US | 2014 | Directed by James Gunn
Logline: Twenty-six years after being abducted by alien pirates, and light years from Earth, a space cowboy finds himself being hunted after discovering a powerful orb wanted by a ruthless supervillian.
“Ooga-Chaka Ooga-Ooga, Ooga-Chaka, Ooga-Ooga …”
Yup, I’m hooked on a feeling, I’m high on believing, 'cos this one heroic space adventure I’ll happily put on a pedestal high as a Mayan temple, because there are so many things right about it, the stuff that is less than amazing is still pretty darn cool. In short, Guardians of the Galaxy kicks some sweet Nebula ass (yup, that titan’s blue daughter has a great derriere). James Gunn has whipped out a fancy-dancy, interstellarockin’ phantasy for the adolescent in us all. Let’s just say that J.J. Abrams has got his work cut out for him if he intends for Star Wars: Episode VII to be any kind of serious contender for science fiction thrill ride of the decade.
In the opening scene, after the poignant Earthbound prologue, our boy Quill (the very likable Chris Pratt) is now a cocky young man on the planet Morag looking for adventure, or at the very least, collectable artifacts and ancient souvenirs. Wandering into ghostly ruins, his trusty Walkman playing his late mother’s “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” cassette featuring Redbone’s Come and Get Your Love – the movie title splayed across the screen in huge plaque-like style - Quill does a boogie, kicking lizard vermin here and there, and spots a metallic orb that will cause him all manner of trouble.
Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) is the piece of Kree nasty work that wants the power to destroy whole planets. The titan Thanos (Josh Brolin, uncredited) wants his rogue daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana) back to deal with her betrayal and sends his other daughter Nebula (Karen Gillian) in pursuit. Drax the Destroyer (WWE legend Dave Bautista), a volatile prison inmate, is befriended by Quill, Gamora, and a couple of bounty hunters, Rocket, a feisty genetically-engineered raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his partner, Groot, the humanoid tree (career performance from Vin Diesel, snigger), and together the motley crew form a renegade team of heroes, the guardians of the galaxy.
Now, admittedly I’m no comic book fanboy, so I’d never heard of the Marvel source material, but the original screenplay drafts were penned by Nicole Perlman who was on a salary for two years in Marvel’s Writing Program, before handing over the project to James Gunn, who’d been hired as director (and given co-script credit for his re-write). Imagine being employed by Marvel to choose a comic to adapt into a feature, and given two years to leisurely tinker away. Nice for some.
Let's be straight up about this; comparisons of Guardians of the Galaxy to Star Wars are, at the very least, misguided. Yes, they are rollicking space adventures, cosmic cowboys and injuns, if you will, but Star Wars (certainly Episode IV - A New Hope) plays out like an opera, with emphasis on pathos and melancholy. Guardians, on the other hand, owes more to the playful, gaudy shenanigans of Flash Gordon (1980) and the camp, kitsch excess of The Fifth Element (Moebius’s brilliant cityscape design aside), except - and I'll champion this - Guardians eats Luc Besson’s puerile junk for breakfast and spits it into a wormhole.
Much more significantly, especially considering the work of French artist Moebius, Gaurdians of the Galaxy is the first movie that comes the closest to capturing the look and vibe of French adult-orientated science fiction/fantasy comic-strip magazine Metal Hurlant (Heavy Metal), the vivid cyberpunk and steampunk designs, the Chris Foss-inspired spacecraft, the sassy sex appeal (oh, Gamora and Nebula), the menace and the misfits. This overall aesthetic made me grin from the get-go. Even the use of music, especially the yacht rock (10CC, Rupert Holmes, Elvin Bishop, Blue Swede), tickled my fancy something wicked.
Whilst the first half of the movie is certainly the stronger and drips with cult appeal, introducing us to the various crazy characters, setting up the McGuffin, laying the groundwork for the hair-raising pursuit, the busy second half is more superhero conventional with a very hectic display of Ronan-orb prevention. It’s the same kind of save-the-galaxy stuff we’ve seen many times before, but at that stage you’re so caught up in the intergalactic fun it doesn’t really matter.
The Guardians of the Galaxy will return. I’ll be there. With stellar-bells and terra whistles, 'cos "I fooled around and fell in love, yes I did ..."