Is there any other film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that represents the huge risks the world conquering studio regularly takes on when crafting their particular kind of popular entertainment than Guardians Of The Galaxy?
Oh sure, the loveable, amoral band of A-holes may be household names now, back in the uncertain waters of 2014 no one knew what to expect. I mean, just check out these stats: the director cut his teeth as a screenwriter in the world of independent trash legend Troma and then went on to craft kickass oddities of his own like Slither and Super, the male lead was primarily known for portraying a doughy man-child on sitcom Parks And Recreation and the basis for the whole movie was based off a comic no one but the most devout marvelite would be familiar with – in fact the movie didn’t even base itself on the original team – and finally, the only bankable names in the cast were providing voice over work for a sentient tree and a violent, anthropomorphized raccoon. How in the name of honey-glazed fuck was Marvel going to pull this off?
However much like Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson, two other filmmakers who cut their teeth with similar, in-your-face, DIY genre work, James Gunn had an ace up his sleeve, and that ace was being a really good director.
After being abducted as a child by aliens virtually from the deathbed of his tumor-ridden mother, Peter Quill traverses the galaxy as a Ravager, a member of huge fraternity of intergalactic space pirates and we join him as he liberates (read: steals) an ancient artifact, Indiana Jones style, from a temple on a distant planet. It becomes quickly apparent to everyone (except Peter, for he isn’t the brightest of bulbs, bless him) that this mysterious Orb is a bauble of great destructive power and everyone – including Peter’s own Ravager buddies – will stop at nothing to claim it for themselves. While trying to hock the cosmic thing on the peaceful planet of Xandar, Quill runs into Gamora, the adopted daughter of purple genocide enthusiast Thanos (expect more from him further down the line…) who attempts to swipe it but both are thwarted by the freakish duo of Groot, atalking tree of extraordinarily limited vocabulary; and Rocket an incredibly mercenary raccoon who’s mouth runs like a leaky tap and all four are arrested and sent to the lawless space prison known as the Kiln.
Hooking up with the brick shithouse beserker known by the rather laid back name of Drax The Destroyer, the group manage to escape an continue on their way to offload the Orb for a crap-load of cash, but hot on their heels is Ronan The Accuser, a fanatical member of the warlike Kree, who is also in league with Thanos and isn’t particularly thrilled about Gamora’s apparent defection.
As this motley crew of lunatics and losers slowly bond, they realise that they might have to start acting altruistically, otherwise they won’t have a galaxy left to hide out in and so they endeavor to become something that they’ve never had to be before… actual decent beings.
Fusing a director with the correct material usually means that hardest job is already taken care of but it’s truly hard to imagine a more perfect pairing than Gunn and the Guardians. The writer/director had spent most of his career at that point focusing on lowly underdogs and social outcasts and stubbornly forcing this eccentric band of misfits into our hearts seems like a task tailor made specifically for him.
Marvel seemed only to happy to oblige too, mostly freeing him from the mighty Marvel movie continuity by basing it at the arse end of space and therefore giving us the most their most standalone entry since the first Iron Man. It’s also easily the funniest entry since Joss Whedon’s quip laden Avengers script and that’s the real secret to the Guardian’s success – making these outlandish creatures as warm and as relatable as they can make having them make us laugh our tits off while stealthily laying down heaps of pathos for good measure.
Often the poster child for rampant man baby, Chris Pratt mixes in a dollop of Spielbergian daring do and a splat of the boorish boasting that Kurt Russell does so well to make Quill defiantly loveable despite being the sort of putz who proudly gives himself is own nickname (say a reviewer who’s dubbed himself “Greigzilla”), on the other hand, while Zoe Saldana isn’t given enough opportunities to prove that Gamora is the most dangerous woman in the universe, she is a terrific straight man for a group that are all itching to crack wise at the literal drop of a hat. Rocket and Groot (voice by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel respectively) are the obvious scene stealers but it’s bowling ball pecced, ex-wrestler Dave Bautista as the completely literal Drax, who suprises the most with a gift for understated comedy that’s comparable in size to his insanely massive shoulders.
In comparison the villains can’t hope to compare and play up to the “weak villain” complaint that’s popped up far too many times in Marvel’s history with Lee Pace’s Ronan and Djimon Hounsou’s Korath both noticably imposing but both also pretty thinly sketched with only Karen Gillan’s prosthesis and implant laden Nebula showing any long-term promise; but even then her most interesting stuff is still ahead of her…
Perplexing also are the huge stars who appear in smaller roles; I get why notorious “weird addict” Benicio Del Toro would slap on a white Don King wig as the decidedly “off” Collector but other seem little more than stunt casting; we love you Glen Close and John C. Reilly, but why exactly are you here?
Proof positive that Marvel could now objectively do no wrong, while single handedly reminding the world that such magnificent earworms like “Cherry Bomb” and “The Pina Colada Song” exist thanks to it’s superlative soundtrack. Nothing was out of their reach now, especially since the doors to the cosmic corner of this universe had been flung wide open and all of it’s multicolored delights had spilled out faster than you could say “I am Groot”.
As the poster promised we were, indeed, welcome.