We meet our hero Peter Quill in a devastating moment in his life. His mother Meredith (Laura Haddock) has been suffering from cancer and she's not able to hold on to life anymore. In the frenzy of grief he runs out of the hospital, streaming across an adjacent oval. With tears streaming down his face, his Sony Walkman blaring "Awesome Mix 1" in his ears when a wasp like space ship drops through the atmosphere and abducts him. Fast-forward to the present and Quill aka Starlord (Chris Pratt), now a scoundrel by trade, arriving on a deserted planet his walkman still attached to his hip listening to Redbone's 'Come and Get Your Love.' James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy is a mix of heart and near indescribable fun that kicks the door open to the Marvel expanded universe with style.
Quill (Pratt) betrays his boss Yondu (Michael Rooker) by stealing an orb that of unfathomable power. With a bounty on his head he encounters daughter of Thanos (Josh Brolin), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Drax (Dave Bautista). Meanwhile, Kree radical Ronan (Lee Pace) and Thanos' other daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan) want this cataclysmic power for themselves. These motley sorts are all that stands in their way.
The best Marvel films to date are arguably those where the writer director's voice able to shine through; Joss Whedon with Avengers, Shane Black with Iron Man 3 and now Guardians with James Gunn. For fans of Slither and Super, the flashes of sardonic humour and bone jarring violence are there, if perhaps slightly muted for the broadness of the audience. Gunn is a child of the 80s cinema and owns it. The soundtrack featuring David Bowie, 10cc, Jackson 5, The Runaways, The Raspberries and Marvin Gaye paired with a vibrant colourful unexplored universe, littered with a great array of species is just a sensory delight.
Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman have the job of establishing another thread of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the early scenes are heavy with world building exposition and establishing the hierarchical order. Once the momentum's going and the unlikely team are thrust together Guardians gets better with every new interaction. Gunn and Perlman are completely aware of what's come before them and they give huge overt nods to film's 'maguffin' with Quill saying that this orb feels very "Arc of the Covenant, or Maltese Falcony."
Some say that Firefly/Serenity's Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) is the spiritual son of Han Solo, well Pratt's Quill may be the spiritual bastard. He's a wonderful comedic performer that treads that knife's edge of too inappropriate like a trapeze artist. Describing what his ship would look like if a black light was run over it had me screeching with laughter. He's also another in the line of Marvel men that get totally shredded for the role.
Zoe Saldana's Gamora is just the green, ass-kicking lady that Marvel needed to add to their stable. Her origin is the most fascinating and you get tiny glimpses at it. Saldana accusing Pratt's Quill of using "pelvic sorcery" is a major highlight of the film.
Rocket (Cooper) was the character that had most people skeptical when Guardians was announced and he's an even more extreme sarcastic character suffering from tiny man/raccoon syndrome. The animation is great, watching his fur mat and scrunch up is excellent to look at. As strange as it may be to say of two CGI characters, he and Groot have beautiful chemistry. Groot (Diesel) is an absolute masterstroke. In a mix of the Labyrinth's Ludo and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) from Star Wars, he's the perfect singular phrase ("I am Groot") spouting foil for his diminutive partner Rocket. Bautista's Drax was the true surprise packet. His physique for the role is undeniable but you may have had doubts about how he'd fit into this mix. His species' have the unique mutation that they take everything literally he's absolutely sensational delivering straight faced interpretations to Rocket (Cooper) and Quill's (Pratt) barrage of sarcasm.
The support cast are an all star team of scene stealers. John C. Reilly in basically anything is a great decision. With about three lines as Corpsman Dey he had me in stitches. Rooker's Yondu is a loveably slimy crook, whose seeming dimwittedness is totally overridden by how scary he is when he's backed into a corner. Glenn Close's Nova Prime uses her gravitas to undermine your expectations beautifully. Benicio Del Toro's The Collector has a small pivotal role that not only references the franchise past but drops the bombs on the series' future direction that should have the geek die-hards fist pumping in their seats. Karen Gillan's Nebula is the foil for Saldana's Gamora, opposite side of the same terrible situation.
Lee Pace's Ronan, the film's big bad, despite initially appearing as Thanos' (Josh Brolin) minion, his task seemingly to exclusively look the part. The time we get Thanos is brief but you're left with more than a sense that he's a calamitous force in the universe. Pace's best moment as Ronan is addressing a cinema screen sized holographic projection of Thanos where he breaks their alliance. In seconds, Brolin's motion capture of Thanos looks at Ronan, playing his certain demise across his pupils, before ending the transmission. One final mention has to go to Djimon Hounsou, appearing as Korath, that all but assured that he's not our man for Black Panther (*sad face*).
Guardians of the Galaxy is the unranked underdog that stepped in the arena with the best comic book films ever made, and walked out of the ring with the belt.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: James Gunn Written by: James Gunn and Nicole Perlman (based on the comic book by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning Starring: Chris Pratt ... Peter Quill Zoe Saldana ... Gamora Dave Bautista ... Drax Vin Diesel ... Groot (voice) Bradley Cooper ... Rocket (voice) Lee Pace ... Ronan Michael Rooker ... Yondu Udonta Karen Gillan ... Nebula Djimon Hounsou ... Korath John C. Reilly ... Corpsman Dey Glenn Close ... Nova Prime Benicio Del Toro ... The Collector Laura Haddock ... Meredith Quill Josh Brolin … Thanos