[ Director: James Gunn; Screenwriter: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman; Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou, Glen Close, Benicio Del Toro; Running time: 121 minutes; Certification: 12A ]
Marvel doesn’t much like letting a few months go by without a new superhero running, jumping or flying over our screens, and here they are right on-cue with their latest adventure… only this time it’s a superhero film not quite as we know it. While effectively a Star Wars cosplay, Guardians Of The Galaxy serves as a big, refreshing shake-up in the midst of an Avengers-heavy output from the studio; a film with a completely different set of heroes in an entirely different environment. We have, of course, glimpsed the other worlds of the Marvel universe in Thor, and had a taste of alien threats in The Avengers, but Guardians is the first to (almost) forget about Earth completely and whip the audience out of their comfort zone, so to speak.
Perhaps the most audacious quality of Guardians is its confidence to rely on banter. While Marvel laces all of its films with a now staple humour and wit, Guardians Of The Galaxy takes that one step further to act like a bona fide comedy; the few serious moments there are, like a heart-felt speech or someone remembering their mother on her deathbed, still invariably end in a punchline. Using comedy as the crux of the film is a risky strategy, and such frivolity almost becomes frustrating for those of us yearning for just a little more solemnity and depth, but the film totally gets away with it for the simple reason that the jokes land every single time (and it pretty much finds depth through humour, which is a ridiculously hard thing to do).
Starting with a brilliant opening sequence as our Han Solo elect, Starlord/Peter Quill (Pratt), dances his way through an old ruin to the beats of his retro casset player (providing the film with a brilliant, narrative-infused soundtrack of 70s hits), and only getting better as the eponymous Guardians meet, squabble, get along and don’t get along, we find ourselves laughing full belly laughs consistently from beginning to end. Gunn and Perlman’s previous credits (or lack of in Perlman’s case) don’t scream it, but they clearly have a great ear for sharp comedy.
Yet the crowning achievement of Guardians Of The Galaxy is that we really enjoy spending time with the characters, outlandish and neurotic as they are, and we desperately want to see them again; providing the sight of a rocket-wielding raccoon (aptly named Rocket) and a talking tree doesn’t put you off. They complement and contradict each other perfectly; when they bicker and squabble we find ourselves laughing; when they care and get along we find ourselves smiling gently. All of this is only made possible by the electric chemistry between the actors, led by the brilliant Chris Pratt, and their understanding is just as important as the script – or perhaps even more so – in making the film work as well as it does.
There’s an argument that it’s all a bit generic structurally and narratively; with such a radically different type of superhero film, it’s not unnatural to expect a bit of a shake-up from the traditional build-up to the third act explosion fest with a (slightly) underwritten villain, yet it never feels bothersome while watching it so perhaps it doesn’t even bear mentioning. What does bear mentioning is that Guardians Of The Galaxy is a fun, refreshing and wildly entertaining ride that features one of the best dirty jokes of the year. Hint: it involves Jackson Pollock and a black light.