Review: Guardians Of The Galaxy

Guardians Of The Galaxy


"...I'm high on believin..."

“…I’m high on believin…”

Iron Man was not a well known character in 2008, so making a film about him was a risk. Thor was not a well known character, so that was a risk. Captain America was a risky thing to try and sell to audiences in Europe and beyond. The entire Avengers project was a risk. But if all of those things were risky moves, then we can only describe the niche property of Guardians of the Galaxy as a Hail Mary pass, Marvel trusting in their now proven ability to succeed with comic book adaptations to the furthest degree yet. A huge amount of hype has surrounded this production for the last few months. Does it all pay off?

Peter Quill had only a Walkman filled with 70s tracks on him when he was abducted by aliens and whisked away from Earth in 1988. Twenty six years later, the adult Quill (Chris Pratt) is a universe travelling mercenary and outlaw, who gets on the wrong side of genocidal Kree leader Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) over a mysterious orb Quill “acquired”. Before too long Quill finds himself thrown together with deadly assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldano), genetically modified raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper), bi-pedal plant Groot (Vin Diesel) and vengeance obsessed heavyweight Drax (Dave Bautista) in a mission to save the galaxy from Ronan’s depredations.

A short, non-spoiler, review follows before more in-depth discussion, a transition that will be clearly marked.

Director James Gunn has a lot to balance here, between the five main characters, a handful of bad guys and a host of other players, ranging from space police commanders to Liberace-inspired species collectors. And I’m happy to say his attempt to pull it all together into a coherent form is mostly a success, with an action-packed feature that boils over with colour and extravagance.

Obviously the important thing is the titular team, the outcasts of society drawn towards each other by the chance for reconnection and redemption. While there is an issue with characters just blurting out their backstories and motivations at the drop of a hat, the interactions between the five are great, radiating with warmth, panache and the sort of sarcastic humour that Joss Whedon made commercial.

In fact, so dominant is the focus on those interactions that the plot actually takes a back seat to an extent, with Guardians of the Galaxy suffering from a rather lame villain with a by the books evil plan, only a partial step up from the disappointing Malekith of Thor: The Dark World. Centring around the MacGufffin orb, the plot moves from impressive set-piece to impressive set-piece, gorgeous location to gorgeous location, without ever really threatening to break out into the kind of success that The Avengers was, a film that better balanced large cast interactions with decent plot. Guardians of the Galaxy goes further, with a huge supporting cast that actually drags down the overall quality through their over numerous presence, but it’s not a gigantic flaw: some will likely enjoy the expansive and detailed world Gunn has brought to the screen.

The pace is hectic, the surrounds are pretty and the experience is undeniably enjoyable, but it’s also dirt simple when it comes to the actual story, with more than a whiff of Star Wars about it, especially in the last act. However, it is also certainly a sci-fi epic with legs, the film driven on by the strength of its core characters and their exchanges, their charm and charisma. Guardians of the Galaxy delights in what it is, revelling in its status as the “fun” example of comic book adaptation, almost a direct contrast with the (still entertaining) grimness of The Dark Knight or Man of Steel.

Chris Pratt is a sheer delight as the vain, cocky Quill, ho grates when no one appears to know his “Star Lord” codename. It would be easy to just be a Han Solo clone, but his Quill is a lot more than that, thankfully. Saldano’s had better roles, but is decent enough as Gamora, and a tired romantic plot with Quill is largely avoided. Cooper had a huge task to make Rocket not a Jar-Jar level disaster, and succeeds, the talking raccoon with the biting humour one of the films main highlights, matched by the simple but remarkably expressive performance of Diesel, clearly channelling a bit of The Iron Giant. Bautista is probably the closest to a weak link, with Drax’s trait of being unable to understand metaphor and non-literal expressions seeming like a sop to his lack of acting talent compared to the other four.

The supporting cast, featuring big or notable names like Lee Pace, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro, John C. Reilly, Karen Gillian, Peter Serafinowicz, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Rooker and Josh Brolin is so expansive that I can’t do them justice in this short space, apart from saying that no one disappointed too much, save for their limited screentime. Gillian and Hounsou in particular, as minor villains, seem to exist just so the good guys have someone vaguely recognisable to fight in the last act, while Close might be an underwhelming attempt to match the prestige casting of Sir Ben Kingsley and Robert Redford in Iron Man 3 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier respectively. Pace is disappointingly underwhelming as Ronan, a dime store bad guy with poorly elaborated motivations and no real sense of threat.

Visually though, oh how Guardians of the Galaxy does shine. A handful of poorer moments barely detract from the symphony of bright colours and emotive CGI renderings of a full and complete universe, with dazzling locations that stick long in the mind through their diverseness and splendour. The likes of Rocket and Groot have no problems being believable as living entities, and the make-up/prosthetic team deserve as much plaudits as they can reasonable receive. It has been a long time since I have seen the production of a sci-fi world reach these heights.

Chris Pratt takes a deserved leap into the A-List ranks with his performance as Peter Quill

Chris Pratt takes a deserved leap into the A-List ranks with his performance as Peter Quill

The script is good and bad in different sections. The distinctive voices of various characters is a huge positive for such a large cast, but those of my outlook will be rolling their eyes at some of the more garish comedy lines as we enter into the last act, Marvel’s success now guaranteeing that every finale must be replete with awkwardly inserted comedic material. I could also have done with a few less monologues on the nature of friendship I suppose, but the overall strength of the wordplay is obvious.

Musically, Tyler Bates’ score is nothing to write home about, rarely threatening to match the heights of some of his previous work. It is in the soundtrack that Guardians of the Galaxy succeeds to a greater extent, with a fine and wonderfully appropriate selection of 70’s hits, from Blue Swede to the Jackson Five, which help to give the film the weirdly entrancing sense of laid back space adventure that it really needs.

Guardians of the Galaxy is great. It’s an upbeat vibrant production, with a fine central cast. I do find myself not quite agreeing with an apparent consensus that it is near-flawless – the plot is simple enough, the supporting cast is misused frequently and the villains are weak – but I cannot deny that it was the kind of film that puts a smile on your face, and leaves you hungry for more. Entertaining and engaging, Guardians of the Galaxy is yet another triumph for Marvel Studios, and comes fully recommended.

More in-depth discussion, with spoilers, follows.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a great film, overall, if not quite the epic masterpiece the last week of reviews and gushing praise has tried to paint it out to be. What we have here is a fun, laid-back accessible sci-fi saga, more Star Wars than Avengers, but we do not have anything truly astounding in quality (and certainly not on the same level as those two mentioned films).

I sort of find myself in a bind with Guardians Of The Galaxy then. The film is very entertaining, but I do not agree with the procession of critical positivity that has accompanied it to a large degree. As such, this review might seem a bit more negative than positive, but if so, it is only because I am trying to counter that positivity to the limited extent that I can.

But there is still so much good to talk about it. At its heart, we have a very simple story about a band of adventures overcoming a singular bad guy and his MacGuffin powers, but a wonderful universe and great pacing encapsulates that simple story. Director James Gunn has crafted a confident production that revels in the craziness and whacky hijinks it gets to portray, that takes the niche status of its source material as something to be celebrated, not to be altered. So, we get a few new kinds of superhero, battling an alien menace that we might last have seen on our screens in the grand old days of the sci-fi space opera decades ago. It’s thrilling, it’s enjoyable to watch and it keeps you engaged to the required degree.

Guardians Of The Galaxy’s main strength, the main focus even, is on those five titular characters and their interactions. Taking his cues in a large way from Joss Whedon’s style (and obviously influenced by the character interactions of The Avengers) Gunn portrays a buddy love movie with five main pieces, five broken outcast individuals thrown together and forced to work alongside the others for their own and the galaxy’s benefit.

The star is obviously Peter Quill, a man who, in a lazier director and actor’s hands, could have just been an inane Han Solo clone. But Chris Pratt and this director instead craft a more enthralling character than that, a Terran orphan who got to fly into the stars from a very young age and live out the kind of fantasies that other boys his age can only dream of. Quill is the science fiction man child, fleeing headlong from responsibility, stealing valuable artefacts while dancing around ancient ruins, still running, 26 years after the fact, from the pain of his mother’s death, ignoring her last gift. But he is still quintessentially cool, trying to personify the outlaw image in every act and strut, from cutting ties with Udonto to calmly taking Gamora down when she steals the orb off him.

The audience is flung into the deep end with Quill, and expected to simply shut up and enjoy the ride. Through Quill we get gradually introduced to our other four players, first Gamora. She’s the unfavoured child of Thanos, the rebellious one trying to fight back against him in her own way, cold and distant with all around her. Quill is her opposite in terms of maturity and what he wants out of life but the two become inexplicably connected very quickly after meeting each other.

Then there is Rocket and Groot, the two total wildcards. Rocket had the terrible potential to be the 21st century Jar-Jar Binks, but thankfully Gunn has managed to make something worthwhile out of him. While it can be a tad difficult to take the weepy monologues and appeals to Groot’s friendship seriously when they are coming out of the mouth of a sentient raccoon, they do at least try and play Rocket’s existence within the universe as straight as possible, refusing to fall back on more childish elements of humour, preferring to stick with the tried and true comic book version of a foul mouthed mercenary (who just happens to be a Terran rodent). Rocket serves as comic relief, yes, but also forms one half of the beating heart of the team.

The other is Groot, whose entire section of the script consists of four words. Yet, it is a remarkably expressive performance from Vin Diesel, clearly channelling a bit of his work on The Iron Giant, that makes Groot what he is – Guardians Of The Galaxy’s Chewbacca, a completely alien creature who you can’t even understand directly, but who you have no problems accepting as a living breathing entity within the universe. Groot is the Shakespearian fool of the film, always there in the background with key moments of plot importance, sometimes seeming to be the smartest one of the bunch.

Lastly then there is Drax. His plot, a basic revenge story that doesn’t even get a direct resolution, is probably the weakest of the five, not helped by Dave Bautista’s lack of acting talent compared to the other four. That might be why Drax is portrayed as a member of a species that does not understand metaphor, since his dialogue was nearly one long in-joke about that concept. But every team needs the tough guy character, the Guardians Of The Galaxy have theirs in Drax, the space version of the Incredible Hulk. Perhaps it might have helped if we knew why exactly Ronan had chosen to kill Drax’s family, or how Drax wound up in prison, or a load of other minor things. They aren’t there, and while Drax is fine for some comic relief and a few half-decent fight sequences, he isn’t all that.

So, it is the interactions between these five that are the key to how Guardians Of The Galaxy is a good film. Whether it is Quill and Gamora discussing what dancing is, Rocket and Drax getting into repeated bar fights over the causal insults they throw each other’s way, Groot’s monotone discussions with anybody or any of the group discussions, those moments of characterisation and dialogue are among the best that Guardians Of The Galaxy has to offer. Yes, they go from hanging around each other for their own profit to being willing to die for each other very fast, but that matches the breakneck pace that Guardians Of The Galaxy sets itself on from the start.

The problems with all of that is in the finer details and in some of the execution. At their core, everyone is a very simple, almost archetypical character – space orphan, rebellious henchman, gruff mercenary, alien grunt, revenge obsessed tough – that you can find in a host of other medium: You could make a Guardians Of The Galaxy movie about Philip J. Fry, the Silver Surfer, Boba Fett, Teal’c and the Punisher with basically the same dynamic between the five. The back stories of the characters are, in four of the five examples, worryingly short on depth, a symptom of the limited screentime Gun had to dedicate to the issue.

Vin Diesel's Groot is one of the films great triumphs, both in terms of CGI and characterisation.

Vin Diesel’s Groot is one of the films great triumphs, both in terms of CGI and characterisation.

That leads to some really poor examples of characters just laying out their back stories and motivations in a really unnatural way, with Gamora, Rocket and Drax all having moments where, without any real compunction, they start detailing their lives and why they want to take Ronan down (or, in Rocket’s case, how he came into being). It’s basically a repeated infraction of the standard “show, don’t tell” rule, only partially dodged in the case of Gamora and largely avoided for Quill. The titular Guardians aren’t the only ones of course, with a host of bad guys and supporting characters doing the exact same thing. Gunn had two hours and a lot of characters he had to bring to life, so he clearly fell back on the really base ways of letting the audience know the finer details of the cast. The answer was to lessen the amount of characters (or increase the running time) and neither of those two options were taken.

And so obvious is the focus on the relationship between the main five, that two other aspects of Guardians Of The Galaxy suffer unnecessarily: the plot and the bad guys. The plot revolves around a dime store MacGuffin, in this case an orb that turns out to be an infinity stone. This one serves in exactly the same way as the Ether did for Malekith in Thor: The Dark World, with the two films having a very similar structure in a lot of fundamental ways. We’ve seen the plot of this MacGuffin before, and seeing it again is just dull – the orb exists purely as a means to move from set-piece to set-piece, with ill-defined powers that characters intelligently dodge in dialogue, as if Gunn is telling the audience to stop seeking answers to questions he doesn’t care to address. If Marvel, with three more infinity stones to cover before they do the inevitable Thanos story, keep doing this, I’m going to get fed up fast. Make them distinctive. Make them interesting. Do something with them. I want more One Ring’s and less “orbs”.

Then there are the bad guys themselves. Ronan is fairly dull and disappointing as an antagonist, a bare step up from Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith. Both are just characterless, morose terrorists with bland ambitions for galactic domination. Have them murder someone in their first scene to show how tough they are, have them issue a few threats and send henchmen off on dangerous missions, have them try to undo the galaxy itself. But God forbid you actually make them memorable. Ronan’s a direct contrast with the more colourful and character-filled Guardians, and maybe that was the point. But man, I think Gunn and Pace should have just embraced the insanity and ran with it, creating a really over the top and memorable villain, more Darth Vader-like in visual direction, stage moment, tone and dialogue.

The supporting bad guys, the named ones anyway, aren’t any better. Karen Gillian’s Nebulae is barely in the film long enough to register as a proper opposite of Gamora, and their final clash lacked a real emotional spark for me, just another showdown in a series of showdowns. Djimoun Hounsou had similar problems as Korath, just a grunt with a name, more fodder for the finale. At least Thanos was cool, but he was barely in the film (which is fine, it’s not really his movie). So much work and so much time was allotted to the Guardians, that the people they actually have to fight are just frighteningly dull in comparison.

As an aside, this seems to be the key flaw of this Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the exception of Loki, what great screen villains have they produced? The likes of Obadiah Stane, Justin Hammer, the Red Skull, the Abomination, Alexander Pierce and the Mandarin had their moments, but none of them could be described as great screen antagonists. And then there are the duds: Whiplash, Winter Soldier, Malekith, who barely registered as characters. Just thinking on Marvel’s direct competition and their limited offerings, Liam Neeson, Heath Ledger and Tom Hardy gave the Dark Knight trilogy some distinctive and memorable bad guys, and even in Man of Steel Michael Shannon was great. Maybe Marvel Studios should think a bit more on their bad guys – Tom Hiddleston can’t be in every film.

But this is what you deal with when you have such a mountain of characters to give time to and a lot of different places to see. A strength of the film is the universe it manages to portray, with a lot of really great locations, computer generated or no, from orbital prisons to the giant skulls of dead celestials. It helps the threadbare story immeasurably when such world building takes place, when we see such a wide range of distinctive and unique environments. Yes, there is a lot of Star Trek/Stargate style “They’re basically human, just a different colour” going on, but it is the sheer amount of colours and species, and some of their home worlds, that makes Guardians Of The Galaxy’s universe such a captivating place to watch a story unfold in. We go very quickly from Xandar, the Kyln and Knowhere, but they were all awesome places to stop off in for a time.

Guardians Of The Galaxy is a visual wonderfest.

Guardians Of The Galaxy is a visual wonderfest.

Knowhere, the kind of sci-fi imaginarium only a concept like this could throw up, is where our motley crew encounter the Collector, the space Liberace who likes to collect different species and put them in glass cages (for some reason). While a lot of people, including myself, have been looking forward to seeing what Guardians Of The Galaxy could do with the Collector after his brief and bizarre appearance at the end of Thor: The Dark World, they might feel a bit let down. The Collector is just Mr Exposition, albeit a very weird Mr Exposition you aren’t likely to forget. His entire purpose in the plot is to simply tell the Guardians what the orb is and what it can do – leaving it to his hapless assistant to demonstrate this more practically – and the Guardians are on record as barely caring about the specifics. Then, he’s done. Considering the big name actor attached to the role, and his big-ish place within the Marvel universe, you’d think they’d find more for the Collector to do.

He’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all of those characters. Nova Prime, Yondu Udonta, Rhomann Dey, Garthann Saal and Cosmo the Space Dog are just some of the minor characters, not mentioning the already discussed minor villains, who pop up for a few lines here and there, desperately trying to appear as actual characters, sometimes in very strange ways: the Nova Corps police guy Dey does Guardians Of The Galaxy’s standard “explain your backstory” thing by talking about his family, before we actually just see his family at the end. What the hell is that, “Don’t just show or tell, do both!”?

Having a lot of characters fills out the world and gives it that larger epic feel, but my personal tastes prefer a smaller cast with better characters. Too many of the people who show up in Guardians Of The Galaxy are paper thin, appearing only very briefly and having very little of their own agency in the story, not to mention very little impact. Did anyone really care when Saal is killed in the final battle? It felt like we were meant to, but I cared as much as I did for Red Leader or Biggs (more on that in a second).

Take Udonta, the mercenary who Quill has an ongoing dispute with during the film. He gets time and lines to explain himself and be a character, but in the hands of Michael “How can I make whoever I’m playing more of a southern stereotype?” Rooker, he’s basically just a bipolar alien with a temper problem, who also happens to have a really neat arrow device controlled by whistling. His motivations are defined as greedy, which is fine, but he’s also just immensely dumb, which is not so good. I think he existed so Quill could turn up on Xandar with an army at the conclusion, and I understand that necessity. Oh wait, I don’t, because the Nova Corps, just finished fighting a war with the Kree Empire, has a military of its own. Udonta seems to be in the film less out of a desire to make a good character that Quill could play off of, and more because Gunn had an inexplicable need to pack in a gigantic range of characters from Marvel’s outer space universe, and had an idea for a little set-piece with the arrow. Some restraint would be advised in the future.

At least some restraint was demonstrated in terms of romantic plotlines, something that Marvel Studio’s is actually threatening to turn into standard practise in some of its properties (and more power to them). Quill makes a brief attempt to seduce Gamora, but she rejects him, and from there the two embark on a more platonic friendship, something Quill seems satisfied with, which instantly made him seem like a better man to me (and was another notch against the Quill character just being Han Solo, with Gamora as Leia). In productions like this, with such a gigantic amount of characters and (simple but) lengthy plot to get through, the standard Hollywood dross that passes for romance is gladly dismissed.

If Guardians Of The Galaxy has a major flaw, its in its rather pedestrian villains.

If Guardians Of The Galaxy has a major flaw, its in its rather pedestrian villains.

That is not to say that there isn’t dross though, mostly in the multitude of dialogue selections and speeches that talk about how awesome friendship is. While teamwork is obviously an important part of the message that Guardians Of The Galaxy is trying to get across, I could have done without the extended devotion to the power of friendship, how glad everyone was to have friends, how everyone was better off with friends again, how they are willing to die for each other at the drop of a hat because they are all friends. Mr Gunn, you made the point just fine in the little rallying cry scene on the mercenary ship, there was no need to keep going on and on about it in the finale. I mean, I get that the finale required that point get even furthered hammered home, visually, but that just made the repeated references to it earlier even more superfluous.

That finale is fine. It’s probably the weakest act of the film, which a lot of Marvel properties regrettably are also guilty of, consisting mostly of CGI destruction and personal battles of little emotional weight. I’d say the way that Rocket and other break from the battle to save civilians lives (and how the evacuation of the city was confirmed in the middle of the battle) is a hearty and well deserved two fingers to DC over Man Of Steel, but there is still a great deal of implied carnage in that finale.

And it is just so, so Star Wars. That finale takes so much from the attack on the Death Star in A New Hope that Lucas should sue, if he wasn’t busy ripping off anything and everything himself. You have the giant enemy ship that has the power to destroy a planet. You have that ship slowly getting into position so it can perform that attack, the controllers of that ship seeking to bring an end to a conflict that has been waged for a while. You have the political/military leaders on the ground, watching the computer imagery of the battle and seeing the ship get closer and closer. You have the counter-attack done by the smaller ships, who end up engaged against other smaller ships. You have the weakpoint that the good guys are trying to exploit. You have one of the chief bad guys (Nebulae in this case) out in one of the smaller ships until she’s so damaged she has to withdraw. You have the minor character who dies in the assault. You have the money obsessed mercenaries assisting in the attack.

There’s so much of Star Wars there (and in some way, much of the rest of the film) that I found it weirdly distracting until the ship actually hit the ground and Guardians Of The Galaxy became its own beast again. Oh, and let’s not forget how the Nova Corps busts out its own Tholian Web during the battle either.

From there, friendship is magic and lonely Ronan is defeated despite handing every other member of the Guardians their ass in hand to hand combat in some form, so everything did feel just a tad unsatisfying (and was anyone else picturing this during that while thing with the infinity stone?). The “death” of Groot also failed to land for me for the most part, because I was so certain that he would be back before the credits rolled. Low and behold, I was right. If there is one thing I really dislike in science fiction or fantasy, it’s the frequent cheapness of character death. And Groot was such a surprisingly good character, that it felt even more cheap to me, to have him be this needless sacrifice (in plot terms) when Ronan’s ship crashed. Maybe Gunn felt like capitalising on the audiences inevitable attachment to Groot to conjure some manipulated happy feels for the very end, having Groot return in twig form, soon to get big again, I would presume.

Oh, and the comedy. This is an especially personal thing I guess, since several people in my own social circle that I have talked to on the topic see no problem with it, but I hate, hate, hate Marvels’ recent propensity for putting in comedic material at even the tensest moments. I suppose I blame Joss Whedon and his snarky brand of humour, even in the depths of peril, for this. That “Puny God…” moment of the billion dollar profit Avengers was probably what set this all off.

Because all of Phase Two’s films have this annoying trait, that Phase One did not share, of switching rapidly between tense action and light hearted comedy even in the middle of their finales. Tony Stark’s suit failing to get to him in Iron Man 3, Thor stuck on the Tube in The Dark World, even some of the Fury/Pierce interaction at the end of The Winter Soldier. And here, as Ronan prepares to commit mass genocide, Peter Quill starts awkwardly dancing to distract him. A lot of this stuff does make me laugh, but I invariably catch myself in the cinema, seeing my investment in the peril of the characters severely dented by the lackadaisical approach to that peril. Can’t we leave just the finales themselves humour free Marvel Studios? Please?

Marvel keeps doing it, so I’ll also mention the post-credits nonsense. Following on from the comedy of Iron Man 3’s example, and ignoring the seriousness of The Dark World’s and The Winter Soldier’s, Guardians Of The Galaxy decides to actually waste their time throwing Howard the Duck into the mix, of all people. ’It’s his anniversary!’ I hear you cry. I don’t care. He’s a terrible character noteworthy nowadays only for the awful movie his name is attached to and there is no legitimate reason for him to be included in the MCU.

While Guardians Of The Galaxy, and Marvel Studios in general, have come in for some deserved flak over mostly picking male characters for lead roles over women, I think this film does a good enough job with the female characters it introduces. Gamora is great: she has an actual personality, she has an arc, her own nemesis and she doesn’t fall into bed with Quill at the click of his fingers. She’s powerful, self-reliant, capable and rebellious against the outside influences that seek to control her. She faces down danger with bravery and embraces the friendship that the others offer without reservation – more than they do, really. Of the five, she’s probably the most selfless really: Quill, Rocket and Groot are looking for a payday and Drax wants to gratify his own need for revenge in going after Ronan. Gamora actually wants to save the universe, right from the start.

Zoe Saldana's performance will hopefully be another jab at Marvel Studios' male centred way of doing things.

Zoe Saldana’s performance will hopefully be another jab at Marvel Studios’ male centred way of doing things.

Some of the other female characters don’t really match up to her. As mentioned, Nebulae is a little weak, designed more as a vague opposition to Gamora, someone for her to fight at the conclusion, than as a really interesting character of her own accord. She doesn’t even have loyalty to Thanos to differentiate her from Gamora really, and could have been replaced by some generic thug without losing much of what she offered. Having the Nova Corps lead by the impressive and unyielding presence of Glenn Close’s character was a bit better, even if she was in the film only just long enough to barely register. There’s also Peter’s mother, appearing only in the opening few minutes, but whose death has a powerful effect on his subsequent development (IN SPAAAAAAAACE!)

Beyond those three, women in Guardians Of The Galaxy are slaves or one night stands. Marvel Studios has run out of excuses for denying more leading roles to women – they did a while ago, and so has everyone else in Hollywood – and the wait for one of their blockbusters headed by a woman is becoming intolerable.

So where to from here? The MCU is taking a bit of a break until the behemoth that is Age of Ultron, unless you want to talk about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But Guardians Of The Galaxy itself has a bright future. There is a grand universe to be played around with, and no shortage of potential concepts or villains to be faced down: especially Thanos, who had a decent intro here. The larger mystery of Peter Quill’s parentage is also a decent enough hook for an audience I would feel. A good amount of set-up – not too much, not too little – has been done here for any sequel.

So, moving into themes. Surprise, surprise, top of my list is the theme of friendship and team work. Guardians Of The Galaxy is a large rallying cry for the concept, an equal of last year’s Pacific Rim in that regard. The entire crux of the plot revolves around the reality that the Guardians are better off working together and seeking each other’s friendship. In the first instance they are able to achieve far more as a group than they would ever have been able to as individuals, namely preventing Ronan from commencing on a galaxy destruction tour. I suppose though, it is the second degree that the greater change, character wise, is found, with the five individuals fixing some key things about themselves with the formation of this group.

Because they are all damaged. To put a name on another theme, they have all lost something, are all incomplete. Quill has never really grown up following the death of his mother and the beginning of his adventures. Gamora lost her family in more violent circumstances, along with her innocence. Rocket’s mentally damaged from his very creation. Groot lacks the proper means to communicate with others to the same degree as normal sentient beings. Drax has also lost his loved ones violently, along with any sense of purpose beyond getting revenge for that reality.

Those links to family form another important theme for three of the five Guardians. Quill is defined by his rejection of adulthood after witnessing the passing of his mother, ailing from some kind of cancer battle. The absence of a parental influence is life has turned him into this irrepressible man child, who only starts to grow up when the entire galaxy is put into peril. Gamora moves from one family to another, trading her real parents for the dark influence of Thanos. But she ends up rejecting him and his false parentage, leaving her in a similar but contrasting boat as Quill, all grown up but lacking that guiding hand. And then, obviously, there is Drax, whose loss of family is a rawer wound than the other two have experienced, and who only has the singular goal of taking down Ronan as violently as possible. As for Rocket and Groot, they might not have lost families, but it is made clear that they have “dead people“ too. The lack of a family unit is what makes them who they are, but also provides the impetus to create a new family, in the form of the Guardians. The damage will not fix itself.

Finding friendship and a team ethic helps to nullify some of that damage, and to make the individuals of this group more whole. Quill finds some responsibility and some peace over the death of his mother by the conclusion. Gamora and Drax both find a measure of peace for their past losses, and the discovery of a new family. Rocket and Groot, outcast wanderers, find somewhere to call home. Compare to Ronan, an individual who finds himself embracing his inner damage, and faces into the final confrontation of Guardians Of The Galaxy totally alone, friendless, with even his quasi-loyal underlings having vanished from sight. In that final battle, the teamwork of the Nova Corps, the mercenaries and the Guardians is what stops the singular Ronan from completing his mad ambitions, in a way that none of them individually could have accomplished.

Lastly, there is the simple theme of revenge. Everyone in Guardians Of The Galaxy, everyone important anyway, seems to want revenge for something. Quill is bitter about his childhood abduction, Gamora wants to get back at Thanos, Rocket and Groot seem to have a grudge against the whole world, Drax is focused on Ronan and Ronan himself seeks revenge against Xandar for undefined religious and political differences. Revenge and the seeking of it drives them all on, even after the formation of the Guardians. It is a powerful motivator, Guardians Of The Galaxy indicates, but one whose fulfilment is a poisoned chalice just on its own. Taking down Ronan is justified, but without the larger threat of the destruction of Xandar, it would just be an emotionally deadening gratification of a negative instinct. It wouldn’t bring any dead families back and what little satisfaction there would be to find would not last too long. In embracing the higher motive, the Guardians are able to greater justify themselves and their outlook, and bring a greater level of peace to their internal workings.

In conclusion, Guardians of the Galaxy is great. It’s an upbeat vibrant production that allows for some tremendous fun to be had, with a fine central cast to propel things along nicely. It’s visually brilliant, one of the best films of the year in that regard. I do find myself not quite agreeing with an apparent consensus that it is near-flawless, for several reasons, mainly that the plot is simple enough, the supporting cast is too large along with being misused frequently and, crucially, the villains are really weak.

But I cannot deny that it was the kind of film that puts a smile on your face, and leaves you hungry for more, looking forward to both its direct sequel and whatever else Marvel Studios cares to throw at us. Entertaining and engaging, Guardians of the Galaxy is yet another triumph for Marvel Studios, and comes fully recommended.

A great, if not quite masterful, production.

A great, if not quite masterful, production.

(All images are copyright of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures).

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12 Responses to Review: Guardians Of The Galaxy

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