Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy

Genre: Action, Comedy

Director: James Gunn

Writers: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman, based on the Marvel comic book by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro, Laura Haddock

Running Length: 120 minutes

Synopsis: An action-packed, epic space adventure, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos, where brash adventurer Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan (Lee Pace), a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits-Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a gun-toting raccoon, Groot (Vin Diesel), a tree-like humanoid, the deadly and enigmatic Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last, desperate stand-with the galaxy’s fate in the balance.

Review: This is going to sound like hyperbole, but Guardians of the Galaxy is probably one of the best comedies I’ve seen in years, the most entertaining Marvel Cinematic Universe movie yet, and definitely the most fun movie I’ve managed to watch this Summer. Is it perfect? Nope, but it is almost impossible to harbour any ill will against an action blockbuster that’s this entertaining and so full of heart. That it comes with an amazing 1970s soundtrack is just the cherry on top – as we all already know from X-Men: Days of Future Past, 70s songs tend to make superhero films better.

Perhaps it’s because Guardians of the Galaxy is such an obscure part of the Marvel canon, that director James Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman have a freedom that not many other directors and scribes involved in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are allowed. That sense of irreverence is what makes Guardians of the Galaxy such a pleasure to watch – this is what the MCU is like after-hours, kicking back on the recliner with a Bud Light in hand. I am willing to bet that even the most seasoned moviegoers will find themselves surprised by some of the plot turns in the film, because the film is not afraid to confound expectations unlike the usual “serious” superhero movies.

Yet, what makes Guardians of the Galaxy extra special is that despite the humour and the zaniness, this is a movie with a lot of heart. Even in the confines of an action movie, the main characters are fully developed – yes, even Groot, who is about two levels above being monosyllabic – and very relatable to the audience. These are not inaccessible superheroes, billionaires or gods, but a bunch of adventurers who have less than noble motives, and are all damaged in their own ways. This organic emotional vulnerability (versus say, Superman’s weakness to kryptonite) is refreshing and adds a dimensionality to the movie that is rarely seen in other movies in the same genre.

I must admit I had doubts when Chris Pratt was cast in the lead role of Guardians of the Galaxy – he’s been a dependable costar both in films and on TV, but is he able to shoulder the lead role of a multimillion dollar action blockbuster? My doubts are totally unfounded, as Chris Pratt is a perfect fit for the role. Not only did he buff up for the role (Pratt can justifiably be called hot now), his perfect comic timing is actually critical for the movie’s success. In fact, his performance here reminds me of Harrison Ford’s two iconic roles as Han Solo and Indiana Jones. While Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista are both serviceable complements, what’s truly impressive is that the two animated characters of Rocket and Groot are not only voiced perfectly by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, they actually carry as much thespian weight as the other live action characters. All five lead characters share great onscreen chemistry, and any combination of the five works well, which is truly a rarity. It’s also a testament to the advance of CG imagery that they manage to integrate so well into the proceedings. The villains don’t fare as well, however, and everyone from Lee Pace to Karen Gillan to Josh Brolin are unmemorable and merely serve to advance the plot along.

The film is also very capable in its other technical aspects. Production design and art direction is excellent, with brand new worlds that are vibrant and meticulously built, with great attention to detail. For once, watching the movie in 3D also seems to be a worthy investment and not an unnecessary expense. It also lives up to its name as an action blockbuster, with a number of well-choreographed, well-animated space dog fights as well as close quarter battles that get the adrenalin flowing.

Personally, despite a Summer season with a good number of quality superhero movies, Guardians of the Galaxy ranks as number one for me. Although the MCU output so far has had relatively few clunkers, Guardians of the Galaxy still stands out as being such a unique and special entity that gets so many things right, that I’m inclined to also say that this is the best MCU movie to date. There does seem to be a surfeit of unresolved plotlines, but given that the sequel is already greenlit, it’s not too major a concern. It’s going to be a long, long wait to July 2017 when we will finally be able to rejoin the Guardians on their next, hopefully equally zany and entertaining, adventure.

P.S If you thought that nothing could be more inane than The Avengers’ shawarma end credits coda, well, stay around for the coda to this one. One only hopes that the character reference in the coda does not suggest a remake to what I feel was a TERRIBLE movie the first time round.

Rating: * * * ½ (out of four stars)

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