Guardians of the Galaxy

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Have you seen the trailer for this one? If you’ve been to the cinema at any point in the last four months you must have done. (Unless you are one if those people that likes to arrive just as the film starts. I don’t get that but I know it happens.) My wife and I saw the trailer together at one point and an interesting thing happened. The preview had just ended, the sound of that cool beefed up version of Hooked on a Feeling still reverberating around our heads, and my wife and I spoke to one another at the same time. “That looks…” we both started simultaneously before our sentences ended in different ways, “awesome” I said with a big grin on my face, “terrible” said she with a frown.

I guess I have to accept that this film may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s not easy to see how when a movie is this much fun. My wife had an issue with the talking raccoon but that’s the kind of film it is, it’s not meant to be taken seriously. Guardians of the Galaxy aims to be silly and entertaining and it totally succeeds on both counts.

The tone is set early on as a space ship lands on a planet and a masked figure navigates his way across a desolate landscape. So far so sci-fi but as he enters a cavernous temple, the artifact he is searching for located, he pulls open his jacket to reveal an old cassette personal stereo. He hits the button, the music plays and the mood changes.

This scene is easily the best use of a Walkman in science fiction cinema since Back to the Future. Imagine Indiana Jones approaching the golden Buddha at the start of Raiders in the same way Mr Blonde boogies toward Marvin the Cop in Reservoir Dogs and you’re pretty much there, only the scene doesn’t end with rolling boulders or severed ears. There is dancing. In fact there is a lot of dancing all the way through Guardians of the Galaxy, it seems to be a bit of a theme. Kevin Bacon would be proud.

The music to Footloose is actually notable by its absence from the joyous 70s and 80s funk cheese soundtrack, I assume they couldn’t get the rights. The tunes they do have are great though. How can you not love a film that has a spaceship pulling out of dock to the sound of Motown? You never saw that in Star Trek.

Having said that, J.J Abrams’ recent movies about the crew of The Enterprise are probably closer in feel to this movie than any of the other Marvel Universe films. We’ve been in space before with Thor and Avengers but those films still had their feet planted firmly on planet Earth. This is a world of different alien life forms (delineated by the colour of their skin and the prosthetics stuck to their heads) scooting around the cosmos in various space craft.

The inclusion of Zoe Saldana in the cast obviously strengthens the link but the opening of the film (the aforementioned Walkman moment is not the very first scene) is also strongly reminiscent of that heartbreaking moment from the first (11th?) Star Trek film when George Kirk is captaining the USS Kelvin. Yes, this movie will make you laugh but only once it’s briefly tried to make you cry.

Saldana is great in the film but she is only one among an ensemble cast. Right from the start, with the casting of Robert Downey Jr, the Marvel films have concentrated closely on character and this is what sets them apart from the pompous and boring likes of Man of Steel. Spectacle is nice to look at but we all like connecting with other human beings and a film needs personality.

Chris Pratt is the ostensible lead and he is a very likeable hero. Brave, resourceful but out of his depth and just a little inept, his Jason Quill is not totally unlike the part Pratt played in The Lego Movie. Standing alongside him and Saldana’s green skinned Gamora are wrestler Dave Bautista as Drax and two special effects; raccoon Rocket and ent Groot, voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel respectively. It is a little clichéd how this group of friendless misfits quickly become friends but there’s no time for fragile allegiances and untrustworthy compadres, there is fun to be had.

Up against these new Avengers is Lee Pace having a great time as mad Kree general Ronan. For us comic nerds it is great to see the inhabitants of the planet Hala finally represented in the movies. The Kree race is very significant in the print stories but, apart from the dead one on TV that gave blood to Agent Coulson, they’ve not yet appeared on screen. Can we see the Skrulls next please?

Playing sidekick to Ronan is Karen Gillan as Nebula and she is great too. I always like to see Dr. Who alumni doing well and I was nervous that Gillan would leave as little mark on her primary coloured alien role as Ray Park did on Darth Maul but, unlike him, she is so much more than a walking piece of concept art. Feisty, fiercely independent and totally kick ass Nebula is another example of how the design works when it’s painted on character.

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Interestingly, the voice of Darth Maul Peter Serafinowicz is one of the few actors who is under served in Guardians of the Galaxy in a cast that also includes Glenn Close, Michael Rooker, Djimon Hounsou, Nathan Fillion, John C. Reilly, Benico Del Toro and Josh Brolin.

I think the Marvel movies could well be this generation’s Star Wars/Harry Potter and with Guardians of the Galaxy they have stepped things up a notch. It certainly feels bigger in scale than anything they have done before. It’s raking in the cash too having had one of the studio’s biggest opening weekends so far. This isn’t bad for an organisation that made the sixth and the third highest grossing films of all time. The movie arrives on the back of a massive publicity drive that seems to have paid off. I don’t think I’ve ever known a single film have so many posters.

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I am fascinated to see how they might bring these characters in with The Avengers. My suspicion is that all things going well, after another Avengers film, one more Captain America, another Thor, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy 2, they might get some sort of cameo in Avengers 3. I doubt we’ll ever see Rocket Racoon and Iron Man in a scene together but fingers crossed. Stranger things have happened, as the company who gave us Howard the Duck can testify.

It is possible that the Marvel films are settling into a bit of a formula but the big aerial battle at the end of this one is bigger than we’ve seen before and the wise cracks and the moments where a villain is thrown off before they get a chance to soliloquise are still a lot of fun.

That’s Guardians of the Galaxy in a nutshell; a lot of fun. I’d recommend it to anyone, especially my wife.

Is this one for the kids?

The language is a little more fruity than we have seen from the Marvel films previously. President Glenn Close has a very amusing one word description of the bad guy that might have little ones enquiring as to its meaning (or just obliviously repeating it in the playground).

The senseless killing quota might be a little higher than usual as well but it is all bloodless. Someone loses a hand too but it is all still fine for the standard 12A certificate. This perhaps follows a trend for the studio, it being closer to Captain America 2 than Captain America 1 in terms of the violence.

There is also a very subtle reference to masturbation but that will go over the head of kids, no matter how fast their reflexes.

The Ripley Factor:

There are three key women in Guardians of the Galaxy which doesn’t quite balance against the nine or so main men but they are all empowered females. Glenn Close is the president of her planet which is clearly a good thing but this does feel a little like a deliberate effort to address gender politics.

Then we have bad girl turned good Gamora and bad girl getting badder Nebula. Certainly neither of these are real women fighting back in exceptional circumstances but it’s not that kind of movie. All of the guys are overblown too, one of them is basically a frenzied and tooled up version of Paddington after all.

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Neither are the women particularly objectified. Or course they are in tight fitting outfits but Chris Pratt has a shirt off moment too, which he apparently lost 60 pounds for. Right at the end Zoe Saldana turns up in a short skirt which seemed a little unnecessary but the camera doesn’t dwell on this like it does when she wears the same thing in Star Trek.

Unusually for this sort of film, the original screenplay for Guardians of the Galaxy was written by a woman, Nicole Perlman. It was totally changed by director James Gunn when he came on board but there’s no need to get our knickers in a twist over that. It’s standard Hollywood practice and it has nothing to do with anyone’s gender. Perlman is now rumoured to be working on a treatment for a Black Widow movie.

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