Guardians of the Galaxy is Marvel’s attempt to translate their world of cosmic characters to the screen, but has their gamble paid off?
An adaptation of one of Marvel’s lesser known series, itself based around reviving obscure and forgotten space themed heroes from Marvel’s past. It was then handed to James Gunn, the Troma alumni whose career so far has been a mixed bag of screenwriting absolute turkeys (Scooby-Doo) and directing minor cult hits (Slither, Super) for the ultimate test of the Marvel Studios formula.
The result is far from perfect but still manages to be a frequently hilarious and surprisingly touching sci-fi blast that effortlessly brings the cosmic side of the Marvel universe to life whilst supplying some of the franchises most memorable characters. It also pulls off the strange trick of containing more in jokes and references to Marvel comics than any of their other films whilst also feeling like the most eccentric and separate from world we’ve already seen.
A large part of that is due to the James Gunn DNA running through nearly every part of the movie. His style can be summarised as Whedon meets Tarantino particularly in how it’s strengths are in dialogue and character and how willing he is to continually subvert tropes.
It would seem that the Guardians’ eccentric roster of aliens, outlaws, talking trees and gun-toting raccoons would be the hardest part to sell but this is really where the film excels bringing each of them to life as believable, sympathetic figures through a combination of excellent casting (Chris Pratt is absurdly charismatic) and snappy writing which focuses on how each member of the team interacts with the others. In fact if there’s a wow moment at the heart of this film, like the long tracking shot in the final act of The Avengers here it’s an extended dialogue scene between The Guardians of the Galaxy.
The downside of having such brilliantly drawn central figures is that by comparison everybody else appears to be utterly one-dimensional. It’s particularly disappointing with the main villain, Ronan the Accuser who instead of being the complex, moral absolutist, space judge of the comics has been reduced to being some blue guy who’s evil. Lee Pace does the best he can with it but there really isn’t much room to manoeuvre.
That’s one of many changes from the source material which could frustrate fans of the comics. A lot of these make sense, but others seem unnecessary or could preclude introducing certain other elements which are integral to the comics.
The final problem the film has is that it’s plot is paper thin and there are several lines of dialogue and even whole scenes which feel awkwardly like they’ve been dumped into the screenplay haphazardly in order to seed future story elements or forward the plot.
Overall it’s a very good film, that overcomes it’s issues through charm, excellent visuals and some very funny jokes. It’s also worthy of praise for how many risks it took, not only for making a bonkers space opera with superheroes in the first place but also for keeping the focus how the characters interact with each other.