REVIEW: 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

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One of the greatest things about the movies is how they borrow from each other. When films from completely different genres or countries share components, it can truly elevate the medium – it suggests a conversation made up of many voices, as unique as the people who watch them.

Guardians of the Galaxy is perhaps one of the ultimate examples of this. It’s a staggering assembly of countless ideas from other properties, and yet just when you think you’ve seen a piece of it before, the film either turns the concept on its head, or cheekily flags the “appropriation” for the audience. Guardians may pick and choose from things you’ve already seen, but the movie’s real power lies in how can still surprise you.

It’s kind of hard to believe that this is Marvel’s tenth entry in its cinematic universe. Much has been made of their unprecedented business model, but for me, the greatest value of the film series is how interconnected it feels. Weaker episodes (like Iron Man 2 or the first Thor) are raised up by the better movies, because the links between the vast tapestry of characters are so clearly defined. You never know who might walk into frame or what might be referenced from an earlier film – a form of fan reward that only grows with each new Marvel release.

For its part, Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the best of the series so far by several measures. Not only are its characters much easier to relate to than at least half of the Avengers, but the movie is steeped in an overwhelming sense of fun that’s sometimes missing from other movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I can definitively say that Guardians is the first movie to end a space battle with the line, “Just like Kevin Bacon!”, and the first movie to interrupt a villain’s bellowing monologue with a sudden dance-off.

Lee Pace as the genocidal Ronan the Accuser, with Karen Gillan as Nebula

Movie history-making aside, it’s important to look over the film’s plot, because boy, is there ever a lot of it. Bit by bit, we’re introduced to the five titular Guardians, a rag-tag group of outlaws, assassins and criminals. There’s the roguish Peter “Star Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt), the fierce Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the sarcastic Rocket (Bradley Cooper), the intense Drax (Dave Bautista) and the loyal Groot (Vin Diesel). At the start of the film, they all hate each other, but of course the movie has to bring them together for a common goal - and to permit the already-greenlit sequel and inevitable team-ups with the Avengers.

The precise scenario that eventually unites the Guardians gets thorny pretty fast. There’s some throwaway dialogue about a political agreement between two rival planets, and a glowering radical warrior called Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) who isn’t happy with the peace treaty. Then there’s some business about an all-powerful Infinity Stone (read: the MacGuffin), and a number of chases and fights over who has it.

The story that results isn’t very cohesive – this is partially a symptom of the heavily plot-driven movies that Marvel’s known for, and partially due to how reliant Guardians is on all the media it borrows from. But this isn’t a movie you see for complex, logical narrative layers, and the filmmakers know it. Director James Gunn and the screenwriters are merely looking to give us a clever, snappy adventure in space, and they nail it, even down to the pitch-perfect music cues from Blue Swede, the Jackson 5, Redbone, and Marvin Gaye.

Bradley Cooper puts in a fantastic performance as weapons expert Rocket

The action scenes have a kinetic punch that distinguish them from many other movies in the genre, and the banter between the characters (either during the fights or around them) only enhances that. On top of it all, Gunn also proves he knows how to make the quiet scenes connect, whether by subtly building a joke in the background or just giving us some breathing room to enjoy the oddities of outer space.

One of the things that struck me as the credits rolled was the film's obvious re-watchability. I now have so many favourite moments and lines that it’s impossible to list them all, and I can’t wait to see the movie again, especially with a big audience. Guardians of the Galaxy transcends the familiar material it’s made of and makes it feel new again – a huckster move worthy of its scruffy heroes, and one I’ll easily fall for again. Three and a half stars out of four.

Three and a Half Stars

What did you think of the movie? Were you swept up in its sense of fun, or was it too much of a hodgepodge of things you’ve already seen? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers!