Guardians Of The Galaxy
Director: James Gunn.
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel.
WHILE comic book powerhouse DC were dithering about rebooting Superman and Batman yet again rather than daring to do something different, its rival Marvel looked at its vast roster of characters and said, "whatever - let's make a superhero movie starring a tree and a talking raccoon".
Almost every article about Guardians Of The Galaxy has called it "a gamble". Marvel's film-making arm has taken its fair share of risks in setting up its Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) - Iron Man wasn't exactly a household name, The Hulk was rebooted not long after the Ang Lee debacle, Captain America had to overcome perceptions of being a mere jingoistic flag-waver, and Thor's mixture of Norse myth, faux-Shakespearean dialogue and hammer-throwing was seen as unwieldy.
Even with all that in mind, taking the little-known Guardians Of The Galaxy to the big screen was seen as a bridge too far.
But, as with pretty much everything it has done, Marvel has gambled and won with this comedic space opera. Sci-fi hasn't been this fun since Star Wars and it hasn't been this funny since Galaxy Quest.
The premise isn't ground-breaking - a Usual Suspects-style gang of criminals pool their talents to take on a bigger baddie who is after a powerful weapon they have stolen.
What makes Guardians Of The Galaxy cool is that said criminals are a quirky bunch. There's the human thief Peter Quill aka Starlord (Pratt) whose most prized possession is a Walkman, the tree-like Groot (Diesel), a raccoon named Rocket (Cooper), a literal-minded mountain of muscle called Drax The Destroyer (Bautista), and a green-skinned assassin with trust issues (Saldana).
The performances are top notch. Pratt, in just one film, has leapt from wacky supporting character to the A-list with an endearing and funny turn as Quill, who comes across as a goofier Han Solo. As expected Rocket and Groot steal the show, but the big surprise is wrestler-turned-actor Bautista, whose Drax is unknowingly hilarious and a real highlight of the film.
With such a set-up, Guardians Of The Galaxy's brilliantly succeeds in not taking itself too seriously and except when it needs too.
The perfect example of this can be found in the first five minutes. The opening scene poignantly sets up Quill's relationship with his mother, but immediately follows that by introducing the film's irreverent nature with a sequence that introduces Quill and his beloved Walkman.
The Tarantino-esque soundtrack he's listening to is a good example of how clever Guardians Of The Galaxy is. Not only do we get to watch spaceship shoot-outs and visit alien worlds accompanied by the smooth sounds of Marvin Gaye, The Runaways, David Bowie, The Jackson 5, and 10CC, but the music is part of the story and a clever plot device.
With its timely bad language, a hilarious Kevin Bacon reference, Groot's three-word vocabulary ("I am Groot"), and a very funny dig at the "stirring speech" cliché, this film is shaping up to be the funniest of the year. It even uses its post-credit sequence as a joke, although one likely to go over the heads of all but the nerdiest of Marvel fans.
Underneath the gags however, Guardians Of The Galaxy uses its MacGuffin-centric plot to address themes of friendship and loss, giving its five Guardians just enough development and baggage to make us care about them and their growing bond.
The biggest criticism of the film is the way it delivers some its important information such as character backstories or details about the galaxy. There's always going to be a fair amount of necessary exposition in this type of movie, but the script feels a little bit clunky at times, such as when a new character arrives and immediately spouts their motivations and background seemingly unprompted.
Despite this, Guardians Of The Galaxy is pleasingly restrained in its world-building. It hints at so much more that is going on its galaxy but doesn't get bogged down in it, nor does it labour over connections to the pre-existing Marvel Cinematic Universe - aside from The Other and Thanos (who were seen in The Avengers) and The Collector (who popped up in Thor 2's post-credit sequence), this a stand-alone property that doesn't require watching the previous nine MCU movies.
Overall, Guardians Of The Galaxy is just downright enjoyable. It's the kind of movie that makes you wish you were a kid again, because you know that if you'd seen it at the right age it would have definitely become your favourite movie ever.