Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy is not necessarily a total failure – it’s just a film doomed to wade in the larger narrative ambitions of it’s parent company and as such feels like an inconsequential piece of filmmaking

That is to say, that more so than any of the previous Marvel products, ahem, films, it zips through it’s storyline in order to get to the 30 second teaser at the end. GotG’s problem is that none of the characters here are worth caring about along the way and that like the 2 hours proceeding it, the teaser too is likely inconsequential.

A lot has been made of the “huge gamble” Marvel was taking to start up a new franchise with characters with a much smaller pop culture caché than say, Spiderman or The Hulk but that is meaningless. Did Star Wars not introduce us to a whole new universe without the backup of 17 previous movies and decades of comic book lore? Is Avatar not only the biggest grossing film in history and at it’s release, a wholly new intellectual property?

The gamble they really took was framing these “new” characters within a story that sets none of them up. We start with a small child, confronted by his mother on her deathbed. Her passing leads him to run away and, because this is a blockbuster and not an episode of Casualty, he is abducted by a large spacecraft. We catch up with Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) as a grown man, hopping across an abandoned planet with nary a chip on his shoulder, the death of his mother and his subsequent abduction have seemingly gifted him with the cushy life of a space pirate and he seems pretty well adjusted considering.

In the opening gambit, Quill comes across the film’s MacGuffin, an orb of great value, and is bum rushed by Djimon Hounsou and a gang of aliens who want that very same orb. Hounsou as a lieutenant to big bad Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace, himself a lieutenant to presumed Avengers 3 big bad Thanos) is so unthreatening and unsubstantial that he himself appears to have no idea who he is, what his name is and what his characters motives are, the audience sure as shit has no clue.

So Quill escapes and heads for his intergalactic pawn shop to get paid, only to find that he is being pursued by a trio of bounty hunters and orb seekers. Gamorrah (Zoe Saldana), whom we’ve already met, is the adopted daughter of Thanos and another of Ronan’s lackeys, her powers included “being designed to be a perfect weapon”, which is just as vague and unhelpful as it sounds. This allows for her to pull any and all tricks out of her bag as it becomes necessary to move the plot along, the first of the films big narrative contrivances.

Next up we have Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) and his pal Groot (a wasted Vin Diesel), a wisecracking (you guessed it) racoon with a lab rat backstory that raises approximately 0 tears and a big triosyllabic tree, another hero whose powers are amorphous and at the beck-and-call of plot line convenience. After the 4 scrap over the orb for a bit, they end up in jail, where after less than 5 minutes, they decide that they should be BFF’s and break out together to save the galaxy.

It’s as eye-rolling as it is gratingly cheap and leaves you with little to no reason to care for any one of them, making their partnership entirely unbelievable in the process. Add to the mix our fifth and final “hero” and it just keeps getting worse. Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) is a hulking great menace with grey skin and a proclivity for the literal who seeks to kill Gamorrah, Ronan and ultimately Thanos. After a single speech from Quill explaining that Gamorrah was just strung along and shouldn’t be held accountable fro the murder of Drax’s wife, child and entire race, they shake hands and carry on as buddies.

The whole story is as contrived as much as it possibly could be, eschewing character development for hand holding and bouts of self sacrifice. The problem is that each of the 5 leads is the Han Solo of their own story, each with their own selfish goal. So why would they bandy together to save the universe when they are all motivated by greed and revenge? It’s never explained, because what responsibility does a screenwriter have for that kinda shit anyway?

If you sever yourself from the gaping, nonsensicality of the script for a moment and remember that this is a kids film then it remains flawed. The villains and heroes never have their respective skill sets explained and as such can never be viewed as equal or unequal matches for each other. So their are no odds, no bets that can be placed and ultimately, no tension. And that goes for the entire film. Even when the bad guy has the MacGuffin and all seems lost, you know it’s gonna be okay because inevitable sequels. Marvel are seemingly suffering from their own success and would do well to let a character stay dead for a moment because as of now, I will never be convinced that any cause in any of these films will ever have any effect.

Separating the story from the other, stuttering attributes of the film for a minute and the flaws do not cease. The soundtrack, guaranteed to be described as “different”, “hilarious” or maybe even “banging” is nothing less then gimmickry. It has ties to Quill’s past but serves as nothing more than a piece of ready-made-merch, albeit a welcome change for that typical droning blockbuster score.

The humour, another one of the films oft-lauded qualities also runs as flat as the film surrounding it, serving little more than titters. What the writers seem to be unable to grasp throughout is that obliviousness is not instantly equatable to wit (unless you’re Tobias Fünke) and this leads to a dissatisfactory amount of repeat jokes. Drax’s race takes everything literally, which is literally annoying, Quill is not a hero but a buffoon, the racoon is a racoon, etc.

What the film aims for is unadulterated fun, and that’s okay, it’s an admirable goal even, but the way these subpar pieces have been cobbled together in such a haphazard manner leads to a film that is very hard to suspend disbelief for, a crucial step for a film of this size, of this genre. Where the two best entries in this comic book pantheon went right, Iron Man 3 and Avengers Assemble was in their careful balancing of human moments with seismic action. What James Gunn lacks like his counterparts in Joss Whedon and Shane Black is both a command of ensemble and a story to work from. When the very spine of your movie is limp, it’s going to be hard for it to stand up on it’s own.

In expanding their cinematic universe Marvel have introduced a host of intriguing characters. Unfortunately they are treated just as expected, like the action figures they are doomed to be and like all action figures, their backstories and motivations are left for you to decide.

– Oliver Drew

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