Guardians of the Galaxy (12A) - 'far from the worst comic book adaptation this year'
Sci-fi/fantasy. Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper (voice), Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel (voice), Lee Pace, Karen GIllan, Benicio Del Toro, Glenn Close, John C Reilly, Peter Serafinowicz. Directed by James Gunn
There have been serious rumblings in Hollywood that 2014 could mark a relatively disastrous year, with blockbusters failing to bust blocks on home territory but justifying their existence by performing well in overseas markets, particularly those permitted to open in China. The most recent entry in the Transformers franchise, the truly atrocious Age of Extinction, showed the sheer cynicism of the industry by moving its disposable human parts to China at one point and indulging in the most shameless product placement ever seen in a mainstream release. So, on one level you could say that Hollywood deserves everything it gets, but what about the audiences?
After all, we're the ones expected to to sit through all three-hour exercises in computer effects and have our intelligence insulted for the best part of five months of the year, so once in a while it'd be nice to be treated with a bit of respect and, in fairness, at least Marvel have pushed the edge of the envelope a tad with Guardians of the Galaxy. I've pretty much given up on trying to fathom the whole point of the interlinked Marvel universe concept - mainly because none of the fanboys can satisfactorily explain to me how Iron Man, Thor and the rest can't turn up to give Captain America a dig-out when he's in a spot of bother, despite being referenced in the script - so here they've moved away from that whole Avengers circle and given us a completely different set of characters to get to grips with.
Never having even been aware of the existence of Guardians of the Galaxy until the film was announced, I came to this completely fresh and, despite several reservations, I have to say that it's as entertaining as you could possibly expect from a film whose most charismatic characters are a genetically-modified wisecracking raccoon and a human/vegetable hybrid whose vocabulary consists solely of the words, "I am Groot".
We begin in 1988 with young Peter Quill visiting his dying mother and listening to a 70s mix-tape on his Walkman (a recurring theme which works remarkably well) until he leaves the hospital and is abducted by aliens. Fast-forward some 26 years and Peter (now played by Chris Pratt) is a Han Solo/Indiana Jones-type adventurer scavenging around a distant world in search of some class of orb or other. In fact, the influence of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark can't be underestimated here, as the loose, playful atmosphere of those movies gave them a lot of their charm, and that's certainly a factor in elevating Guardians above the level of a nerdfest.
Anyway, after much, much exposition and introduction of a dizzying amount of characters we can establish that Quill, who likes to refer to himself as Star-Lord, teams up with Rocket, the aforementioned smart-arse raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), alien warrior-chick Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the vengeance-seeking Drax the Destroyer (former wrestler Dave Bautista) and walking tree Groot (the surprisingly expressive voice of Vin Diesel) to protect the universe from the evil schemes of Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). Yes, you read that right - the universe is being threatened with destruction by a chap called Ronan. Obviously Barry the Accursed is being kept for a future instalment.
The main problem with Guardians of the Galaxy is that it's an incredibly busy movie. There's a head-spinning number of characters to get your head around (I'm guessing that most of the target market will be as unfamiliar with the source material as I was) and the likes of Benicio del Toro, Glenn Close and John C Reilly are given barely their parts to deal with. That said, where it does work is in the lightness of touch director James Gunn brings to proceedings, allowing Pratt to have plenty of fun with the irreverent leading character and leaving enough space for pop culture jokes that don't grate after a couple of repetitions. All in all, far from the worst comic book adaptation we've seen this year.