Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

In 1988, a young boy named Peter Quill is abducted into a spaceship shortly after the death of his mother. Thirty years later, Quill (Chris Pratt) is now a Ravager, who unintentionally comes across the Orb, an item that has brought numerous species against him. Soon, after a run in with people who are after the Orb, Quill is now in prison with the people he fought to keep it. The group, including Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), form an alliance, break out of the prison and seek to right the wrongs they have caused, and save the galaxy from Thanos.

Since they stole the Superhero playing field with The Avengers back in 2012, Marvel have had a strange run of films. Ranging from the simply incredible X-Men sequel earlier this year to the disappointing mess of The Winter Soldier, a rather lengthy string of sequels may have been difficult to pull off, especially following the scale of The Avengers. In the end, Iron Man 3, Thor 2 and Captain America 2 all would up far too similar in both style and structure, and Marvel's Cinematic Universe seemed to be on the verge of losing its credibility. Then came Guardians of the Galaxy, potentially the strangest superhero film Marvel have ever put out. Was this a wise choice? I'm not yet sure, it's certainly different in style to the three sequels that came before it, but when stripped of its strangeness, it still follows a pretty similar formula. But, luckily, it's a hell of a lot more entertaining than anything this franchise has offered since The Avengers, and this feels more like a step in the right direction.

Whilst most of Marvel's Cinematic Universe is led by an A-List cast, Guardians feels somewhat more low key in comparison. These are names we've heard of, but they're hardly Samuel L. Jackson, now. This feels like a strong move though, especially as it's a cast of characters we haven't seen on screen yet in this franchise. It almost feels like a fresh start, in some ways. We get to return to origin stories, as opposed to simply continuing where a previous film left off and being forced to compare to whatever came beforehand. The characters themselves are certainly interesting, too. Bradley Cooper as a talking Raccoon and Vin Diesel as a walking tree are hardly your every day heroes. It's a bit odd at points, but it works for the most part. Annoyingly, the humour is fairly unbalanced throughout, but when it works, it's brilliantly funny. Quill's Footloose metaphor is a particular standout, as are most of the countless pop culture references laced throughout, I just wish there was more of it, really.

As with most films of a supposed $170million budget, Guardians is pretty incredible to look at. Whilst Saldana's Gamora and Karen Gillan's Nebula were presented with expertly produced make up and costumes, both Rocket and Groot were largely CGI and motion capture, and it all looks just as great as you'd expect. Whilst the action remains relatively small in scale for the first half, the final act explodes into a frenzy of big action clich├ęs; but it wouldn't feel right without them. From air battles, to big guns, to indestructible villains, Guardians has it all. But, amidst all of this, the film's final thirty minutes are also packed with tension, supported by edge of your seat action, with the emotional weight to balance it all out. Whilst other recent attempts have failed (Chris Evans didn't quite pull it off in The Winter Soldier's final act, and Thor 2 offered about the same emotional availability as a footstool), this film's final moments are as touching as they are explosive, and it all fits together nicely come the conclusion.

But, alas, all is not perfect. Whilst this is undeniably the most entertaining film this franchise has offered since 2012, one can't help but wish it would just take itself a bit more seriously. I get that they wanted this to be a bit more light-hearted, but too often it comes across just a bit too childish. They just about get away with the talking Raccoon, but Groot's three word vocabulary (all he ever says is "I am Groot") wears thin pretty quickly. They play the joke over and over again, and by the time the same jokes are still rolling in during the final act, you can't help but want them to just let it go. It also would've been nice to have a bit more development with the supporting characters; Quill goes through a powerful change throughout this film, but it feels too much like he's doing this alone. Each hero is given a sentimental back story, which pays off to some extent, but it isn't enough to truly care about them once the tension is raised in the final act, and there are far too many characters for the film to have enough time to fully develop them. The characters themselves are interesting enough, there just isn't much depth there. And whilst the tone is undeniably different to anything else in this franchise, once you strip back the silliness and crazy characters, we still have the same basic formula Marvel have relied on so frequently. It's time to mix that up a bit.

But most of this is stuff that doesn't take away from how enjoyable this film is. There are far too many characters introduced so early on, which does leave them feeling a bit flat and underdeveloped, and the humour is far more hit-and-miss than you'd hope, but there's just something about Guardians that made it a blast from beginning to end. The plot is laid out nicely, with enough to keep us interested, but never trying to over complicate itself. It's wonderful to look at, with some brilliantly fast paced action sequences littered throughout, and the lead protagonist is developed so nicely that his final scenes of the film are genuinely quite touching. Guardians feels like a fresh beginning for Marvel's franchise; it's introduced us to an abundance of new characters, with a different tone to the rest of their Cinematic Universe, and this is exactly what they needed to do right now. Continuing with the Avengers sequel early next year, and a tonne of others planned for the near future, hopefully the only way to go is up.

To Summarise: It suffers from character issues, and it's not quite as bold and refreshing as it thinks it is, but Guardians of the Galaxy is a brilliantly entertaining entry into Marvel's franchise, with enough energetic action to match its smartly plotted story.

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