The boldest move in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is also the most joyous, neatly showing the rest of the galaxy how it’s done.
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.
Bottom Line: There are some comics that are just made for the big 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.