The Guardians of the Galaxy marketing team have been flogging their horse so long and hard it’s a wonder it’s not already dead. With hype so merciless and protracted, the latest Marvel movie seemed destined to disappoint. Factor in that it’s based on a relatively minor branch of the Marvel comics universe and stars a talking raccoon and a tree, and you’d be forgiven for expecting a car crash. But it’s not: it’s smart, funny, slick, touching and hands-down the most visually stunning blockbuster of the year.
It has the obligatory convoluted plot involving a mysterious object with the power to destroy the universe, but it resists the urge to over-explain, placing its emphasis firmly on the relationships between the titular space adventurers.
Chris Pratt seems like a left-field choice to play Peter Quill, the swaggering hero of the piece, given he’s best known for his role as nice-but-dim Andy Dwyer in Parks and Recreation – a role in which he’s at his best as a foil for Aubrey Plaza’s dour receptionist. But he’s got charisma in spades, not to mention impeccable timing.
Director James Gunn brilliantly juggles the ensemble cast, with no less than five heroes all given enough space to develop. And while Pratt shines, it’s WWE wrestler Dave Bautista who steals the show as the deadpan Drax, an alien meathead who lacks an irony detector (when Peter quips “you’re siding with the walking thesaurus?” Drax responds “Don’t ever call me a thesaurus again”). The Bradley Cooper-voiced raccoon Rocket is a miracle of CGI and is every bit as emotionally engaging as his human counterparts, while Vin Diesel manages to make his sentient tree less wooden than any of his other roles to date.
They’re helped out by a pitch-perfect script that makes the interaction between characters a constant joy – some of the rapid-fire dialogue makes even fellow Marvel movie writer Joss Whedon seem clunky by comparison. That it subtly ties in with the wider Marvel movie universe – arch-villain Thanos is set to appear in the upcoming Avengers follow-up – bodes well for the future of the franchise.
Let’s hope JJ Abrams is paying close attention as filming begins for Star Wars episode VII, because this film is a masterclass in how to make a blockbuster space-opera that flits between comedy and melodrama. Or maybe it’s already too late: Guardians of the Galaxy might just be the Star Wars for a whole new generation.
First published in City A.M.