We all love Marvel. Marvel’s awesome. The fanboyish fervour for their unending string of not terrible, just decidedly average and grossly formulaic films is nauseating and suffocating to creative ideas in cinema. Every film revolves around a MacGuffin plot device, usually called something like a trephylodyte which harnesses the infinite energy resource from the Draclonort star’s inner-core warhammer. Once thetrephylodyte is first referenced, this new breed of wannabe nerds force themselves into
an imitated hyperventilation, rubbing their hands together furiously as they pretend they are experts on the comic mythos, struggling to withhold an audible ‘awesome’ having swotted up on the Wikipedia minutiae the night previous. Guardians of the Galaxy was meant to break the mould, considered Marvel’s maverick ‘property’. Yet it’s nowhere near as distinguishable from the swamp of movies already in the studio’s back catalogue.
Humour is attempted and generally fails, unless a talking tree with a vocabulary consisting of the words ‘I am Groot’ is your kind of thing. Pikachu wasn’t funny either. Cute, but not funny. Groot’s not even that. It certainly has a sense of fun, but it’s not terribly funny. A couple of the more grating examples include a Jackson Pollock reference (how is this something Captain Starlord and a talking space Racoon would be familiar with? He was abducted at the age of 8 or 9. How? Why?) and a post-credits sequence (SPOILERS!) featuring ‘Howard the Duck’, which exists purely to receive a smug guffaw from those who understand the pop culture reference, congratulating themselves. Having seen some of James Gunn’s previous work, I can’t help but see studio fingerprints watering down many attempts at innovation. Except the 70s and 80s pop songs, he got that through, but it’s nowhere near enough to really make the film stand out.
In terms of plot, which we unfortunately have to touch upon, the badly drawn bad guys want the all powerful thing the good guys also want, climaxing in the big battle for the sake of appealing to appetites, with a bit more dancing and 70s and 80s pop to make it quirky. Sitcom actor Chris Pratt is an unlikely star as the post-Han Solo renegade Peter Quill (or Captain Starlord), beginning the film by easily stealing an all-powerful ‘orb’ which is just sitting on a planet seemingly simple to find and pilfer, despite the fact it is the one thing absolutely everyone wants for the whole movie. So, Starlord steals the orb, caught by Korath, working for the tyrannical Kree, Ronan. Yondu discovers Starlord’s theft and puts a bounty on him while Ronan sends Gomora out to get back the orb, prompting Quill to attempt to sell the orb to Nova Corps on Xandar, before he’s imprisoned in Kyln along with space racoon Rocket and walking tree Groot and muscle alien Drax. Meanwhile, Ronan meets the equally tyrannical Thanos to talk about his daughter’s betrayal.
It’s all as chunkily told as my Wikipedia-aided prose, full of exposition but still making little sense. Why has this orb suddenly become such an issue? Who owned it before? Why wasn’t it better looked after if it was so incredibly crucial? Why could a midlevel space cowboy like Quill just go in and take the damn think? What exactly is the ultimate goal of the bad guys? What power do they already yield? Wasn’t this the plot of every fucking Marvel film before?
It can be as quirky as it likes, but whole thing crumbles when the basic plot is so lazy. Its dialogue reads like a fantasy obsessive’s sweaty dream with weird, unfamiliar names, planets and obscure elements of the mythos chucked around wildly and undeveloped, grounding the film in nothingness.
People like to suggest that films like this are “just fun movies” and anyone critical should lighten up, preferring to just blindly follow the awesome craze of Marvel. That should never be a caveat for poor, incoherent storytelling. I really wanted to enjoy this film, but it’s badly plotted and the humour fails lamely. Even a Bradley Cooper voiced, genetically modified space racoon looks cute but it’s unmemorable. It’s more Alvin and the Chipmunks than R2. Actually, where the film succeeds is when it’s clearly derivative of Star Wars as it’s visually rich with interesting makeup and creatively considered planets. The casting of Chris Pratt (Parks & Recreation) was bold and actually works quite well as a charismatic persona, it’s just a shame he’s not got a funnier script to work with. Considering most people (not competing for fanboy points) will admit to being completely alien to Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel had a genuine chance of doing something novel. Instead Guardians falls safely into the Marvel median. MacGuffins, boring bad guys bad for the sake of being bad, loose attempts at comedy, a ‘badass’ female character who needs a man to make her whole, a big battle without any real sense of danger or stakes. But hey, it’s got some dancing and a talking animal. Marvel, you know your formula. Don’t push yourself too hard.
Guardians of the Galaxy is out now in the UK and US. Running time 120 mins. Certificate 12A (UK).
Review by David Rank