Guardians of the Galaxy
A rich and engaging universe that is laugh-out-loud funny for its entire running time.
It's safe to say that nobody is playing the long game like Marvel Studios. When they put together individual films for Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Captain America and Thor, the endgame they had in mind was The Avengers, in which all the heroes teamed up to take on one gigantic threat.
Guardians of the Galaxy is something different: taking place almost exclusively in outer space, it eschews the interconnected universe — save for a small hints for fans with long memories — in favour of a decidedly stand-alone adventure. And what an adventure it is.
Kidnapped from Earth as a child, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) — preferred nom de plume 'Starlord' — is a roguish figure in the vein of Han Solo or Mal Reynolds, who recovers exotic treasures to sell to seedy figures. But his latest acquisition brought him some unwanted attention: he is hunted by green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), foul-mouthed raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and sentient tree Groot (Vin Diesel). When all four are thrown into a hellish prison alongside vengeance-minded muscle-creature Drax (Dave Bautista), this group of misfits realise they're the only ones who can stop a powerful madman from destroying the galaxy.
Sound pretty uninspiring? Don't be fooled. The film is full of inventive, fun ideas: writer/director James Gunn has crafted a rich and engaging universe that feels infinitely more expansive and detailed than your run-of-the-mill sci-fi film. And that's not even its biggest selling point.
Guardians of the Galaxy is funny. Like, laugh-out-loud funny, and for its entire running time. While far too many Hollywood comedies can barely raise more than one or two laughs per hour, Guardians of the Galaxy puts them to shame with an extraordinarily high number of quips and gags that always feel completely natural to the story and characters.
What really sells it is the casting. Pratt (Parks and Recreation's Andy Dwyer) is a natural leading man, embracing the goofy in a way that far too many stoic action stars are afraid to. Saldana (Avatar) again proves she's unparalleled at grounding blockbusters even when playing an improbably hued alien warrior. Wrestling star Bautista reveals a substantial gift for comic timing, and it's no backhanded compliment to say that Diesel and Cooper have never been better. A wealth of supporting turns come from Glenn Close, John C Reilly, Peter Serafinowicz, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan and a couple of cameos we shan't spoil.
Guardians of the Galaxy is a weird, risky prospect for a studio that's all about relatable humans in recognisable settings. Maybe that's why it works: faced with a tougher sell, they've gone the extra mile to make something special. And boy does it work.
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