Guardians of the Galaxy was heralded by fans in some corners of the cosmos as a risky undertaking for Marvel Studios as they continue to expand their cinematic universe.
The high level of comedy within the movie and its oddball themes and marks a distinct departure from the grittiness of The Avengers.
Despite bearing thematic similarities to Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy has no ambitions to become this generation’s answer to George Lucas’s iconic space opera.
Rather it plays out like a parody of the saga and a celebration of the great cinematic blockbusters of that era.
With tongue firmly in cheek, Guardians harks back to everything from Flash Gordon to Raiders of the Lost Ark, paying homage to the old-school action heroes, many of us grew up with.
Director James Gunn has delivered a feel-good cosmic adventure that isn’t afraid to veer away from the formula established by Marvel’s previous efforts and the end result is exactly what the superhero genre needed.
The film follows space mercenary Peter Quill – or Star-Lord as he prefers to be called – a roguish anti-hero played by Chris Pratt, who forms an uneasy alliance with a motley crew of intergalactic misfits to prevent a devastating weapon from falling into the clutches of an evil Kree Warlord.
Pratt’s background on US sitcom Parks and Recreation works to his advantage here, as the endearing and charismatic Quill reels off wry one-liners and smutty quips throughout.
In many ways, Star-Lord is a cliché anti-hero, but the movie embraces this and has fun with the concept.
Pratt is a natural for the role, completing his transformation from TV funny man to fully-fledged comic book hero before our very eyes.
The group dynamic is the driving force behind Guardians. Although each team member has something to offer in their own right, they realise they are greater as a unit than the sum of their parts.
Zoe Saldana’s Gamora is a green-skinned assassin with serious family issues, WWE star Dave Bautista portrays alien badass Drax the Destroyer, and a pair of CGI oddities voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel round off the quintet.
The computer-generated duo – Rocket Raccoon and living tree Groot – have substance and screen presence, qualities that are difficult to achieve when a filmmaker opts to use CGI alongside live-action footage.
Cooper delivers his lines with fervor and claims some of funniest dialogue of the film, although the character’s incessant prattling does wear somewhat thin by the end.
Diesel feels underused as Groot, given that his dialogue is limited to the phrase “I am Groot”, but this is a comical piece of casting, with the action star clearly taking the role as a self parody.
Saldana impresses as a ruthless killer with hidden depth, while Bautista is a good fit for the role of Drax, even though the majority of his lines are delivered like WWE trash talk.
The way the central heroes bounce off each other from start to finish is the spine of the movie, and it’s fleshed out by a colourful (literally) supporting cast that includes The Walking Dead’s Michael Rooker and former Doctor Who assistant Karen Gillan.
Characters are in no short supply in Guardians, and that doesn’t leave a great deal of screen time for the film’s main villains, Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and Thanos (Josh Brolin).
Ronan, a Darth Vader-type figure and a member of the Kree alien race, is pretty much your black and white antagonist, portrayed well enough by a humourless Pace.
But, the character would have benefited from more time on camera to give him the kind of depth the likes of Loki have offered in previous Marvel films.
Thanos really looks the part, an inch-perfect recreation of his comic book incarnation, complete with aptly-thunderous vocals from Brolin, but Guardians does not mark his full emergence from the shadows.
This is in no way a criticism, but we can’t wait to finally see the Mad Titan in action in the Marvel cinematic universe. Avengers 2: Age of Ultron cannot come quickly enough!
Underused villains aside, there’s a lot to love about Guardians, such as its superb upbeat and nostalgia-tinged soundtrack that includes numbers from the Jackson 5, David Bowie and Blue Swede.
Music is a crucial part of the film, adding to its energy and vibe. This is the first time a musical score has been used this way by a Marvel film, and the result helps differential Gunn’s take on superheroism.
Guardians of Galaxy may not be the superhero movie we were expecting, but it is the superhero movie an increasingly-stale genre was calling out for.
Gunn’s space opera brings humour and a unique team dynamic to the Marvel Universe, resulting in a big-screen blockbuster the way they used to make them and one of the must-see films of the summer.