Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Karen Gillan is a bald, blue alien, and the emotional core of the film is a dancing tree.  It’s not your standard comic-book movie.

And it starts badly for Peter Quill as his mother dies and he is kidnapped by aliens.  Fast forward 20 years or so and our protagonist is strolling across an alien planet looking for something to pilfer.  Of course, stealing the object in question begins a complex and exciting chain of events leading to a cataclysmic battle between good and evil.

But that doesn’t mean the film to itself too seriously: ‘I’m distracting you, turdblossom!’ is probably Quills’ finest moment.   Rocket was also on form with his (as it turns out completely unnecessary) demand that Quill steal a prosthetic leg.  I also liked that they made the main antagonist an actual, out-and-out baddie; no post-modern introspection or sympathy required, just shooting.  The soundtrack was also very clever and genuinely unique.  As Quill’s only connection with earth, his 70s/80s mix tape was by turns ridiculous and poignant.  Moonage Daydream playing as a spaceship glides into a criminal outpost/massive alien head was basically perfect.  I also loved ‘The Pina Colada’ song accompanying Quill’s escape from prison.

And fair play to everyone involved: it’s remarkable how quickly I accepted a talking raccoon and a sentient plant as characters, and just wanted things to get going.  The CGI was superb.   I know a film is in trouble if I’m sat there thinking, ‘Hmm, those effects aren’t bad.’  Because not only have I stopped caring about what’s going on, but the effects are visibly just that- effects.  There was none of that here.  Combined with excellent voice work from Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, I was completely convinced by the characters, an even started to care about them.

One slight criticism would be that there was a lot of plot and exposition to get into a 2-hour movie, and some of the less central characters seemed to get pretty short shrift. I suppose this was a result of the tension between keeping it a light-hearted Marvel romp while still giving us characters to root for.   But I would have loved to learn more about Gamora and Nebula.  Why did Thanos choose them? Was their relationship always hostile? Were there other ‘siblings’?  It feels like we’ve just scratched the surface… hang on, maybe this is actually a compliment.  And while we’re at it, how did Groot and Rocket team up? Is Groot just one of a species, or is he an experiment too? 

Ah, Groot.  I wasn’t kidding about him being the heart of the film.  Handy in a fight, but a gentle soul when circumstances allow, it felt like the only time the film slowed down enough to feel anything was because of Groot.  Groot growing a flower for a little girl, filling a room with tiny floating light-blooms, and a glorious little bop in the last scene were probably the most visually striking and heart-warming scenes in the whole film.

Which could be a bit of a problem, when you think about it.  Isn’t Quill meant to be focus of our attention?  Chris Pratt is great as the cheeky would-be ‘Star-Lord’, but I never really felt for the guy.  Even his final almost-sacrifice felt a bit ‘meh’.  He came across as more of an overgrown kid than anything else.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but alongside such a vibrant crew of outcasts, he did feel a bit redundant.  Ensemble pieces can work well, but you need someone for the film to pivot around.  When all’s said and done, Quill just didn’t seem that interesting.  I get that he eventually finds a family and a purpose in the Guardians, but it did make him hard to care about.  Maybe I’m just more of a DC person…

Or maybe they’re saving all that for the inevitable sequel.  Vague reference to an alien father apparently on the lookout for him suggest that, with the Guardians all assembled, Quill will take centre stage next time.  And I will definitely be watching.  Guardians of the Galaxy was always engaging, occasionally brilliant and never less than likable.  And with takings of over $400 million so far, it seems like there are plenty of people who thought so too.

But what did you think?  Did you enjoy the movie? Did it stick with the source material enough?  Did Glenn Closes’ hair frighten you a bit, too? Let me know.