Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the galaxy

Marvel’s latest offering, featuring a galactic superhero team appropriately called Guardians of the Galaxy, has no reason to work. Consisting of, among others, a singing, dancing team leader (Star Lord), a talking furry animal (Rocket Raccoon) and an anthropomorphic tree (Groot), the mismatched group find their groove on distant worlds while fighting interplanetary foes. A large reason any of this remains watchable, apart from Marvel Studio’s consistent production values that seem to output these films under strict quality control, is also the involvement of gifted director James Gunn, who brings to the big screen his zany, off-beat humour and slick visual sophistication seen in works such as Slither, to create something that is at once both revisionist and almost a parody of the superhero genre.

Consider a scene where the team, following their acrimonious introduction, have decided to finally work together and retrieve the mystical orb that everyone in said galaxy seems to want. They walk triumphantly (and in slow motion) towards us, the audience, in a recreation of that stock scene we are all now familiar with, until you notice one of them is actually yawning while someone else is pulling their costume at the crotch because of how uncomfortably snug it is. It helps that all of the characters who comprise the group are unknowns. Even long time readers of the Marvel comic-verse will find it difficult to identify them (unless you are familiar with the short lived Abnett and Lanning series from a few years ago) and even if you do, they are about as D-list as superheroes, if you can even call them that, get. For this reason, the film as a whole feels genuinely freed from the shackles of familiarity and expectation and is all the more unpredictably watchable because of it.

In some ways the setup – irreverent space opera, team friction, heightened self awareness – are constructs of classic genre tropes such as Star Wars, or more recently, Firefly/Serenity. The truth is, the film has the soul of a Joss Whedon offering, but also a bit of Saturday Night Live with it’s retro musical mix tape full of familiar yet forgotten nostalgic beats thrown into the plot and more than one scene of someone gyrating to music, puzzlingly even during the final few decisive scenes which take place in the midst of great cosmic battle. Therein lies one of the major problems with Guardians – none of the threats we see or feel (whether situational, narrative or character driven) have any viability because every dangerous situation is one sly wise crack away from becoming defused and potentially harmless. The film is a lot of fun (and often funny) because of this, but where the Avengers embraced goofiness, they also had gravitas. Guardians on the other hand are content with just being silly, sometimes to the detriment of the proceedings. Not helping it trudge along is a selection of weak antagonists and a plot featuring the recognizable cycle of team formation, breakup and reformation but these never gets in the way of enjoying the proceedings.

Despite being live action, the films most endearing characters aren’t even humans. The aforementioned Rocket Racoon (featuring the exemplary angry voice work of Bradley Cooper) and Groot (featuring the grunts of Vin Diesel restricted to a single, now classic line “I am Groot”) make an outstanding pair of mismatched partners who compliment each other’s physical attributes and expertise. Director Gunn’s handling of the droll repartee between characters is worthy of praise, where dysfunctionality is the norm and brash incompetence, more than anything else, the prime ingredient saving the day. On the whole, Guardians is about the furthest you can get from the seriousness of let’s say Nolan’s Dark Knight saga and the film is certainly boldly fresh as a result of it, but you might just find yourself wishing, as I did, that it would stop being so self-aware about the whole thing and get a grip on all the buffoonery.

Rating: ★★★½☆

About Faizan Rashid

A veteran Dubai based film critic, Faizan has been reviewing movies for nearly a decade. His work has been published in local newspapers such as 7days and on prestigious online websites such as MSN Arabia and wearethemovies.com