Just go and bloody see it.
Love of film may be subjective, but I’m not entirely resigned to the common sentiment that objectiveness isn’t also a crucial element of film appreciation and criticism. Objectiveness in terms of examining film craft, acknowledging a film in relation to other works and basic common sense is integral for any considered and constructive opinion on cinema. There are good films and there are bad films, despite what people with terrible film taste may protest, and unfortunately, simplified views on cinema may be a product of the regrettably low standard of contemporary professional film criticism. Having said that, my following review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy will be entirely subjective, so blinded am I by the exhaustive love I feel for everything about it.
For the second time in my life as a film lover, ridiculously high-expectations were met and perhaps surpassed. I’ve never been an avid fan of the filmic universe that Marvel has been fostering since the release of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man back in 2008. My view is that the studio has never managed to rise above mild entertainment to create something that genuinely resonates emotionally, creatively and intellectually. I include Joss Whedon’s The Avengers amongst these middling releases, despite it’s marginally superior entertainment ratio. And then earlier this year, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was released, proving for the first time that Marvel is willing to take risks. Really great films cannot be accomplished without risks. Many of Gunn’s contemporaries such as Whedon and J.J. Abrams have not yet demonstrated an ability to take risks in filmmaking. Guardians of the Galaxy is a film comprised of risk.
Abducted by intergalactic smugglers as a young boy, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) has an etched out a living as an outlaw in the far reaches of space. He prefers the moniker Star Lord, although struggles to get anyone else to share his enthusiasm for the lofty title. After stealing a mysterious orb that is also being sought out by the malevolent and disturbingly powerful Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), Quill is apprehended by authorities and thrown into prison. His situation brings him together with fellow inmates – Ronan’s deceiving colleague Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a talking racoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper), his arboreal companion Groot (Vin Diesel) and the violently psychotic Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). They appreciate the common link in their desires, all revolving around the potential danger and potential profit of the orb, and decide to team up to see their goals realised.
Without doubt one of the finest examples of action/adventure storytelling committed to cinema, Guardians of the Galaxy owes much to the titans of the genre, most explicitly Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back. Quill certainly comes from the same roguish mould as Han Solo or Indiana Jones and Pratt is fortunate enough to share Harrison Ford’s uncanny ability to convey charm and charisma equally amidst the most absurd of situations and dialogue. There’s a sense of daring and desperado to the man, as though he succeeds through equal parts bravado and luck. The relationship between Rocket and Groot also bears similarities to Solo’s own relationship with the wordless Chewbacca. Visually, there are moments in which it would have been impossible for the filmmakers not to have been aware of their roots in the original Star Wars trilogy.
Past Marvel films have almost been encumbered by their obligation to acquiesce the constraints that come with fitting into the ever-evolving Marvel universe. Free of almost all these restrictions, Guardians of the Galaxy is able to establish itself as an amazing film, not just an amazing Marvel film. Certain elements to the Gunn’s film give weight to events that have occurred in previous films and that may occur in future films, but the Marvel Universe never overshadows the work as a singular piece of filmmaking, which has been a problem in some of the other entries in the series.
The balance that Gunn has managed to maintain in absolutely every aspect of his film, from the seamless fusion of comedy, drama and action to the meaningful screen time he provides to even the relatively inconsequential characters, is nothing less than astonishing. Not only do each member of the core team have time to convey purposeful and wonderful personalities, but the distinct contributions of each team member is expressed without ever feeling contrived. Consider The Avengers, which had a handful of preceding films that established its already prolific characters. Guardians of the Galaxy eclipses any character development and camaraderie that The Avengers accomplished with no previous films to back it up and with a far more undistinguished list of characters. I could wax lyrical at great length about each individual character, from the Guardians themselves to Lee Pace’s intimidating Ronan and Karen Gillan’s Nebula, but the restraints of an average reader’s attention span stays my hand.
If there was one complaint to be made it’s that more time could have been spent between action, developing the Guardians and their foes even more, but it is small grievance amongst the rest of it. Curiously, the film never reaches the awe inspiring heights of great blockbusters such as The Fellowship of the Ring or The Dark Knight Rises, but it not once stoops in quality like those films often did. There are no downsides to Guardians of the Galaxy, not a single element that I found unappealing. I may be building expectations to a point that cannot be possibly met, but the fact is that when I saw Guardians of the Galaxy last night, my overwhelming impression was that it was one of the best blockbusters I’ve seen in a long time and one of the best adventure films ever made.