“Guardians of the Galaxy” isn’t a superhero movie – and that’s important. It’s a sci-fi action caper from a studio that built its name on superhero movies. And while Thor, Captain America and Iron Man may not have had the profile Batman, Superman and Spider-Man did before their franchise débuts, there will still have been a good few kids who already had them printed on their underwear. As “Guardians of the Galaxy” itself asks, who the hell is Star-Lord?
He’s Peter Quill (Chris Pratt to the more pec-conscious), a slacker snatched from Earth and raised by interplanetary scavengers (led by “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”’s Michael Rooker). After stealing a mysterious orb coveted by the world-wrecking Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), Quill becomes the target in an interplanetary manhunt. Joining forces with a gun-toting raccoon (Bradley Cooper), a green-skinned assassin (Zoe Saldana), a vengeful warrior (Dave Bautista) and a big talking tree (Vin Diesel), he sets out to save the galaxy. And… sort of… guard it.
Of course, Quill is a loser only in the Hollywood sense – he may blunder about and be mocked for his musical tastes, but the man’s got the face, beard and abs of Chris Pratt. Still, Pratt’s a comic actor and he gets the film’s comedy of juxtaposition. The 70s and 80s hits playing out over the sci-fi goings-on are a good joke and one the film is happy to repeat. They are, after all, emblematic of our hero’s dislocation.
The design work – mixing the ancient with the futuristic – ties the big bold galaxy seen here into the glimpses of the Marvel cosmos previously seen in “Avengers Assemble” and “Thor: The Dark World”. While the Asgardians of “Thor” borrowed from the Norse gods, the Kree in this film are more Assyrian. Different races: different cultures. It works as a shorthand, and Alexandra Byrne’s “Fifth Element”-esque costumes add some colour and flare.
The whole thing is prevented from becoming too Earth-conscious by its terrific imagination. The characters hop from one high-concept location to another, “Star Wars” style, throwing huge chunks of the source comic books’ mythology in and out as they go. If “Guardians” were to flop – though judging by the pre-release buzz and the fact that a sequel has already been commissioned, that seems unlikely – this could be the studio’s one stab at doing Marvel Cosmic. So they’re going to give you Celestials, Thanos, Infinity Stones and as many other fanboy moments as the film can hold.
Marvel may not have learnt all their lessons from their previous hits – like “Thor: The Dark World”, “Guardians of the Galaxy” suffers from an underserved and generic villain – but they’re smart people. Smart enough to launch a group of unknown comic book characters onto 3D IMAX screens across the cosmos and show you why they’re there. Because being a spaceman, just like being one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, is a heck of a lot of fun.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is in UK cinemas from July 31
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