Friday, 1 August 2014

Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)

Guardians Of The Galaxy is a rare thing indeed. A blockbuster that exceeds expectations, a slick slice of comic-book entertainment that perfectly blends heart, humour, thrills, and action (and some great songs). It's like a flipped upside-down version of The Avengers, while also serving as a perfect companion piece to that ensemble piece. So let me get the plot description out of the way, and then I can start the drooling words of praise.

Chris Pratt (having a great year, thanks to both this and The Lego Movie) stars as Peter Quill. Well, he'd prefer everyone to call him Star Lord, but that doesn't seem to be happening. Peter gets himself in some trouble when he tries to steal a mysterious orb. It's wanted by a big baddie named Ronan (Lee Pace), who is working for the evil Thanos (Josh Brolin). That's why a deadly assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is sent to deal with Peter. And that's why there's a bounty on his head, that ends up interesting Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). There's a big fight which lands the four individuals in prison, where they meet the vengeance-seeking Drax (Dave Bautista). Unbeknownst to them, they are about to work together as a team on an adventure that will start off with them looking for riches, or vengeance, in the case of Drax, and end up with them finding . . . . . . . . . . . . . well, something else.

Worthy of the name Star Lord?

There's SO much in this movie that's just pretty perfect, it will have many viewers with a big grin on their face as the end credits roll, and repeat viewings won't dampen its appeal. It may run for about 120 minutes, but that just flies by. Very few scenes are completely extraneous, with almost every line of dialogue and every action fleshing out the motley team onscreen, showing their motivation, their fears, their courage, their humour, their very entitlement to be main characters in this big-budget film.

The script, co-written by director James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, deftly balances everything that I've already mentioned. The action beats aren't ever forgotten, but the real draw here is the fact that we can spend time with such great characters, and see them grow into their roles. And, yes, the fact that Groot basically says nothing but "I am Groot" makes for both a nice running joke and also a surprisingly effective way of establishing his closeness with Rocket, a raccoon with a sharp mind, smart mouth, and penchant for building potent weaponry at short notice.

Gunn takes the script and overlays it with assured, slick direction. He may have already gotten used to the big chair, with the likes of Slither and Super, but this is a massive step up, and viewers never once see any signs of nerves or insecurity. Which is as it should be. Gunn's instincts have been steering him right for years (yes, yes I do also love Tromeo & Juliet - his first movie as a writer - so sue me) and it seems that audiences might finally be completely receptive to his output. Okay, it's the Marvel name being sold, but it's Gunn who takes this gamble and makes it into an outright winner.

He's helped immensely by a cast full of people all on top form. Pratt, as mentioned above, is due to make 2014 HIS year. His performance here is wonderful, and I've no doubt that he'll win over lots of new fans with this role. Saldana gets another chance to be tough and sexy, and she can do that with ease, even with green skin. Cooper and Diesel may be providing voices only, and the latter may only be mostly saddled with the one sentence, but don't underestimate the great work that they do. And Dave Bautista is surprisingly good as the angry brute who has a habit of taking figures of speech literally. Pace is good enough, yet his character is a bit weak, especially when compared to other villains from the Marvel universe,and ESPECIALLY compared to big bad Thanos. I shouldn't have to check the name of the villain at IMDb while writing this review, but that's what I had to do.

"I am Groot"

The other bonus here is the supporting cast, with Gunn giving viewers an embarrassment of riches in that department. Michael Rooker is blue-skinned Yondu, the man who took Peter away from Earth when he was just a young boy, Karen Gillan is blue, bald Nebula, a woman who wants to help Ronan cause some major destruction, Benicio Del Toro is The Collector, and there are worthwhile moments for Djimon Hounsou, Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Peter Serafinowicz, Gregg Henry, and Ophelia Lovibond. It's easy to spot the Stan Lee cameo, and there's also the usual Lloyd Kaufman cameo that we've come to expect from Mr. Gunn.

Oh, and there's that soundtrack. If you've seen any of the trailers for this movie then you'll already suspect that it has a few good tunes on the soundtrack. It does. More than that, however, is the way in which the soundtrack is almost a character in its own right. The songs are a link to the past for Peter Quill, and his precious Walkman and mix tape both hold just as much importance as the orb that so many people want to get their hands on.

I could go on and on: about how surprisingly tight the structuring is, about how many moments managed to sneak up on me and make me unexpectedly emotional (including a moment with a raccoon - yes, the damn raccoon almost gave me a lump in my throat), about the flawless visual effects throughout, about the one great gag that will fly over the heads of kids while parents laugh their asses off, about the post-credits surprise.

This is a film full of many surprising delights, with one of the best being just how many people have decided to go with the flow and help it achieve some stellar results at the box office.


Trust me, you'll want to buy this -

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