As you may expect, this review will be full of juicy spoilers and plot points, so read with discretion!
In my opinion, there is no other film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe quite like Guardians of the Galaxy. It mixes the humour of the Iron Man films with the serious, Nolan-esque tone of Captain America: The Winter Soldier perfectly, but it doesn’t get lost in the comparisons, and manages to be one of the most unique and refreshing superhero films in recent memory.
As I’m sure you know, Guardians of the Galaxy follows the story of Peter Jason Quill, a.k.a. Starlord, in his transformation from a cocky cave-hunter to a, well, Guardian of the Galaxy. Not to give too much away, the film begins on 1980s Earth, with a young Peter being kidnapped by then-unknown alien beings. Fast-forward to the present, and our 30-ish Quill, played exquisitely by Chris Pratt, finds himself in a spot of bother after stealing an orb that may or may not be the most powerful item ever to exist. After some of Pratt’s trademark wit, he soon meets up with the rest of the Guardians, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon, Vin Diesel’s Groot and Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer. The first scene in which these characters (bar Drax, who appears a bit later) appear together is the hilarious scene on Xandar, where they are all fighting to get the orb from one another. This is unfortunately where I encountered my first issue with this film. Although it may be just a tad nit-picky, it’s still quite important. Literally minutes prior, Starlord was begging a broker to take the orb off him, but soon after he is willing to kill just to make sure he keeps his hands on it. I know that he now knows that Ronan wants the orb, but if he’s such a “rogue”, surely he wouldn’t care what would happen? Although very minor, this does add a layer of confusion to this already packed scene, but at the end of the day it doesn’t have much of an effect on the logistics of the story. Anyway, the Guardians, or as they are called “a-holes” (one of the best lines in the film), find themselves locked up in a space prison called ‘the Kiln’, or as I’d prefer to call it, ‘the most convenient prison in the history of the MCU’. Why, exactly, was there a gravitational field in a prison literally millions of miles away from Earth? Regardless, some of the film’s most ambitious set pieces take place here, and the characters really begin to develop at this point. We are also introduced to Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer, a wrestler, I mean, space thug, who desperately wants revenge on Ronan the Accuser, who quite conveniently *internet sarcasm* is the adopted father of Gamora. I was not expecting such a decent performance from Bautista, and I liked the way he displayed his anguish after being absolutely demolished by Ronan on multiple occasions. The film really picks up the pace after this, so I’m not going to go into any more detail regarding the plot, since I think Guardians of the Galaxy is best experienced when going in either completely blind, knowing nothing about the plot, or after seeing it before where you know what to expect, and can therefore pick up on the more quirky features left in by the excellent James Gunn.
One of my highlights in the film was obviously Chris Pratt’s excellent performance as Peter Quill/Starlord. Having seen him in nothing prior to this, I was stunned by just how funny he was in some scenes, but also how poignant he can make his performances when it is needed of him. His spectacular effort was definitely what brought the film some of his best moments, and I can’t think of another actor who could pull Starlord off; he was practically born to be Peter Quill. Another brilliant performance was Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon. Someone unfamiliar with Marvel may not have known that there was an ensemble group made partly of a tree and a raccoon, but from Cooper’s performance, and Gunn’s writing helped to make this character’s origin rather plausible. The scene in which Rocket slightly loses it, saying “there ain’t nobody else like me, except me!” really emphasised how isolated Rocket feels, but his convincing outer shell of being tough as bones added to the inner turmoil he faces. A highlight of this was definitely when we see Rocket’s mangled back, full of wires and metal, which hints at a very sinister origin to such an amusing character. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a huge fan of Zoe Saldana in this film, and I feel like this is partly down to a lack of material for her. In a cast of goofball characters, the group needed grounding, but it’s a shame that this came at the expense of a standout performance from an actress who has proven time and time again that she is capable of amazing things. Vin Diesel’s Groot and Dave Bautista’s Drax weren’t anything special performance-wise, but I think Groot’s sacrifice at the end was one of the most touching scenes in the film, and it was complemented excellently by the quite frankly incredible end scene. Baby Groot is arguably the greatest thing in the history of mankind.
Another stroke of genius was the soundtrack. If it wasn’t for the excellent use of classic 70s and 80s songs, this film may well have fallen into the category of ‘generic sci-fi films’ alongside ‘classics’ such as Alien: Resurrection. However, we needn’t worry about that, because some of the most iconic songs of the previous generation featured in this film at some point. Unfortunately, I was not alive to experience classics such as ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ and ‘I’m Not in Love’, but thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy’, I have been engrossed in all the greats. The use of 10CC’s ‘I’m Not in Love’ in the opening scene was brilliant, especially when considering the lyrics in the song ‘big boys don’t cry’ and their relation to the film. I love the way Blue Swede was played over the brutal fighting scenes, and some of Starlord’s best moments come as a result of this: ‘Blue Swede, Hooked on a Feeling, 1973. I own that song,’ was a particular favourite. Finally, the use of ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ over the film’s final scene and climax emphasised the joy I felt at the end of the film, and the expert way in which most of the threads were tied up. I say ‘most’, because obviously it’s a Marvel film, so something has to be left for the sequel.
Even though there were so many excellent features, I did find a few flaws. The pacing was a tad off, especially at the start, and it does feel overwhelming at times, especially when we are being bombarded with planet names in the first act, and at points it is very hard to follow. There are also a few moments where I felt some characters did something that they would never do, particularly Yondu upon realising Peter has double-crossed him. As you can tell, these issues are of course incredibly minor and barely affect the film, but it would be nice if they’d have stuck to the continuity, even if it changed the tone of a few scenes.
In my opinion, Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the greatest films of 2014, and quite possibly the best entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It brings a varied group of characters, some absolutely stellar performances, a wonderful soundtrack, and some incredible action, something rare from a genre which in recent years has been saturated with mediocre cash-grabs such as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and The Wolverine. Although not perfect, it is damn near close, and all it shows is that audiences are ready for a new breed of superhero film, not just your typical revenge plot as seen in too many of the modern DC and Marvel films. Marvel took a huge risk in producing a film that was either going to set the box office alight or completely bomb, and I think we all know which one it turned out to be. Having made over $700,000 worldwide, it is clear that viewers were ready for something new, and luckily, it looks like more quirky ensemble films will be coming our way soon.
Guardians of the Galaxy is absolutely superb, an astounding film in almost ever way, and one of the most immersive and entertaining experiences of 2014. I will watch Guardians of the Galaxy as much as possible, because you can tell how much hard work went in to producing it, and let me tell you, it was not in vain.