The possibility of redemption seems built into every movie and television narrative these days and Marvel’s latest comic book extravaganza is no exception as James Gunns film sees a motley crew of galactic outlaws with tragic back stories band together to fight the forces of evil though Guardians of the Galaxy wears its characters soul weariness a tad more lightly than most blockbusters of its ilk preferring to dance – quite literally as Peter Quill ‘Starlord’ (Chris Pratt) ably demonstrates more than once – rather than skulk in the corner Christopher Nolan style.
Guardians also manages to carve out a distinct tone and style removed from the majority of highly competent factory style product that Marvel Studios has pumped out since the company’s virgin launch with Iron Man back in 2008. This is Marvel’s tenth film in their quest for global domination and probably their most audacious as far as these things go with a hip tone and self mocking style that makes it stand out from the perfunctory universe building Captain America & Thor installments, even out doing Joss Whedons The Avengers in showcasing a clear directorial vision as opposed to simply authorial.
Perhaps that sounds like damning with faint praise as far as comic book films goes and I’m certainly not making the case for Guardians of the Galaxy as a great film but damned if it isn’t great entertainment which can stand alone outside the Marvel Universe. In some ways, it feels more like a mash-up of lost genre cult items that somehow sneaked through the system (Big Trouble in Little China, Ice Pirates, The adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, Howard The Duck) with a liberal helping of Star Wars.
Director and co-writer Gunn learned his trade under Lloyd Kaufman at Troma Films, the notoriously low-rent exploitation company based in New York which produced such sleazoid titles as The Toxic Avenger, Poultrygeist, Tromeo & Juliet etc and his somewhat cracked sensibility informed by a knowledge and passion for genre informs the movie somehow making a talking raccoon and a walking tree both comic and tragic. Armed with a large budget and a talented production team, Gunn and his collaborators conjure a beautifully immersive world, a sci-fi enthusiasts wet dream with glorious space vistas, sleek spaceships, cool hardware, bizarre creatures and ominous planetscapes.
But unlike other movies of this scale in which the characters are often overwhelmed by visual sensation (John Carter, The Green Lantern), Guardians never forgets its characters. And Forget the plot which is standard evil guy wants to take over the universe with the power of a magic orb so he can destroy every race and be all-powerful and then realizes he is on his own, starts crying in his space pants on a floating rock presumably. The real draw here is the loose, joyful sense of play that Gunn and his perfectly cast ensemble led by Chris Pratt as a rogue-ish space pirate with a fondness for 70’s/80’s AOR tunes and Bradley Cooper voicing the hilariously belligerent Rocket Raccoon, They bring considerable personality and heart to a project could have been seriously botched in the wrong hands. But luckily for us, the result is a gloriously anarchic space opera, rough and around the edges product that tries to break free from the constrictions of Summer blockbuster conformity.