Guardians of the Galaxy: Movie Review
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Lee Pace, Josh Brolin, Michael Rooker
Director: James Gunn
Finally, after the Marvel Universe has spent its last few outings hinting at a world beyond our own, it heads out into the Universe - and as a result, breathes new life into the Marvel franchise after the likes of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Avengers threaten to become too Earth-bound with their obsessions.
Chris Pratt stars as brash adventurer Peter Quill aka Star Lord, abducted by aliens when he was young and had just lost his mother. Complete with a Walkman full of 80s tunes and a cocky swagger (Han Solo / Indiana Jones anyone?), Quill finds himself the object of a bounty hunt after making off with an orb sought by Lee Pace's Ronan, a despot who wants to destroy everything in his path.
It's this hunt which puts him in the sights of beautiful green skinned assassin Gamora (a kick-ass Saldana), psychopathically enhanced Rocket Raccoon (a CGI creation voiced by Bradley Cooper), his protector the tree Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), as well as Drax The Destroyer (Bautista).
Forced to team up, this ragtag bunch of squabbling and quipping misfits are determined to save the day when Ronan's ambitions threaten the entire galaxy...
Essentially, the plot of Star Wars redux with a mash of every 80s film you can think of (even the legend of Footloose is tossed in there), Guardians of the Galaxy is a space adventure which benefits from not taking itself too seriously at all.
Eschewing the brooding of the Earth set Avengers in favour of plenty of action, humour and general lightness of tone, Guardians of the Galaxy simultaneously succeeds in expanding the Marvel Universe and introducing a great new set of characters to it, who bristle with unpredictability and hints of chaos. This is not a team that has superpowers to fall back on most of the time, may not succeed with their plans and bicker affectionately along the way.
But it also benefits from a large dose of heart in places; Quill's determination to cling to the Walkman and the mix tapes his mother made for him is a lovingly poignant touch, a way into his past and a nostalgia the older parts of the audience will recognise.
The group have a great chemistry (particularly thanks to Bradley Cooper's scene-stealing Rocket Raccoon) and synergy together and off-set the po-faced and overly serious nature of Ronan and his gang. Former Doctor Who companion Karen Gillan impresses as cyborg Nebula, even if she is slightly underwritten. Even Thanos shows up to link the last lot of film, but he's casually tossed aside as an irrelevance to the plot and inadvertently loses some of his menace because of it.
If there are echoes of previous film's denouements and big final act action pieces, it's probably to be expected given how Marvel is all about spectacle and team building. A final sequence of ramming home the message very nearly chokes the film - but even with this cinematic deja vu, former Troma director James Gunn handles it all with a certain directorial aplomb, never losing sight of the fun and action of the piece throughout - and creating some truly stunning space visuals.
But it's Pratt's film for the taking. And it sees him seize his chance to soar as an occasionally vulnerable lead, who's always ready with a quick comment and a self-knowing wink (he describes the orb as a Ark of the Covenant / Maltese falcon type) in any given situation. For Star-Lord, this is a charismatic star-making turn - along with his colleagues - that suggest Quill's future is assured (even with hints of more personal discoveries to come).
Oh, and stick around for the now obligatory post-credits sequence - it fits perfectly with the 80s kitsch colourful vibe, even if it does little to advance the ongoing Marvel threads.
Watch the new Guardians of the Galaxy trailer