The biggest comic book film comes to terrestrial entertainment systems, and we can now walk in the Blu-rays of the beautiful sun.
Director: James Gunn
Runtime: 121 minutes
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan
Video: 1.78:1 (16:9)/1080p
Audio: DTS HD MA 7.1 English and Dolby 5.1 Various
Subtitles: English CC and Various
Extras: Featurettes x 3, deleted/extended scenes, gag reel, audio commentary
The Disc: ★★★★
Guardians of the Galaxy was always going to be the trickiest film in the canon to sell to a mass audience. Just like Korath the Pursuer’s (Djimon Hounsou) reaction when he first encounters Peter “Star Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt), most non-comics fans will be forced to ask “Who?” Yet it turns out that this lack of recognition was co-writer/director James Gunn’s greatest asset, providing him with the sandbox to create not only the most faithful adaptation to date, but the most wilfully and wonderfully insane one as well.
Wasting very little time on overly complicated exposition, we witness Quill confronted with his mother’s death from illness before promptly being whisked away from his Terran home to somewhere beyond the stars. Almost three decades later, and Quill is an intergalactic rogue, a modern-day Han Solo who is equal parts cunning and a charming buffoon. After coming into possession of a mysterious orb, he is soon on the run from fellow scavenger Yondu (Michael Rooker) and the terrifying Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a radical element who wishes to wipe out all life from the planet Xandar. Running afoul of space cops called the Nova Corps, he reluctantly teams up with Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the deadliest woman in the galaxy, the raccoon-like weapons genius Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), taciturn tree Groot (Vin Diesel) and vengeance seeking warrior Drax (Dave Bautista). Thus, the greatest band of misfit to ever wander the stars is formed.
Fans of the existing comics will immediately be presented with something that is wholly unique, but entirely and comfortingly familiar as well. Guardians of the Galaxy is one of those rare beasts that confidently lifts material from the comic book source, principally the works of Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, and never feels the need to dumb it down or explain it to a mainstream audience. This is not to say it is catered only to fans, and indeed it’s quite the opposite case. Gunn and his colleagues recognise the strength of the source material, and trust in audiences to simply “get it” if it’s presented in just the right way.
Coming off the back of the thrilling but serious Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it’s both a shock and refreshing to find a comic book film that is frequently and consistently hilarious. The one-liners and sight gags rarely let up, and they are such an organic part of the storytelling that the laughs are never cheap or disposable. The film isn’t afraid of getting a little risqué either: a joke referencing a blacklight and a Jackson Pollock painting will fly over the smaller one’s heads, but will elicit a guffaw or three from the older audience members. Most viewers will be starting from zero with these characters, yet within minutes, the lighter tone gives us reasons to care about every single one of them. Pratt and Saldana have a clear chemistry that shows just the right amount of restraint, and Bautista proves to be a natural comic, being more than adept at delivering deadpan dialogue. The real coup, however, is Cooper for the voice of Rocket. What could have been a one-note character is given real heart, even if he is gunning down enemies with psychotic glee.
Yet this is also a Marvel blockbuster, and the effects and action sequences are just as integral to the narrative as the dialogue and characters. Visual cues are taken directly from Raiders of the Lost Ark or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (during a terrific ‘chase the MacGuffin’ sequence), and Gunn effortlessly handles multiple simultaneous action sequences and effects shots with confidence. Edited meticulously to sync with a thumping 80s-inspired soundtrack, Tyler Bates’ score and sublime visually-led action, it’s one of the most seamless examples of a type of hyperkinetic filmmaking that we thought had become extinct with Peter Quill’s Awesome Mix Tapes. Move over Avengers, the Guardians have got it all under control.
Guardians of the Galaxy was a visual and audio feast at the cinema, and that has pleasingly been replicated on the home release. As you delve into the bonus features, we learn that colour was a deliberate choice in many of the scenes, and those choices pop on this Blu-ray transfer. As with many of the recent Marvel releases, the 7.1 surround DTS-MA is the weapon of choice for audio, so be prepared to come and get your love and rattle the windows of your neighbour’s place with a bit of Redbone. (Not a euphemism). [3D edition not previewed as yet].
There was a time when the Disney DVD unshakable high-water mark of quality, although the last few years have seen a decline in the quantity of bonus features in favour of short puff pieces and games. This disc is unique in that it somehow combines the aesthetic of both and leaves you with at least a sense of fulfilment. The backbone of the featurettes is the Guide to the Galaxy with James Gunn (20:56), a decent string of behind the scenes vignettes that cover world building, makeup, and the Kiln prison sequence, including the sheer size of the set. They are strung together with a series of retro 8-Bit(ish) side-scrolling video game interstitials, during which time Star-Lord encounters avatars for both Gunn and Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige.
Between this and The Intergalactic Visual Effects for Guardians of the Galaxy (7:11) featurette, which really focuses on bringing the digital characters to life, one gets a sense of how much work went on behind the scenes in terms of world building. This all comes out in the audio commentary with James Gunn, who is unabashedly geeky about his film, dropping in facts about the various races, cities and ships encountered, and sheer levels of details that process nerds can soak up. Likewise, the 5 Deleted and Extended scenes work best when you have the commentary turned on. These include a wonderful scene between Gamora and Nebula, and a prison guard dancing to Pilot’s 1974 song “Magic”.
The disc rounds out with the obligatory Gag reel (3:54), which isn’t quite as funny as anything that actually appears on-screen. Finally, there’s an Exclusive Look at Avengers: Age of Ultron (2:17), which is mostly a puff piece with Joss Whedon and a few behind the scenes shots of things we already saw in the trailer.
Disappointingly, there is no Marvel One-Shot short film this time out, although the weekly dose of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD on TV has almost made that concept redundant. Still. it would have been nice to see a little corner of the MCU explored, such as a day in the life of John C. Reilly’s Rhomann Dey. Maybe next time!
Bottom Line: There are some comics that are just made for the screen, and Guardians of the Galaxy pops straight out of the panels. A crazy concept pays off in spades as the latest superhero team to join the big leagues shows the rest how it’s done. It is hard to imagine a more perfect comic adaptation, or a straight-up more enjoyable film, than this. The Blu-ray transfer is a gem, with enough bonus features to keep us entertained after the credits roll, even if some of the regular Marvel goodness is missing.