Guardians of the Galaxy, film review: Marvel lowers the superhero stakes

(12a) Dir. James Gunn; Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, 128mins
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The Independent Culture

"Behold your guardians of the galaxy," sneers the Kree villain Ronan (Lee Pace), surveying the ragtag team of space adventurers who have lined up to prevent him and his Sakaaran army from destroying the planet Xandar: a wisecracking Han Solo character (Chris Pratt), a green Amazonian warrior (Zoe Saldana), a blue dumb brute (Dave Bautista), a walking tree and a talking raccoon.

Is this misfit gang really up to the task, or do they satirise the very notion of superheroes? Well, Marvel Studios is heavily invested in the idea that bigger is better in the digital era of blockbuster entertainment, and that saving the galaxy is just what superheroes do.

So yes, despite appearances, the Guardians will prove as capable as any other superhero team, and engage in just the same kind of all-action grand-scale sky battles that the Avengers fought before them.

But when only the first five minutes or so of the film are spent on Earth, and there is only one human among its rainbow nation of alien characters, the stakes seem lower.

 

We are barely shown more than an establishing shot or two of the planet Xandar, and while it looks like a handsome retro-utopian vision straight out of Things to Come, who cares, really, if Ronan destroys it?

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And who is this Kree anyway, or his boss Thanos, and why do they want to break the Nova Corp's peace treaty? Do we really have to wait for the sequel to find out?

Too lighthearted to invest its action with much real meaning, but still afflicted by the self-seriousness from which the Marvel universe is fundamentally constructed, Guardians is the most disappointing kind of comedy: the kind without the courage of its convictions.

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