"Nothing goes over my head! My reflexes are too fast; I'd catch it."
Drax The Destroyer (Dave Bautista)
For all intent and purpose, Marvel's latest Phase II film Guardians of the Galaxy is a bit of a gamble for the comic book behemoths - an intergalactic action comedy that is neither a sequel nor a superhero movie, with two of the central characters being a cocky talking raccoon and a tree. Not the easiest sell to start with, admittedly. Yet despite the more colorful trappings and ingredients at work, director James Gunn has fashioned a rip-roaring and enjoyable adventure that slides easily into the Marvel mold. Parks and Recreation's Chris Pratt gamely steps up to the plate as intergalactic scavenger Peter Quill (or Star-Lord, as only he likes to call himself), who finds himself in the company of killers, bounty hunters and inter-planetary warlords when he obtains a mysterious orb from a derelict planet. Aligning himself with Gamora, an assassin with ulterior motives (Zoë Saldana), cocky raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) & his loyal bodyguard Groot (Vin Diesel) and a vengeful warrior Drax (Dave Bautista), Quill soon finds himself and his team the only ones willing and able to stand up against the deadly might of Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace) to save the entire galaxy...
Gunn has fashioned his bonkers plot into Marvel's very own Star Wars, with lovable rogues, feisty alien babes and animal sidekicks filling the screen. Pratt is a likeable lead and he makes the cross to the big screen with charm and gusto. Cooper and Diesel make their (vocal) marks with their unusual double act and Saldana makes an unlikable character both deadly and desirable. But it is former WWE star Bautista that makes the biggest impression - his Drax is a man plagued by pain (caused by the death of his family at the hands of Ronan) and totally lost on irony (his race take everything literally!). Bautista has subtle comedic chops as well as brute strength, both of which he displays with expert precision. There is some strong support from the likes of Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Benicio Del Toro and Peter Serefinowicz as the goodies, as well as Josh Brolin and Karen Gillen on the Dark Side. What a shame then that Ronan The Accuser is a rather by-the-numbers villain, with the talented Pace given little opportunity to display his malice.
Sadly Pace is not the only one reined in - director Gunn certainly handles the CGI-coated razzmatazz with great skill and finesse, but his risqué quirks that were utilized fully on his creature feature Slither and especially his jet-black superhero satire Super are noticeable by their absence. Considering Gunn's background in Troma, one had hoped for more off-the-wall storytelling and dark humor. The joke-rate in the film is high, but when he tries to add any Troma-lite jape, it feels disjointed and out of place. But this is not Gunn's fault. The blame must lay at the feet of the studio itself. Marvel has always prided itself on picking left-field choices to sit in the director chair for their big movies - Jon Favreau, Kenneth Brannagh and the Russo brothers had very little experience of event movie making in their back-catalogue. Yet all have been able to make their mark successfully, especially in terms of box office. But the Marvel formula is starting to show signs of strain - the plot threads of searching for a Macguffin, assembling a team, in-fighting that causes them to lose hope, before re-uniting in one epic showdown against the antagonist with big bangs and computer generated chutzpah. It is arguable that this stringent adherence to this winning formula is what is holding these diverse creative back a little. Still, Gunn has fashioned a thoroughly entertaining space caper that who'll bring a whole new audience to another team in the Marvel universe - and when the formula has proved yet again that it brings in the big numbers, who am I to say that Marvel should change it?
Guardians of the Galaxy is another success story for the almighty Marvel Studios - a bold, brassy comedy adventure that excites and entertains in equal measure. A strong ensemble of characters and big computer-enhanced action sequences combine to entertaining effect. But the signs of strain are showing to the narrative structure and some key changes to the characterization & plotting would have helped James Gunn's space opera to soar into the stratosphere.
"What is filmmaking but groping in the dark?" - Alexander Payne