I was looking forward to seeing Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel studio’s latest superhero smash hit. The trailer looked cool, and was intriguingly written and directed by James Gunn, writer of the similarly satirical Scooby Doo: The Movie. After recently sitting through two dull low-budget foreign language films (Roman Polanski’s disappointing Venus in Furs and the excruciatingly boring The Quiet Roar), I was in the mood for a big, dumb, and fun American film. I had heard many good things about the movie; that it was tongue-in-cheek, and would appeal to someone, like myself, who not so fond of the usual comic book blockbusters.
As I was sitting in the theatre I was struck that, for some reason, the Marvel logo didn’t appear at the start. Then Cameron Diaz’s voice spoke over a black screen: “Remember the first time you had sex with your partner?” Hmm. Either this film was far more irreverent than I expected, or I had somehow stumbled into Sex Tape. I ran from screen 16 to 17, leaving a trail of popcorn in my wake, and unfortunately missed the first few minutes of my Guardians fun.
I quickly cottoned on to the plot though. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a human, taken from 1980s Earth as a small boy and who now is a galactic smuggler. He gets his hands on a mythical orb. He then meets Gamora (Zoe Saldana) who is also after the orb. He also meets two bounty hunters, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), an anthropomorphic raccoon and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a tree-like alien, as well as the warrior-like Draxx (Dave Bautista) and together they embark on an adventure to save the galaxy from the villainous Ronan (Lee Pace).
The film certainly has some good things going for it that explain the popularity. Top of the list is Chris Pratt, a charismatic and funny actor who gives the film most of its charm. He perfectly fits the laid-back Everyman character of Quill, a role that is sure to make Pratt the biggest star in the world, and red-leather jackets fashionable this winter. Bradley Cooper is also great as the anger-prone Rocket, and like Quill, has most of the funny lines.
The special effects on both that character and Groot, who looks to me like realistic version of a Pokemon, are very believable and imaginatively designed. The film also has an enjoyable soundtrack of 80s hits, most prominently Blue Swede’s Hooked on a Feeling, courtesy of a mix tape Quill carries around. It’s refreshing to see a blockbuster that has an ‘out-there’ enough tone to throw all these things together. It’s also pleasing that most of the aliens are actors wearing good old-fashioned make-up.
However these do not make up for the film’s flaws. Firstly, if the film wants to be an action comedy a la Men In Black, it’s not funny enough, despite the best efforts of Pratt and Cooper, and as usual the female character gets none of the funny lines, meaning Gamora is a pretty boring character. The use of pop songs may make some scenes more enjoyable but that’s really thanks to the catchiness of the 80s classics, not because it’s relevant to the storytelling. Woody Allen used the phrase ‘Borrowed Grandeur’ for his use of classical music in his films. Think of this as ‘Borrowed Entertainment’. Like many blockbusters the film’s plot becomes overly complicated. There’s simply too much going on, and it’s hard to get excited when you can’t follow what’s happening.
In fact the film is at its best when it’s at its most simple: five odd characters in a room arguing, bantering and wisecracking. There’s no limit to the scale of action nowadays with computer graphics, and this film knows no bounds, with countless spaceships and enormous explosions that numb rather than excite. We’ve been spoiled by over a decade of blockbusters flooding their films with CGI, and special effects no longer feel that special. It also makes us care less about the characters: if they can survive destruction on that scale, then there’s no sense of real peril. Godzilla and The Hobbit are two other films which had the same problem. Maybe in the future, film-makers will learn that ‘less is more’.
Another problem with the film is the villain. Lee Pace’s Ronan has nothing memorable about him. It’s as though his character has been written by a computer with an auto-bad guy processor. It’s a pity and a missed opportunity, since villains should be a strong and enjoyable presence. We need to love to hate them if we are to care whether the heroes stop them or not. Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight and Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves all demonstrate how important an enjoyably evil baddie is. I wish I could say I liked it more than I did, as it’s a film that’s clearly been made with an affection for its characters and a love for the genre, unlike the heartless Transformers: Age of Extinction, which only exists to keep accountants busy. Never the less, the film’s a mess and by the end, a bore to watch. Perhaps I’m just not the target audience. Maybe I should have stayed in Sex Tape…