Part 10 of A List to Marvel At
Adapted from a property comprising of a changing roster of cosmic characters that themselves attracted little attention, Marvel Studios saw fit to make Guardians of the Galaxy the jumping off point for its entire cosmic world. Full of such weirdness as cities inside large heads, talking racoons and a painted blue Michael Rooker, many thought that this obscurity would mean less commercial appeal. But it turned out the opposite was true; by piling more and more obscurity and weirdness on top of each other, it had the effect of making the material more palatable, more mainstream. The result turned the movie into a big money draw and Chris Pratt into the unexpected next big thing.
That transition also fit its director, James Gunn, a man coming from the comic grunge of Troma, and his own movie like Slither and Super, playing with comedy genre films, but comprising of large tonal shifts. And Marvel sort fit to give the guy who wrote an incestual Romeo and Juliet and had Ellen Page rape Rainn Wilson their big sci-fi romp (He also was a part of Movie 43, but everyone on that film was basically taken hostage). And it worked. Like Shane Black, James Gunn is obviously working in a big system with its own rules, but he still smuggles own voice into the proceedings with sweary banter (like Ghostbusters, I’m always surprised by how much cussing is in this) and those aforementioned tonal shifts, such as the unexpectedly heavy prologue and Rocket Racoon’s drunk break down.
Not one of the core cast is weak. Zoe Saldana is given most of the “straight woman” material, but she gets some laughs and commands authority with grace. Chris Pratt is more Jack Burton than Han Solo – thus why Kurt Russell will be playing his dad in the sequel – to the film’s advantage. Bradley Cooper is for the most part unrecognisable voicing Rocket Raccoon. Dave Bautista as Drax might be the funniest character in the whole film, with the central “taking things literally” joke of his character never getting old. And Vin Diesel as Groot…well all Iron Giant fans can tell you how much he can do with one or two words.
The movie’s fun tone does kind of deflate when the movie has to stop being a party – with the best soundtrack – and be the blockbuster action film people are paying for. Ronan the Accuser is another wasted villain (a shame considering Lee Pace’s talents), but him being another overwrought antagonist sometimes works to this film’s advantage, with his seriousness being constantly subverted by the main cast (particularly at the end). Also the action can be pretty weak, with the fight scenes and the comedy scenes split off into their own separate corners, not true for the films like Big Trouble in Little China and Buckaroo Banzai it is trying to emulate. Those fights scenes also don’t use the fantastical environments to their advantage, the vast majority being general hand-to-hand combat and plane battles.
Still, Guardians of the Galaxy is at the base level the most fun, entertaining and quotable movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The gamble paid off, and its success looks set to allow Marvel to experiment with stranger, even more cosmic properties. It also has a cameo by Lloyd Kaufman and Howard the Duck. It’s got something for everyone. It got the team together with ease. The next year, however, Joss Whedon would have a harder job bringing another team back together…