You’d think I’d been frozen in Carbonite with the length of time that we’ve been away, right? Or maybe frozen beneath the permafrost awaiting someone to unearth us?? Although we apologise for our recent lack of activity at Film Phage, there’s much more to those opening two sentences than mere hypotheses: Star Wars and Captain America. What happens when you try and blend the intergalactic space drama that is Star Wars with that Marvel-bent that is becoming the hallmark of the comic book movie? Well, you get a film about a tree, a raccoon, a human and some aliens. My friends, you get Guardians of the Galaxy… perhaps the finest post-Avengers movie in Marvel’s stable.
Now, when this was announced over 2 years ago at the San Diego Comic-Con, it raised a lot of eyebrows, including my own (yes, a Phage has eyebrows). Marvel were seemingly trying to transition from the grounded approach of Iron Man and Captain America to a film about the aforementioned talking trees and raccoon combo of Groot and Rocket. This didn’t make sense and genuinely appeared to be a case of jumping the shark in our eyes. But much has happened in the intervening two years. Marvel have brought in Gods, fire breathing Extremis people and aliens, along with a mere glimpse of the “mad Titan” Thanos at the end of Avengers… a reference that was lost on the vast majority of viewers, but pervaded nevertheless.
Skip forward to 2014 and on the eve of this year’s SDCC, we got our preview screening of Guardians of the Galaxy. Could Marvel make it pay off? Of course they could. They’ve delivered what is possibly the finest “Phase 2” film of the bunch. Yes, whilst in our hibernation, we saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier… but we didn’t think it merited all that praise. Mainly because we find ol’ Cap to be quite the dull hero in his one dimensional “must do good” attitude. If we’d written it up, we’d have slapped a solid 3 Phages on it… in case you were curious. Briefly, Guardians of the Galaxy tells the tale of Peter Quill / Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and the highs and lows he goes through after scavenging a mysterious orb. Through various bounties placed on his head, he’s thrown together with an oddball group including an assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), bounty hunter raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and his tree companion Groot (Vin Diesel) and warrior Drax (Dave Bautista) as the villainous Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace) quests after the orb, which he plans to use to commit mass genocide. All of this is set against a very colourful backdrop of planets and characters, plus that famous Marvel humour.
Where do I start? Let’s start with the nerdy paragraph shall we? The one where we talk about it tying into the Marvel universe and linking to the source material? Briefly, this film, despite being set away from the Iron Man / Thor / Captain America trinity fits perfects providing you’ve been paying attention since Avengers. Die hard fans will see certain plot elements coming together and can see where Avengers 3 or Avengers 4 will be heading… *cough* Infinity Gauntlet *cough* (we can’t wait for the SDCC reveals on Saturday!). Plus, we FINALLY get our first real views of the arch-bad Thanos (Josh Brolin). A HUGE grin came over our Phagey face when we saw him on-screen finally. We cannot wait for more of him in the future! As for how it links to the source material? There are liberties taken, but they all work, and should just be kicked to the back of your mind for now.
What works so well in this ensemble piece, as it does in The Avengers, is the strength of the cast. Whilst The Avengers had several films to set up the characters and their origins, James Gunn does a fantastic job of doing all that within the film’s 2 hour run time and taking them on an adventure too. Chris Pratt is enormously charismatic and really is the “every man” that people can relate to. In fact, despite being a guy romping through space, he’s the most grounded lead character in all of Marvel’s endeavours. I could actually go through each of the cast members in turn and sing their praises (God knows I love doing this with Bradley Cooper all the time anyway), but that’d take far too long. Suffice to say, that there are no weak links in this story. Even Lee Pace, as Ronan The Accuser comes off very well here. I only mention this, as typically villains are fairly one dimensional (spare Tom Hiddleston’s Loki) in their aims… such as Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith in Thor: The Dark World, or Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash in Iron Man 2. Here it’s nice to see a villain that genuinely looks menacing and works well.
No Marvel movie would be a Marvel movie without a dose of humour. Well, unless the title is prefaced with Captain America. Guardians of the Galaxy brings humour by the bucketload and genuinely made me laugh on several occasions. As dedicated reader will know, I’m not one to laugh at everything like some deranged drunkard (although many audience members are), but this had some good belly laughs thrown in there. Plus, they reference Kevin Bacon a lot… no joke…
So, what are the shortcomings? Honestly, I can’t isolate any. Some may say this is simply “The Avengers in Space” or feel that it’s becoming formulaic for a team up movie to play out this way. Some might even brandish this as Marvel’s Return of the Jedi owing to some “toy-friendly” characters like Rocket and Groot, but I disagree. The pace is frenetic, the acting is sharp and the humour is on point. This is Marvel firing on all cylinders… bring on next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron!
Simply put, if you’re a fan of any of Marvel’s past adventures, then this will have you riveted. I’d also argue that if you haven’t been dedicating masses of time to these films in the past years, you’ll pretty much be ok too. There are threads of continuing plots running through it that may make little sense if you haven’t seen The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World (particularly the after credits scene), but the film can stand alone on its merits too.
And this marks our thawing from the Carbonite! We have returned from our long hibernation, and for that we apologise. We still saw films… we just… well, went off for a while! You’ve heard about the Ebola outbreak in Africa right? Well, a Phage gets distracted! Ha. And maybe this is actually just OUR Return of the Jedi? Maybe I’ll start wearing black, become a real Jedi, cut off my father’s hand and throw an old man down a well? Well, as I write this, it IS a Friday night… so anything is possible…