Economical storytelling is the name of the game in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, and given the sprawling nature of the planet hopping space epic, as well as its swathe of leading characters, that can only be a good thing.
Introducing the cosmic next step of Marvel’s comic book canon was always going to be a difficult job. When you are tasked with bringing a compelling story of family and self sacrifice that involves a talking tree and a trigger happy anthropomorphic raccoon, you must spend a good deal of time wondering just how you can accomplish such a thing. Unless of course you are an irreverent, pulp genre loving auteur trained in the ways of the Troma filmmaking mindset.
If you’ve seen Gunn’s previous work, particularly the horror comedy Slither and the black humour of Super you’ll know just how qualified he is. And he has really nailed it.
What’s surprising then is how genuinely emotional and heartfelt much of Guardians of the Galaxy is. From the off we are thrown into protagonist and Guardians lead Peter Quill (Chris Pratt)’s backstory, and it is one of loss and bleak tragedy, told in a swift yet tear jerkingly authentic way, leading to his abduction from earth by an alien race – all before the Marvel logo even appears!
And from here the brakes are never put on. In fact I think the only complaint you can level at the film’s first 45 minutes is that it could really do with the odd breather. Some of the jokes are flying past you before you’ve had chance to really process why they are so on the nose about the character they are aimed at. But in the long-term this is a very good thing – I found myself on many occasions thinking “I can’t wait to see this again (and again) to really appreciate these moments”.
As is a consistent trope in the Marvel cinematic universe the tone is generally light, bright, colourful and heroic. Although each character brings a weight of pathos to their present selves, the overarching feeling is one of saturated comic book hero optimism. As with Avengers Assemble there is none of the self-pity and grim dark that peppers the majority of modern day hero stories. Instead the heroes are exactly that; they are higher forms of life that we can all aspire to be like – the perfect role models for this generation’s youth.
Talking of the kids of today, I’d love to be one again to see GotG. There’s so much silver screen magic in this movie. Like the golden days of Jurassic Park and Ghostbusters before it, the action, story and characterisation leave you wide eyed with wonder and a big goofy smile on your face that means you care about the fates of every last one of the good guys. That’s the key here. You have so much empathy for the heroes that you are actively engaged in their safety. And the threat of their demise is all the more potent. When you see a film pull off these seemingly obvious devices so well, it makes you wonder why so many others fail at what should be a crucial element of any script.
Then there’s the humour. Gunn has laced the film with his trademark quirky, self-referential humour. There are several jokes aimed squarely at things the other Marvel movies used as serious dramatic devices (look out for the scene where the team are “all standing”).
Of course there are some flaws – some of the fight choreography feels rushed, and the edits during early action sequences feel jerky and disorienting. There’s also some issues with comedic timing on a handful of gags that make either the actors seem amateurish or the editing again feel mis-thought. But in a film that is able to throw jokes in ten-to-the-dozen in every scene, this is a mishap that can be forgiven.
The really impressive thing is the true depiction of family and friendship Guardians of the Galaxy displays. The very best scenes are the intimate moments of our team having little bickerings, fallouts and make-ups, all of which tell us they are happy in each other’s company and would have it no other way. This makes us believe the sacrifices they are willing to make, the ethics they all strive for, and the heroism they are able to enact.
Whilst not quite matching the sheer emotional spectacle and goose bump inducing climax of Avengers Assemble, this is nevertheless up there as one of THE great Marvel movies, one of THE great superhero movies and one of THE great space operas. When you think that before 2014 people laughed at the idea of a talking tree and a sci-fi film with a 70s soundtrack that’s bloody impressive.
Emotional, exciting, epic. You’ll love it. Thank you Mr Gunn.