Marvel Studios knows exactly what it’s doing. With each entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Kevin Feige and his companions have learnt something new, sometimes through success (The Avengers), sometimes through failure (The Incredible Hulk), but always learning how to treat this world they held in their hands; full of opportunities, wild tangents and an array of rich and captivating characters.
The mythology of our times is in no small part told through superhero stories and comic books. These people are our Hercules, Prometheus, Hamlet and Zeus, and the places are our Olympus, our Babylon, our State of Denmark. These otherworldly people, with one foot in our world, and the other in a fantastical state of being, are a certain but unmistakable representation of our world; our imagination; our own sense of humanity. And the film industry is just starting to know how to treat these modern myths, make them as pertinent and vivid as our minds make them.
Marvel’s latest, wildest, riskiest and perhaps the biggest in terms of pure sense of scale, Guardians of the Galaxy, may just be the best example of the lessons they’ve learned over the last six years or so. It may also be the best MCU film yet.
On the surface, you have a wild ride of an adventure; five misfits crack jokes (or more accurately, fail completely at being as cool as they think they are), raise hell and try to save the entire galaxy from the nefarious intentions of supervillain Ronan the Accuser. The sense of occasion is unmistakable, as the design, scale, soundscape and set pieces are absolutely stunning from the first minute to the last. The frequently hilarious and endlessly quotable dialogue should be the envy of any comedy. And most notably, the novelty of the adventure presented brings a sense of something new, a sensation far too rare in modern entertainment cinema.
The side characters, antagonists and the rich variety of stopovers the film takes in add even more adventure to the proceedings. Glenn Close and John C. Reilly appear in fantastic supporting roles as leader and defence force chief of alien world Nova Corps, respectively. Benicio del Toro’s Collector gets some burn outside a credits sequence for a change and there is an absolutely bonkers prison break scene on top.
But the carefully organised chaos and madness isn’t what makes Guardians of the Galaxy great. What pushes it over the hump is the overriding honesty and truthfulness in every single character’s fundamental state, and the unapologetic approach director James Gunn brings to that important element of the film.
Guardians juxtaposes a great many things. In the lead role is a 30-something lost manchild of a human, an arrested-development character, stuck in the moment of his mother’s death while distracting himself as a space-hopping rogue. He’s part Han Solo, part Holden Caulfield and full-on gripping from the first minute, thanks to Chris Pratt and his bottomless well of relatable charm that manages to be both smarmy and loveable at the same time. There is the unappreciated child and walking weapon Gamora, on a quest of intent betrayal to her father. Zoe Saldana balances the cold exterior with an internal passion. There is the widowed father Drax who yearns nothing as much as revenge, played with surprising warmth by UFC fighter Dave Bautista. And there is the Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern pairing of Rocket and Groot, a tortured soul in a genetically enhanced body, imbued with oodles of pathos by Bradley Cooper’s flawless voice work, and the simpleton who will do anything for his friends, even sacrifice himself if that is what it takes; not just to love and accept him, but accept each other.
These five people are not just the core of the film; they are this world’s heart. They are all deeply flawed in some sense or another, seeking strength somewhere – anywhere – before finding it in each other. Their flaws make them real, and the unwavering honesty and conviction behind their creation makes them transcendent. Hell, Vin Diesel voices a freaking tree and manages to bring a completely real lump to your throat, the approach is that convicted. And convincing.
Sure, there may be some plot holes somewhere or an abundance of logical flaws in Guardians of the Galaxy. But it doesn’t matter. You’ll end up loving it, and everyone in it regardless. It’s what this whole thing is about, after all.