Hooked on a Feeling
Guardians of the Galaxy kickstarts a new phase of Marvel movies, dubbed “marvel cosmic” by maverick director James Gunn. By hiring Gunn, the man behind esoteric fare like Slither and comic book satire Super, and introducing a slate of characters unfamiliar to general audiences, removed from the superhero archetype – a talking tree and racoon amongst them, Marvel appear to be taking a risk. Indeed much has been made of this damascene conversion to edgier blockbusters following a gallon of formula, but those putting up bunting may want to stow their staple gun: Galaxy’s great fun but its biggest creative gamble is featuring untested heroes. If that’s cause for celebration then risk ain’t what it used to be.
The harder one looks at Gunn’s film, the more generic it seems. Is that a problem? Only if you harboured hope that one day Marvel would dare to make an original movie; that is a film that invites a nervous audience into its world then challenges them to stay there. Much of Galaxy seems cribbed from a space adventure template formed a long time ago in a Hollywood far far away. The team’s comprised of an intimidating but kindly lunk, a hard bitten, mercenary rogue, a star pilot, a man whose family have been killed by the bad guys, and the daughter of an evil space overlord. With those familiar elements distributed between these mismatched outlaws it’s a pity Gunn didn’t also adopt George Lucas’ rock solid adventure serial structure, for in Galaxy we’ve got a troupe of likeable characters without the anchor of a compelling plot and memorable villains.
What is Guardians of the Galaxy about? Not a great deal. There’s an impressive sounding maguffin (The Infinity Stone, no less!), a long standing interplanetary feud and a genocidal antagonist but there’s little sign that any of this is more than a pretext to form the new band. Whereas Darth Vader and the Empire were formidable foes with a clear and deadly agenda, forming part of Star Wars in their own right, Lee Pace’s staff wielding maniac is a plot device. This was the same weakness that bedevilled the otherwise solid Thor: The Dark World, and it suggests that despite Marvel’s protestations to the contrary, the company has a rigid formula for its movies that privileges the marquee heroes above all else, including story, irrespective of what galaxy they’re living in.
That the thin and often incoherent plot doesn’t scupper Galaxy is due to a breezy, tongue in cheek screenplay and a cadre of likable, colourful characters. The combination of Chris Pratt’s mix tape loving space shagger and Bradley Cooper’s embittered mammal is irresistible. The movie succeeds in its basic mission, to build a universe. The visuals are busy and populated, the visual effects suitably grandiose. It’s almost enough to enjoy the passage of these characters through this new and varied world but not quite; action and humour should be by-products of the movie’s story not the story of the movie.
Gunn’s flick, like every Marvel film before it, does the job demanded of it and no more. The studio’s cosmic phase is go; a new set of characters complete with spin off opportunities is in place. But as noted once or twice on these pages if this company are ever going to make a movie that stands the test of time and rewards repeat viewings, they’ll have to start thinking about so far neglected areas like story, psychological depth and pathos. And no, Kevin Feige, the latter isn’t a character in one of your company’s comics.