Wednesday, 6 August 2014


Walt Disney Studios Films/Marvel Films

Adapting Marvel Comics' Guardians of the Galaxy for the big screen was seen as the riskiest venture yet for Marvel Studios/Disney who, with The Avengers -- assembled, and individually -- had a better known property and thus a more solid ($6.3 billion and counting, though not all Disney; Paramount launched the first five) financial investment with Iron-man, Thor, Captain America and The Hulk.

That trepidation may also have had something to do with the Guardians, who are not superheroes, boasting a trigger-happy raccoon and a vocab-challenged tree among its group of rag tag misfits who, like The Avengers, come together to defeat world-destroying evil. (The risk certainly isn't in the plotting, which, penned by Nicole Perlman and director James Gunn, follows a proven Marvel template.)

Or maybe it was that these adventures took place in space, in galaxies far, far away? For while Disney may have every confidence in the success of the next Star Wars film, there's always the spectre of John Carter in the back of their minds (and accounts department). That somewhat unfairly maligned 2011 martian adventure -- and subsequent flop -- couldn't garner much audience interest even after dropping the 'Of Mars' from its title: "Hey, look guys, no more space!"

Guardians begins on Earth, and in 1988, where a young Peter Quill bids a teary farewell to his sickly mother in her hospital bed before being whisked away by a spaceship before he's even had the chance for a good cry. Cut to 26 years later and Quill (played by Chris Pratt; slimmed down, buffed up and relishing his new found leading man status) is a scavenger-for-hire, travelling across the galaxy to retrieve artifacts for a price.

That's how Quill comes into possession of the orb, an energy source which is also able to level entire planets. As such, it is a highly desired object by all but especially Ronan (Lee Pace), a survivor of a once proud now subjugated race who, with the backing of Thanos (yes, the villain glimpsed at the end of The Avengers), is out to wreak revenge.

It's in his bid to evade capture by all and sundry that Quill comes into contact with Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a kick ass lieutenant of Ronan's who has her own agenda, and Rocket and Groot, the aforementioned raccoon and tree who are an odd couple, bounty hunting duo who recall Han Solo and Chewbacca but operate on a whole other level of dysfunction.

Imprisoned together they meet the final member of their eventual quintet, Drax the Destroyer (former WWE wrestler, Dave Bautista), a mountain of a man who takes everything literally and who wants in with the others for the chance to avenge the death of his family at the hands of Ronan.

And as good as Pratt and Saldana (seemingly the sci-fi blockbuster go-to girl after Avatar and Star Trek) are, it is the CGI duo and Bautista who steal the show. Who knew a former pro-wrestler, let alone a tree and psycho rodent, could provide most of the film's thrills, laughs and, yes, some heart.

It's not a motion-capture performance like that of Andy Serkis' Caesar in the Apes films, but Cooper brings a depth to the life-like CGI of the bitter critter, Rocket. By turns comic and cynical, with a barely contained rage, it's a voice performance to rival the best -- Eddie Murphy (Shrek), Ellen DeGeneres (Finding Nemo) -- of the best. Groot, too, is an impressive achievement given the tree-like being's limited vocabulary. Having said that, Vin Diesel's voice work is a little less integral to the success of the character's achieving its unlikely humanity.

Of course, they owe a great debt to the screenplay which boasts a lively sense of humour, tossing off quips and one-liners, pop culture references and a little blue work at a steady pace. Perlamn and Gunn (and no doubt with Avengers maestro Joss Whedon's once-over) ensuring that zero gravity need not mean zero laughs. Guardians of the Galaxy is a lot of fun.

At the time of writing, Guardians had debuted to an impressive $166 million worldwide opening weekend, including an August record of $94m in the U.S., so that risk (perhaps in letting Gunn, a writer-director with minor successes and not-so mainstream appeal?) seems to have paid off. Maybe Marvel honcho Kevin Feige will rethink his recent statement that Marvel Studios will not be doing a female superhero film in the foreseeable future?

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