Many are calling Guardians of the Galaxy "the most risky Marvel film yet," with the word "risky" frequently being replaced with words like "unique," "different," and the like. But is Guardians of the Galaxy all that risky? It contains its share of likable, well-known actors, has loads of pretty visuals, comes from an established and lucrative studio, and is debuting in a dry spot for cinema. Of course, even with all of these facts on the table, Guardians of the Galaxy still fits comfortably under the description "most risky Marvel film yet," but only because Marvel films tend to be anything but. The fact of the matter is, Guardians of the Galaxy is no more "risky" than it is "unique" or "different," which is to say that it is none of these things. The shame of this is that the first hour has glimmers and ideas promising all of those things, but ultimately fails to live up to them.
In this film's simplistic, yet meandering story line, a group of ruffians team up to deliver an orb with mysterious and vague powers to a collector for a large sum of money. And yet, when things go wrong, and the orb inevitably falls in the wrong hands, they must team up and use their strengths and weaknesses to get the orb back before it's too late. In many respects, this is as close to a Han Solo spin-off as we're likely to get.
Following the foot-steps of a recent 2014 box-office hit - Maleficent - Guardians of the Galaxy disappoints not because it's necessarily a bad movie, but that it only partially realizes its massive potential. With a more innovative director on board, Guardians of the Galaxy could have been marvelous. Instead, it remains marvel-less (please pardon the pun).
The first hour of the film proves that there were creative ideas at hand. The worlds that we visit are visually inventive and unique - especially Xandar, which is an interesting combination of Coruscant and Orlando, Florida - and the character designs are fun as well. Even the spaceships have received enough attention to insure that they are not among the generic brand of other sci-fi films. But these are merely skin-deep cosmetics that desperately try to obscure the cookie-cutter film that Marvel has already made many times before.
Guardians of the Galaxy attempts to be an action-comedy, which proves fairly problematic. This is not an issue of balance, but rather that the action is messy and tedious, and the comedy is flat and humorless. The action includes your run-of-the-mill chase sequence, some hand-to-hand combat, and a great, big, destruction-packed battle at the end. In addition to feeling totally static and bland, the action sequences are edited offensively poorly, with characters randomly jumping from place to place without explanation or flow (akin to some of the awkward editing in last year's The Lone Ranger).
The comedy is not much of an improvement. While some of the visual gags work (primarily those involving a tree-like character named Groot - more on him later), the dialogue is often embarrassingly bad. The film throws in random 70's and 80's references with absolutely zero context, and expects the audience to laugh anyway. Other gags seem to be recycled from other films, meaning that almost none of the humor feels fresh or especially funny. And others still are just obnoxiously immature in a way that only a child could truly appreciate. Sophistication was never the goal of Guardians of the Galaxy, but that doesn't mean that the humor should target the 12 and under crowd exclusively.
Guardians of the Galaxy is not a superhero film, and in my eyes, it would have done well to stay as far away as possible from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to make for a more accessible viewing. Alas, Thanos - a famed Marvel antagonist - is featured in several scenes, and unless you have previous Marvel knowledge, his random appearances will seem confusing and unnecessary (for the record, I don't think the latter descriptor would change even with prior research). He is shown in several scenes, and randomly forgotten with no resolution at all. This is inexcusable. If you must insist upon shoving Marvel characters into the film for the sake of satisfying fanboys, at least do us the courtesy of making his presence necessary to the plot if he's going to be given significant screen-time.
There are numerous other flaws that only deserve brief detailing. A surprisingly emotional opening scene proves completely insignificant to the overall film - though it does showcase an excellent child performance by Wyatt Oleff, and an unintentionally creepy performance by Laura Haddock. And Marvel does their famous "death cheat," in which they suggest the death of a primary character without really committing to it, thus getting the emotion without consequence. This remains the most blatant proof that Marvel is incapable of taking risks.
The characters themselves are not as interesting as the trailers might lead you to believe. Peter Quill - the film's primary protagonist - has a role in the film that's never quite clear. Is he a bumbling Jack Sparrow type that's more quirky than skilled? Or closer to Indiana Jones in his capability? Apparently the filmmakers were as unsure as I was, as the film never decides upon either personality, instead choosing to juggle each, resulting in a remarkably weak protagonist. Gamora - a green-skinned female assassin - is the tough-girl we've seen in dozens of films before, and is only here to satisfy the feminists.
Drax the Destroyer - a big, strong looking humanoid alien - has two distinctive traits (generous by Marvel standards). One is his passion to avenge his family's death, which ends up feeling like an unfortunate Inigo Montoya mutation. His other trait is that he is incapable of understanding expressions, and instead assumes everything is literal. This is played for humor in some of the film's most cringe-worthy moments, and is then conveniently forgotten at several intervals. This could go down as some of the laziest writing in the film if not for Groot.
Groot is a tall, tree-like character, who's most unique feature is that he can only say the words "I am Groot." And while this is indeed, a unique and interesting concept, the film cheats. Groot is allowed to grunt, yell, etc. And worse, his partner-in-crime, Rocket, can translate those three words as if they were simply another language. Thus eliminating any and all innovation with this character. Even so, Groot remains the most likable of the main cast, followed by Rocket, a talking raccoon, who is less drab than the other characters, though his best lines are already in the promotional material.
The antagonist is shamefully bland - as is usually the case for Marvel villains. It's just another bad guy bent on world domination, who will achieve whatever means blah blah blah, etc, etc, etc. On a somewhat related note, his makeup is atrocious.
The cast is basically fine, as they do their best with a terrible script. Chris Pratt is a likable presence, even when portraying the notably poorly written Peter Quill. Zoe Saldana (who apparently is the go-to actress for sci-fi films after starring in Avatar and JJ Abram's Star Trek films) and Dave Bautista are fine in their roles, and Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper do good voice work for Groot and Rocket respectively.
The most memorable characters and performances are from the supporting cast. John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, and Benicio del Toro are particularly enjoyable - the latter of which has an almost identical appearance to Ron Perlman's character from Pacific Rim.
Tyler Bate's score is laughably generic. It features one of the most bland main themes in recent memory, and features all the predictable action score elements. Low brass for the villains, bland fanfares for the heroes, etc. Slightly more interesting is the soundtrack, which features 80's song that make the film's musical direction stylistically different from other sci-fi films, but ultimately just causes Guardians of the Galaxy to feel like whatever the hipster equivalent of The Avengers is.
It's frustrating that Marvel elected to avoid taking any real risks with Guardians of the Galaxy, opting for the typical Marvel story, plot points, and weak characters, as the potential for this film was huge. Mere glimpses of what could have been remain intact, but Guardians of the Galaxy is largely a by-the-numbers sci-fi film that fails to innovate, interest, or entertain. Films like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes represent the kind of success a film can find when it takes risks, tries new things, and boasts intelligence far beyond its peers. Indeed, intelligent and entertainment CAN exist in the same film. But honestly, it would have been nice if Guardians of the Galaxy had at least implemented one these.