Serving up Marvel for children of the 80s, writer-director James Gunn (Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed) gives us the anti-Avengers sci-fi style. Guardian’s Of The Galaxy takes an angry but sympathetic bunch of underdogs and gives us a team of unknown and inexperienced heroes to root for. Opening twenty-six years in the past, young Peter Quill aka Star Lord is kidnapped from Earth following the tragic death of his mother. Now he’s blossomed into a womanising outlaw, ransacking the galaxy of its precious jewels for that ignoble goal – cash. Laying the foundations for, but neatly sidestepping a full blown origin story, Quill gets his hands on an orb with the power to destroy galaxies. Should he save the galaxy or make some quick space bucks?

“Guardians is at its best when it embraces the sheer silliness of its characters”

It’s a tiring, exposition-heavy opener but, after a little persuading and a high energy prison break, Quill is joined by a sarcastic racoon (Bradley Cooper), a humanoid tree (Vin Diesel), and a couple of alien warriors (Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista). The Guardians team is hastily and imprecisely formed but, as the end credits announce, they ‘will be back’ for more character development. They are in desperate need of it.

© 2013 - Walt Disney Pictures

© 2013 – Walt Disney Pictures

More than any other Marvel offering Guardian’s Of The Galaxy gears itself up for fun. Trademark Marvel cheese is offered up in large quantities but Guardians is at its best when it embraces the sheer silliness of its characters. Yet Guardians fails to go ‘all in’ with its comedic approach and uncomfortably straddles the line between straightforward space battles and comedic silliness. A last minute dance-off to The Five Stairsteps’ Ooh Ooh Child is hilarious but jars against an action sequence that takes itself far too seriously. Then there are Guardians’ brief attempts at smart banter disguising crude jokes and schoolboy humour. One particularly filthy gag is ushered in beneath a thinly veiled Jackson Pollock reference but it’s a single brave move in a film that should be packed with them.

To its credit, Guardians is also Marvel’s most overtly retro movie to date. That all of Quill’s Earth references are circa 1980 lends Guardians Of the Galaxy a nostalgic feel that Gunn builds in to the visuals and plot choices. An excursion to alien planet Knowhere has overtones of the original Total Recall, while a generic sci-fi B-movie quality is infused into the vivid skies and intergalactic battles. Quill’s 80s walkman, complete with Awesome Mix, serves up Guardians’ 70s soundtrack while nostalgic movie treasures, Footloose and Kevin Bacon, get a handful of neat references.

© 2013 - Marvel Studio

© 2013 – Marvel Studio

But for all its retro jostling, Guardians Of The Galaxy simply doesn’t take enough risks. Hidden beneath its thin crust of fun is a tedious plot overflowing with flimsy characters. The first twenty minutes of tiring, planet hopping exposition speeds through the introduction of heavy handed villains predictably fixated on destruction. It was always going to be a challenge to introduce five new heroes from scratch but Gunn gives us a lazy, by-numbers guide to creating three dimensional characters – ‘create character, insert contradiction here’. And so we get an eloquent beefcake who lacks tact, a cute yet fierce racoon and a sensitive tree who can’t communicate his feelings. These heroes are appealing, sympathetic and full of potential but they’re also obvious and rushed.

“Guardians Of The Galaxy simply doesn’t take enough risks”

With its spasmodic treatment of genre, Guardians lurches from daft to clever, from riotous to flat, and from hysterical to tired. Meanwhile Gunn’s refreshing sparks of sporadic wackiness are toned down by Marvel’s general tendency to take itself too seriously and the Guardians refreshing, retro mood is left barely skin deep. The immediate announcement of a Guardians sequel, along with a blunt nod to a future plot strand during the film’s finale, suggests Marvel are already holding something back for these heroes. It’s a risk for any new franchise and this lovable team of underdogs remain in dire need of character development if they’re to rival their Avengers compatriots. The opportunity for Marvel to shake up their formula is wasted here, hopefully next time it won’t be.

 

VERDICT: ✭ ✭ 2/5

 

Images: © 2013 Walt Disney Pictures © 2013 Marvel Studio
For more information, see the official website

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