Following the tremendous box-office success of Avengers Assemble (2012) that amassed over a billion dollars in profit, director James Gunn’s latest galactic western Guardians of the Galaxy seems like risky business for Marvel Studios. Offering fans an alternative to the hardened breed of caped crusader from the Avengers story arc, the film introduces relatively unknown characters to a general audience that may not necessarily be familiar with the original comics. Gunn’s ingenuity results in a comedic and action-packed space western that combines all that audiences love from this seemingly hybrid genre and is reminiscent of Firefly (2002-2003) and Farscape (1999-2003). Recalling the Star Wars franchise, the scrounger-cum-leader of the "Guardians", Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt) is this generation’s Han Solo (Harrison Ford) of wacky and intergalactic space adventures.
The plot revolves around a relic orb that is seemingly sought after by the galaxy’s vast underbelly of low-life criminals, tyrants, and mainly the evil Kree overlord Ronan (Lee Pace). Like an archetypal villain, he wants authoritarian control over the galaxy and will destroy anyone who gets in the way of him getting what he wants. After being abducted from Earth as a child, Quill stumbles across the orb and finds himself in cahoots with planet Xandar’s protectors, the Nova Corps, and a group of space pirates, known as the Ravagers, and on a collision course with Ronan’s wrath.
The plot does appear to be very generic and at moments Ronan’s motives mirror Loki's (Tom Hiddleston) bid for world domination in Avengers Assemble. This film is, however, entirely unique as it is more concerned with studying the characters involved, or the patchwork roster of oddball heroes known as the Guardians, rather than pursue a routine plot of good versus evil offered by most humdrum hero flicks. The individual story arcs of each character, as much as the relationships between them, is enticing and lures the audience into believing in them as the rightful guardians of the galaxy.
In fact, the generic plot is important as it maintains the film’s momentum, all the while embedding references and setting up ideas for future films in the Marvel universe yet to come. This is to commend James Gunn’s explosive direction and collaborative writing skills alongside co-writer Nicole Perlman and the original team that penned the comic book series: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Gunn negotiates screen time to balance action and developing character bonds and relationships. These underdog heroes are by chance, some delicious twist of fate even, forced to work together in pursuit of the orb and they all have their own motivations. What was at first a quest for money and revenge soon becomes a story of friendship and loyalty. When it is time to become a team and save the galaxy, it turns out this mismatch of character types belong together, if not complete each other.
The performances also contribute to the film’s offbeat charm. Cocky, funny in his goofiness, often womanising and a hero when he needs to be, Quill is just as charismatic as his fellow space cowboy counterparts, Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) from Firefly. With his sentimentalism and witty one-liners, Quill embodies just the right mix of characteristics that makes him seem charming without being off-putting. Fellow crime fighter Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is a kick-ass assassin and, even with her hardened exterior, she still has emotional depth. Drax (Dave Bautista) contributes some of the funniest lines; he is surprisingly likeable, especially as the trailers unveil a grizzled alien-man layered in muscle. Recalling the friendship between Han Solo and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), it is hard not to fall in love with Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel); they have a heart-warming comedic relationship. Bradley Cooper’s voice acting imbues personality into the little Raccoon and even with Groot’s vocabulary being limited to three words, their relationship manages to be the most endearing and loveable aspect of the film.
In focusing more on the relationships between the Guardians, consequently the villains are not as developed. This does not, however, detract from the performances offered by Karen Gillan as Nebula or Lee Pace’s Ronan. They are both ruthless and sinister and the character designs, with their ornate costumes and the way they have been envisioned on-screen, fit ideally with the rest of the unique cast.
Not just for the kids, comic book aficionados or Marvels’ creed of born-again nerds, this film can be enjoyable regardless of its 12A certificate. It embraces the eccentric and is not afraid of making the audience laugh with its retro 1980s ballads and other film references, euphemising what Gamora comically dubs as Kevin Bacon’s “pelvic sorcery” from Footloose (1984) as a tale of heroic conquest for example. Guardians of the Galaxy exudes charm as it looks to the stars for inspiration and manages to create a marvel of a movie.
Guardians of the Galaxy is out on DVD 24th November.