by Mark Greig
"What a bunch of a-holes."
A lone figure in a space mask (Chris Pratt's Peter Quill, AKA Star-Lord) strolls across the surface of a barren planet. He comes across the ruins of dead civilisation, removes his mask, pops on a set of headphones, hits play on his Sony Walkman and struts through the ruins to the funky sounds of Awesome Mix Vol. 1. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen and variations, to Guardians of the Galaxy, the best space opera since the original Star Wars trilogy and the closest thing we are ever going to get to a Farscape movie.
You've probably heard that GotG was a big gamble for Marvel. I have yet to read a single review or magazine article that hasn't said that at least once. It's a gamble that paid off as the film opened to a massive $94 million at the US box office this weekend. That's bigger than The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World. Not bad for a film based on a comic title so obscure even I had to look it up on Wikipedia when it was first announced. A lot of praise really has to go to the film's marketing team, who did a exceptional job promoting the film by emphasizing the two things the audience would easily connect with; the film's sense of humour and its killer soundtrack.
The film's biggest asset is probably that amazing soundtrack. After a brief Earth-based prologue to establish Quill's origins and tragic backstory (all heroes need one), the film blasts off to the stars and never looks back. The music, which comes from a mix-tape Quill's dying mother made for him (the woman clearly had great taste), gives the audience something familiar to hang on as Gunn takes us on a guided tour of the cosmic side of the Marvel universe, from Knowhere (a mining colony built inside the severed head of a space god) to the throne of this mega franchise's ultimate big bad, Thanos (Josh Brolin).
Story-wise, GotG is nothing revolutionary for Marvel. There's an all-powerful MacGuffin the bad guy wants so they can take over the universe for reasons so vague no one ever bothers to mention them. A mismatched group of bickering heroes reluctantly band together to stop them. Cue third act action extravaganza. But predictable plotting is something I am always willing to forgive when a film is as fun and hilarious as this one. In terms of action and visual effects, the film looks amazing. You wouldn't think that this was Gunn's first venture into big budget filmmaking. Visually, the film is somewhere between the shiny pulp sci-fi novel covers of the 70s, Jack Kirby, and the grittier used universe look of Ridley Scott's Alien.
With any film centered around a team there's always the risk that someone is going to get Hawkeyed. Luckily, that doesn't happen here. Every member of the team (from Pratt's Kirkian scoundrel to Zoe Saldana's assassin with a heart) is given a moment to shine, with Rocket and Groot the clear standouts. They may only be a collection of 1s and 0s but they feel as real and alive as their flesh and blood co-stars. Groot is just the most adorable thing ever and the true heart and soul of the film. It is impossible to come out of this film without a special place in your heart for him. I haven't been this emotional about a Vin Diesel performance since The Iron Giant.
GotG does suffer when it comes to its villains, a recurring problem for Marvel Studios' films. Lee Pace's Ronan has got that whole Dark Lord thing working for him, but he's no Loki. Best I can say is he's at least more interesting than Christopher Eccleston's Malekith. Meanwhile, Karen Gillan's Nebula doesn't get the screentime she deserves. Can we have more of her in the sequel please?
Notes and Quotes
--As with Gunn's previous films, this one includes an appearance by Nathan Fillion.
--Vin Diesel apparently recorded "I am Groot" over 1,000 times in multiple languages.
--You can listen to the entirety of the aptly named Awesome Mix Vol. 1 here.
--Quill's spaceship is named the Milano after Alyssa Milano.
Groot: "I! AM! GROOT!"
Rocket: "Metaphors go over his head."
Drax: "Nothing goes over my head! My reflexes are too fast, I would catch it."
Gamora: "You don't get to ask questions after the nonsense you pulled on Knowhere!"
Drax: "I just saved Quill!"
Quill: "We've already established that you destroying the ship I'm on is not saving me!"
Drax: "When did we establish that?"
Quill: "Like three seconds ago?"
Drax: "I wasn't listening. I was thinking of something else..."
Gamora: "I am going to die surrounded by the biggest idiots in the galaxy."
Rocket: "Why would you want to save the galaxy?"
Quill: "Because I'm one of the idiots that lives in it!"
Three and a half out of four legendary heroes named Kevin Bacon.