Since Buster Crabbe saved the universe in Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938), the idea of beings – both human and alien – battling forces intent on causing an intergalactic Armageddon has been popular fodder for fantastic films. Recently though there has been an increase in the genre’s output, with new comic-book adaptations hitting the cinema almost every other month.
Which means – unless you’re a true fan – you may well have groaned at the news of director James Gunn’s entry into the field with Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): being honest, it may be the first time this set of Marvel characters have hit the big screen, but once the pyrotechnics fizzle out is there anything here we haven’t seen before? Well the answer may well be yes. Where many superhero films like Superman, Spiderman and Batman etc (notice a theme?) try injecting life into their fading crusaders by rebooting the stories and branding the results as a ‘new take’, Gunn and his team have approached from a different angle. Though influenced by past classics like Star Wars (1977), Alien (1979) and The Fifth Element (1997) amongst others, the result is done with such relish and good humour that only the most hard hearted would fail to be delighted by the result.
As is the norm with these films, what passes for a storyline is merely there to connect each eye-popping showpiece with the next. What there is though follows the adventures of good hearted thief and intergalactic cowboy Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), who is in possession of a strange orb. Planning to deliver it to a client and reap a fat reward, it soon becomes clear that he’s not the only person interested in the object. Suddenly he is fighting to save not just his own skin, but also the future of the universe, from some very unpleasant creatures who seem not to be of this – or any other – planet.
The film’s main flaw is that much will appear familiar to those with even a passing interest in Sci-Fi or fantasy cinema. Many of the characters – like Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a talking tree reminiscent of Treebeard from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a wisecracking raccoon who (minus his futuristic combat fatigues) wouldn’t seem out-of-place in ‘Narnia’ – are hardly new, but neither then is the story: in fairness though there isn’t much an alien tyrant – such as the film’s main bad guy Ronan, played with gusto by Lee Pace – with delusions of grandeur on a galactic scale can do, other than fly around blowing up any planet and its inhabitants who dare stand in their way. Even the humans – including the screamingly camp screen icon Glenn Close as Nova Prime, the leader of the police protectors of the planet Xandar, and the nonchalantly charming Quill, disarmingly underplayed by the hunky Pratt – are simply variations on old themes: Quill especially is reminiscent of the best parts of Rocket Man and Iron Man. However, where this approach could – and has – appeared lacking imagination in other films, here it is done in such a self-depreciating way that the viewer can’t help but forgive all.
My friend who accompanied me to a screening of the film is a true aficionado of the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, and was beside herself to see her comic-book heroes on the big screen. If on-the-other-hand you’re like me – you enjoy these movies for the popcorn fun they are they are, but they don’t necessarily rock your world – you’ll get the most from the film if you take it as a tongue-in-cheek homage to the glories of the genre’s illustrious past. Approached like this the outcome works, reminding you of an era when filmmakers didn’t take themselves so seriously and as a result actually looked like they were enjoying themselves.
*** 1/2 Stars
sci-fi, Action, Adventure
Marvel Studios, Disney Pictures
31st July 2014
Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper , Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan,