Do you remember when summer SciFi blockbusters were unashamedly fun? Do you remember how you felt watching “Return Of The Jedi”? Before you got all old and cynical and ironic. Before your “Star Wars” heart was hardened by special edition vandalism and successive soulless prequels? Before the angry words and bitter sentiment of a million revisionist websites convinced you the Ewoks were irredeemably lame and that “Jedi” was when the rot started? Do you? Well, that’s what’s waiting for you on the other end of the tickets to Marvel’s “Guardians Of The Galaxy” that you’re going to buy.
Far out in space, Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord) – abducted from Earth when he was a young boy – steals a mysterious orb and immediately finds himself the centre of a galactic manhunt. Pursued by the evil and merciless Ronan The Accuser, he is captured by the Nova Corps and forced into an uneasy alliance with a ragtag group of fellow prisoners to escape and fence the orb as quickly as possible. However, when Quill finds out the true power of the orb and the threat it poses, he rallies an unlikely alliance of pirates, mercenaries and law enforcement to stage a last desperate stand against complete annihilation.
Marvel’s inspired choice of James Gunn to direct this grand space opera has paid off in spades. He’s delivered a dizzyingly spectacular Sci-Fi yarn, crammed with memorable characters and laced with a wicked sense of humour throughout. The production design is fantastic, the costumes, ships and weaponry feeling simultaneously fresh yet instantly iconic. The suggestion that this film could be the current generation of kids’ “Star Wars” does not feel, in the rosy afterglow of seeing the movie, like hyperbole and it wouldn’t surprise me if Ronan’s ship The Dark Aster becomes as iconic as the Death Star while Star-Lord’s Milano slyly has the perfect cockpit to deliver the through-the-canopy hero shot that will adorn countless lunchboxes. Although it has strong visual and thematic influences from “Star Wars”, “The Chronicles Of Riddick”, “The Last Starfighter” and even “Red Dwarf”, it never feels like anything other than its own special creation.
In possibly one of the best casts yet assembled for a Marvel movie, Chris Pratt really stands out as the roguishly heroic Peter Quill, playing him as an intoxicating mix of Han Solo, James T Kirk and Mal Reynolds. Pratt’s charisma and charm are so rich that you can actually feel Robert Downey Jr’s leverage over Marvel being eroded over the course of this film. Zoe Saldana brings a darker vulnerability to Gamora than her previous roles in “Star Trek” and “Avatar” while Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel delight as the GCI Rocket Raccoon and Groot. The unexpected wildcard in the mix is Dave Bautista’s Drax The Destroyer, the ex-WWE wrestler showing a real gift for comedy on top of the bone-crunching combat skills. On the villainous side, Lee Pace cuts a terrifyingly malevolent figure as the central villain of the piece, Ronan The Accuser, making much more of an impact here than in his anaemic appearances in the two Hobbit movies so far while Karen Gillan is almost unrecognisable as the scheming, ruthless Nebula: stepsister to Gamora and daughter of Thanos.
While the stakes are cosmically high in consequence, the film is firmly focussed on the five Guardians and perfectly balances the need for both plot and character driven elements to propel the film forward. It never sags during its two hour running time, even though it has to introduce a whole host of characters and build an entire galactic civilisation as it goes. Thanks to a willingness to puncture any hint of pomposity with a well-placed and expertly crafted gag, it’s not only one of the most spectacular, exciting and thrilling things you’ll see this summer, it’s also one of the funniest. While DC continues to fuss and fret over ensuring the brooding darkness and edginess of its titles, Marvel have switched gears once again and knocked the bar up another notch.
“Guardians Of The Galaxy” also addresses the growing risk of alienating new viewers due to the sheer number of Marvel Cinematic Universe films and is the perfect jumping on point for those who haven’t seen any (or many) of the previous MCU movies. The threads are there if you want to see the linkages (and savvy comic book aficionados will be able to project forward the likely series of events) but you don’t need any previous knowledge, of comics or movies, to thoroughly enjoy this triumphantly entertaining outer space adventure.
This really is a family blockbuster that has everything and is suitable for all but the youngest of children. Even though the language is occasionally salty, there’s nothing that should upset any but the most prudish of viewers. There’s such an air of joyous confidence at play here: Marvel’s biggest gamble may just turn out to be Marvel’s best movie yet, with a kick-ass soundtrack to boot.
Do you remember when summer blockbuster movies were so much fun? I do. It was 2014.