Ten films in, and things are looking uncertain for Marvel. Its last three films were sequels, and now one of its lesser known properties hits the big screen. You could say the studio is running out of ideas. You could, but you’d be wrong. Guardians of the Galaxy is a delight.
If you’re suffering from superhero fatigue, this is the perfect remedy. Captain America and friends are nowhere to be seen. In their place is a band of misfits: a thief partial to dancing, a couple of vengeful killers, a humanoid tree, and a raccoon with guns.
Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy is very silly. It’s Marvel’s most farfetched picture yet, but it’s also arguably its most endearing, because it wholeheartedly embraces the source material and never takes itself too seriously. This is the antithesis of the dark, sulky nonsense that weighed down Man of Steel.
That’s not to say this is any less epic or heroic – it’s just a departure in style and tone. Bad Guys still get vanquished, but capes and powers give way to adventure and companionship. The interstellar setting makes for a grander, more flamboyant affair than just beating up New York yet again.
The result: a space opera more likeable, more magical, and altogether more Star Wars than anything in all of Episodes I-III. There’s a sharper, tighter script too. The banter is snappy and subversive enough to worry Joss Whedon. Main characters have room to develop – proof that it doesn’t take multiple films to set up a good ensemble.
Action occupies a secondary role, but when the time comes, it’s thrusters on full. From aerial dogfights to prison breaks, there’s enough variety to keep things buoyant. The sheer number of hues employed makes for a seriously attractive picture, and the cinematography is sensible enough to make the most of this. No unnecessary camera shake, no attention-deficit editing. Best see this in 2D, because 3D only serves to dim a gloriously bright image.
Music plays a much bigger role here than any of the other Marvel flicks, and the soundtrack is something special. There’s a suitably caffeinated score from Tyler Bates, punctuated throughout with ‘70s hits on a cassette tape. It’s an inspired playlist, crucial at anchoring the picture to a vibe of irreverence and camp.
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If there is a flaw, it’s the story itself. With so much attention on the Guardians themselves, there’s little time for anything else. It’s basically a trek through space for A Dangerous Thing.
It’s never really justified why the main villain wants to hit things and dominate worlds. The same goes for barely glimpsed characters, clearly destined for bigger things in later instalments. Still, it’s hard to complain when the rest of the picture is so much fun.
It's easy to be sceptical, but Marvel clearly knows what it’s doing. There’s a plan, and it’s happening no matter how ludicrous it seems. But all that is secondary to the standalone success of Guardians of the Galaxy, which is a rare beast indeed.
Bold, adventurous and plenty of fun, this is space opera at its best. JJ Abrams should be very concerned.