Guardians Of The Galaxy is Marvel-lite: a brisk and breezy superhero movie that provides plenty of visual spectacle and humour but is sometimes undermined by its own facetiousness.
The film takes its tone from its own lead character, Star-Lord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt.) He’s a wisecracking, cheeky chappie Galactic thief with a love of 70s and 80s disco and rock music. (This reminds him of his long lost mother in the days before he was abducted from Earth.)
Star-Lord is far less self-important and buttoned-up than the typical Marvel or DC hero. Saving the cosmos isn’t his vocation. It’s something he falls into by accident after ending up in prison with a group of fellow space vagabonds.
Director Gunn and his co-writer Nicole Perlman don’t seem at all sure what age of audience they are aiming at.
Their screenplay has elements of dystopian sci-fi about it but the film also often resembles a Wacky Races-style kids’ cartoon. One of the main characters is a talking raccoon called Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper). Another is a walking tree called Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) who knows three words, “I am Groot,” which he repeats again and again with different inflections throughout the movie.
Barely more articulate than Groot is Drax the Destroyer (played by professional wrestler Dave Bautista), a muscular thug still grieving the massacre of his family by the Darth Vade/Grim Reaperr-like Kree villain Ronan (Lee Pace.) The fifth member of the gang of Galactic vagrants is glamorous, high kicking green skinned warrior Gamora (Zoe Saldana.)
Gunn and Perlman fill the screenplay with gags, puns, slapstick and sardonic one-liners. Some of the writing is surprisingly witty. Drax’s incomprehension of metaphorical language is played effectively for laughs. There are plenty of knowing jokes about 80s pop culture (and about Kevin Bacon in Footloose) as well as a wryly nostalgic evocation of an era in which music was recorded and played on audio tape.
While the five misfits are joshing around, Ronan is trying to get his hands on the Orb, an all-powerful energy source that will enable him to control the universe and even to topple the mighty Thanos. Ronan is in deadly earnest and sometimes seems to be in a different, far darker film than the one in which Pratt’s Starlord is enjoying himself.
The visual effects are as impressive as you would expect from a film with a reported budget of $170 million. The performances of Pratt, Saldana and co. are all very engaging.
Even so, Guardians Of The Galaxy feels a little superficial and half-hearted by comparison with some of the other Marvel blockbusters. It’s a film that could have benefited from taking itself just a bit more seriously.
James Gunn, 122 mins, starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista.
Guardians of the Galaxy is released in UK cinemas nationwide on Thursday 31 July.