A Space Opera that’s Hard to Hate

Guardians of the Galaxy is Marvel’s latest comic book adaptation, but it’s closer to a Star Wars film (and better than a few of ‘em).


Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy represents the first actual risk that Marvel has taken since they decided to take over the film world, one CGI brawl at a time. By putting this rather niche comic book property in the hands of an iconoclastic cult director (James Gunn) with only two films under his belt (the most expensive of which cost approximately 10% of what GotG cost), they were risking something that hasn’t happened yet in the Marvel-verse: they were gambling with making a superhero film with a clear authorial voice and a tone that might actually stray from their usual output. As interesting as that might sound, it could also result in something terribly shitty. Strong authorial voices are behind some of the most badly-calculated, unwatchable big-budget flops in history – but this isn’t one of them.

The most surprising thing about Guardians of the Galaxy to me (someone who was completely unaware of the comic book until the film was announced) is how more grounded and less insane it ends up being than its premise suggests. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a scavenger who zips across the galaxy, stealing artifacts for profit and bedding women on pretty much every planet he visits. Quill is a Terran, snatched from Earth mere moments after his mother dies of cancer and raised by Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) as a thief. After stealing an orb that no buyer wants to touch, Quill falls into an interstellar pissing match that sees the orb desired not only by Udonta but also by the fearsome alien tyrant Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace).

Long story short: the orb is desired by every bad guy in the galaxy, and Quill falls into prison with Ronan’s reluctant assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a genetically-engineered racoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), his dim-witted but loyal living-tree sidekick Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and a sarcasm-challenged and vengeful bruiser named Drax (a surprisingly effective Dave Bautista aka WWF wrestler Batista). Together, the rag tag team must find the orb and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

If the above sounds like a bunch of gobbledygook dreamt up by stoned teenagers who work in a Magic: The Gathering store, rest assured: Guardians of the Galaxy is zippy and accessible despite the considerable world-building involved in creating its universe. It’s a better Star Wars movie than the last three Star Wars movies combined, bright and dynamic but nevertheless inhabiting an environment that has weight and grit. Less a superhero movie than a turbo-charged, 70s-pop-scored riff on Flash Gordon, it more than fulfills its blockbuster aspirations without the tedious fanservice (granted, there may be some fanservice in here but it’s likely to fly over the heads over nearly everyone) and stultifying CGI-slicked action scenes.

It’s why I’m reluctant to group Guardians of the Galaxy alongside the Captain Americas and Thors 2 of this world; while there’s no doubt in my mind that the second instalment in this series will see Thor zipping around in space or Robert Downey Jr. cracking wise about interstellar hamburgers, there’s something pure and untouched about Guardians of the Galaxy. I know it’s a callous franchise made to sell toys and print money for the next 20 years but it’s like I don’t even care. It’s certainly not perfect: like most movies of its ilk, it gets flabby around the second act and its steady refusal to succumb to cheesy moments for most of the film make its inevitable third-act ventures into melodrama ring hollow. But it’s a fun, rollicking space opera that ends with the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” (which actually is perfect) – how can I hate it? Is it even possible to hate this? ■

Guardians of the Galaxy is in theatres now.