that really will please audiences of my generation/kids of the eighties and introduce the target audience to musicians that didn’t start 1. on YouTube or 2. kiss up to Ryan Seacrest/Simon Cowell; further evidence that Guardians is the most “James Gunn” of James Gunn’s oeuvre.
Sounds perfect, right? Sadly not. Sidestepping some of the causality issues –which all movies let alone comic book movies have, there are some real issues in Guardians of the Galaxy. Yes it’s well-written, funny, action packed, and entertaining but there are a few things that just don’t stack up. The sudden change of Quill from selfish, egotistical, self-proclaimed Star Lord to selfless protector of the galaxy is a little too much of a breakneck turn to be believable but this could be forgiven. The largest problem with Guardians of the Galaxy is that at no point throughout the enter two hours do you ever believe that everything is going to be anything other than ok. We’re talking about mass genocide by an evil (and soon to become all powerful) bad guy, all that’s stands between him and galactic domination is a band of misfits with a clapped out cassette tape yet everything is always going to be ok. Emotionally it’s the equivalent of going thirty miles per hour with your seatbelt on in the middle of a Bond action sequence. Compare this to another Marvel outing –The Avengers and you’ll see what we mean. The vast majority of Whedon’s superheroes vs bad guys movie is spent pondering “how the hell are they going to save the day with… insert number of minutes remaining?!”
Guardians of the Galaxy goes a long way to tying up the Marvel universe for one large Marvel galaxy movie. It’s admirable in its scale, endearing in its personality and entertaining in its delivery but it’s also a little too safe to set the pulse racing.