Sunday 10 August 2014

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Year: 2014
Director: James Gunn
Screenplay: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro

Synopsis is here

You have to give it to Marvel. They really know to market something. It’s been hard not to turn my head without a webspot, social network status or puff piece about the film flying towards my face. A film in which for many of its audience ($300 Million International box office in counting at the time of writing), had probably never heard of the source material it’s based on before its announcement. The word of mouth from said audience has been solid also. While things are looking good for the Guardians, I’m not sure the crew will be taking me to the Awesome Mix party they're clearly having for their efforts. As while I enjoyed isolated moments of James Gunn’s energetic blockbuster, the film as a whole never quite truly bowled me over.

In the binary, all or nothing age of the internet, this isn’t allowed and of course, the moment those words were read, the geeks have already decided against hearing me out/insulting me. For this viewer, however, Gunn’s film is so tailor made for a group of fans, they would never want to know, nor care, that the seams can be seen.

Many of my reservations stem from the film's narrative, which cleverly avoids milling around with origin stories, but quickly slips into being here before territory. We’re once again witnessing an all-powerful glowing McGuffin which an underwhelming megalomaniac seeks. Our gang of heroes will have to do battle with said megalomaniac and his bunch of near infinite cannon fodder. Preferably climaxing in a third act where most of the action will take place in the skies. Yes, that sounds cynical and yes, I’ve enjoyed this Marvel set up previously, but Gunn’s moments of irrelevance are such a breath of fresh air, I found myself acutely aware of the more familiar and laboured.

Guardians work best when Gunn and the screenwriters meld the silly and the sweet. Gunn, who was probably best known for the twisted cult hit; Super, before this, is particularly adept at taking the slightly outrageous and fusing it with a certain amount of warmth that others wouldn’t be able to coax. This is an ex Troma director with a web series named PG Porn, so it’s no surprise that the film's main strengths stem when the films at its most preposterous.  Did I just see a walking, talking tree grows a flower out his hand for a little girl? My heart melted slightly.

As mentioned before, the film’s quirky subversions illuminate the film well. Take a WWE wrestler who started out as a silent enforcer and give him the grandest vocabulary of the bunch. Have Vin Diesel, who is known for his gravelly voice and get him to produce some of his best work with only three words. Lets have a star as handsome as Bradley Cooper steal scenes, not with his smile, but with a vocal performance as a racoon. These characters shine brighter than our Star Lord (Pratt) whose performance is full of fun, but not the second coming of Solo. This said I still rather Nathan Fillion’s Mal as my go to space rouge.  Once again Zoe Salanda shows her worth in her role as the most serious of the outcasts; Gamora. Despite looking like she should have a similar trajectory to Scarlett Johansson, we still don’t seem to hear enough about her.

Despite this there’s an irritable feeling that Guardians is gaining a high amount of praise despite holding similar issues that other modern blockbusters are reprimanded for. Reason being; look at Chris Pratt rapping to Eminem verses. It seems like the same go here to do this plotting that the Micheal Bays and Brett Ratners will be attacked for is fine in other movies due to brand charisma and PR charm and little else. The memes of Chris Pratt as Indy have already been doing the rounds, yet any of that first trilogy appeared to be more expressive (and economic) with their plots than what we see here.

The more interesting and seemingly less observed aspect of this space opera, however, is that it pushes to the forefront the fine margins that occur with Marvel and it’s more auteur orientated directors. I did wonder how much did Edger Wright and the studio couldn’t meet in the middle with their Ant Man vision. Whereas James Gunn’s amusing asides and reaction shots fitted in to the brand. It reminded me of just how difficult the balance is between filmmakers and the project. How everything is a fine tapestry. Guardians of the Galaxy has frayed edges, but they are more interesting than the body itself.