Where to start? Err, plot I guess. James Gunn’s Guardians opens with us meeting young Peter Quill, sat in a hospital, listening to some tunes on his walkman (remember those, kids?). As we see his mother take her last breath, the distraught young Quill is abducted by some form of alien spaceship. Fast forward to modern day, where we meet the now-adult Peter Quill (Pratt), a cock-sure, egotistical petty thief that is attempting to go by the moniker of Star-Lord. It’s soon revealed that Quill is on a mission to find a powerful artefact; a mission that puts him in many peoples’ crosshairs. With a 40,000 unit bounty on his head from former-mentor-type Yondu (Michael Rooker), this leads to the ragtag duo of tree creature Groot (Diesel) and anthropomorphic Rocket (Cooper) searching out Quill. In addition to this, Thanos (Josh Brolin) has tasked Ronan the Accuser (Pace) with the job of hunting down the very thing that Quill holds. Gamora (Saldana), adopted daughter of Thanos, decides to take on the task for Ronan, although she isn’t exactly looking at it as the same job that Thanos and Roman want her to carry out. And so everybody wants a piece of Peter Quill.
To say that I was surprised when Guardians of the Galaxy was announced as happening would be a massive understatement. The comic book versions of the Guardians team, which has had several different line-ups over the years, has never been a big seller, has never been a popular read, and is a comic book that even most comic book fans have very, if any, time for. So Marvel Studios decided to make this movie? Really? Well thank the stars that they did, for Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the most fun movies that has come around in a very, very long time.
So, everybody is after Peter Quill. After a three-way brawl breaks out on the planet of Xander, featuring Quill against Gamora against Rocket and Groot, the four all end up being taken prisoner by the Nova Corps, who basically serve as one of the major police forces across the galaxy. It’s in prison where the group, who are slowly starting to warm to each other just a tad, meet Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). And there we have all of our key heroes together for the first time on screen. But don’t be fooled, for these characters from from our regular, run-of-the-mill good guys. No, these are a group of heroes that are multi-layered, do not always do the right thing, and that are not against happily throwing out curses to get their points home. A group of space pirates, after an elaborate and brilliantly-executed prison break (including the need for a prosthetic leg), the fivesome realise that they all have a duty to the galaxy once they realise how powerful Quill’s rescued artefact is. One of the infinity stones, of which we have seen a few already in the MCU, this item can cause untold dangers and destruction for the universe if it were to fall into the wrong hands. And that it does, with Ronan the Accuser getting his paws on the artefact and the stone that resides within it. The Kree warrior Ronan is on a personal mission to go against the peace-treaty that his people have with Xander, as he looks back on ancient wars and deaths as personal issues that he holds dear; personal issues that cause him to have a thirst for blood and what he sees as revenge. If Ronan can make it to Xander and lay his mighty hammer on its soil, the civilisation housed on Xander will become nothing more than a wasteland. So it’s down to our Guardians of the Galaxy to stop Thanos’ muscle.
With Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel have landed a wonderstroke, taking a small, near-unheard of property and turning them into the coolest cats in the whole MCU. Peter Quill seems equal parts Tony Stark and Han Solo – quite the brilliant mix. Pratt’s turn as the loveable rogue is infectious and you can’t help but cheer for him, even if he is a complete dick at certain times. With Robert Downey Jr. not signed on for any further Iron Man movies, the fit of Pratt as Star-Lord could quite possibly fill the Stark void if it came to it. But this isn’t just Star-Lord’s picture (although he is all kinds of awesome in it), and each of the other key cast members do wonderful jobs; Zoe Saldana is feisty, clinical, and tortured as Gamora; Dave Bautista is a brute of a beast with a broken heart and quite the vocabulary as Drax; Bradley Cooper nails Rocket’s trademark smart-ass attitude and steals the show when given the chance, yet he still manages shows a delicate side to the character at the times when his tragic creation is touched upon; and Vin Diesel does enough with his I AM GROOTs to convey a plethora of emotions for Rocket’s wooden partner-in-crime.
Guardians of the Galaxy is a fresh, airy movie that is always engaging, that always grabs your attention, and that is painted with fun. But look a little deeper, for underneath the brash, confident, cocky, and colourful palette that you see, there lies a team of soulful characters and creatures, all with their own dark pasts and heartache. This is a film that will have you smiling throughout, but there are moments of genuine emotion, sincerity, and heartache dotted through this adventure ride. And for those of you, like me, who grew up in the 1980s, there’s a whole host of nods and references to the decade, but I won’t spoil those. Similarly, the soundtrack is the stuff of magic, delivering one of the coolest soundtracks of the last couple of decades.
For all of the fun and frolics of the apparent good guys, the villains of the piece also uphold their end of the bargain. Karen Gillan is superb as the cold-blooded, emotionless Nebula, daughter of Thanos, and Lee Pace’s Ronan is one genuinely scary mother trucker, imposing his presence whenever he gets even the smallest amount of time on screen. For those wanting lots of Thanos, though, I wouldn’t get your hopes up. We do get to see the Mad Titan, but it’s only fleetingly and sparingly. Still, that was to be expected, and it does work really with the overall arc of the movie and the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. And then there’s the fleeting appearances from the likes of Benicio Del Toro’s Collector and Glenn Close’s Nova Prime, all delivering exactly what was needed for their roles. Plus The Collector’s collection is fantastic to view, with a certain Easter egg from there lying in wait at the end of the movie’s credits.
James Gunn has hit a home-run with Guardians, and it’s fantastic news to know that Guardians 2 is already confirmed and that Gunn will return to write and direct. This is a movie that’s a true space adventure, much akin to Star Wars in its scope, and that just feels like one big thrill ride. As mentioned, there is a lot of genuinely heartwarming and heartbreaking moments in the film, but you’ll come out of it wanting to see me. And that’s clearly a good thing. Marvel Studios, Disney, James Gunn and all of the cast and crew… you crazy bastards, you did it!