Guardians of the Galaxy is something of a sideways leap in the Marvel Universe, with Iron Man, Thor, Captain America et al ignored entirely. Instead we are introduced to a group of intergalactic criminals who are forced to join forces to defeat the evil Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), who is on the verge of obtaining some kind of ultimate power whatsit that will help him destroy the galaxy.
Said whatsit is initially recovered by Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) – a character very much in the Han Solo/Avon from Blakes 7 mould, albeit with a tragic, pre-credits, mother-died-of-cancer-then-he-was-abducted-by-aliens backstory. The recovery of this whatsit is a highly entertaining set piece, and recalls the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but on another planet and scored by 70s pop songs rather than John Williams.
Quill is subsequently apprehended and sent to prison, along with genetically engineered racoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper), talking tree Groot (Vin Diesel), an assassin who formerly worked for Ronan called Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and vengeful maniac Drax (Dave Bautista), who doesn’t understand metaphors. In prison this disparate group reluctantly agree to work together to escape, and in the process undergo the usual moral journey from scoundrels to reluctant heroes.
It goes without saying that the visual effects are terrific, but the raccoon renderings deserve particular praise. The opulent production design recalls everything from Total Recall to Flash Gordon and The Fifth Element, though the screenplay seems more interested in emulating B-movies such as Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars, rather than the more obvious choices of Star Wars or Star Trek. Director James Gunn avoids the trap of making this dark and instead leavens the surrealism and general ridiculousness with a winning sense of humour. The pop songs are well chosen and are actually an integral part of the plot, not just an attempt to add a self-consciously hip Tarantino-esque flavour to the piece.
It isn’t perfect. The mid-act feels a little flat for one thing, and it perhaps goes on a tad too long. But the characters are a likeable bunch, and there are enough laugh out loud moments to paper over any plot holes. Guardians of the Galaxy is no groundbreaking masterpiece, but it’s a silly, fun, entertaining ride that sits solidly enough within the Marvel pantheon.