Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

You can’t deny that Marvel Studios have done a good job at shaping their film presence over the last decade, in a way that goes well beyond just giving Stan Lee his surely contractually-obliged cameo (and yes, there’s one here too). It just seems, though, as someone who is coming over time to appreciate a well-written screenplay, that there’s an overabundance of detail (of plot, characters, worlds, special effects, music and noise): a sensory overload at times. Maybe that’s to do with the source material, but for a two-hour film, there certainly are a lot of distractions. Partly that goes with the fantasy sci-fi setting, but the opening half hour features plenty of breathless cross-cutting between all-but-identically-named worlds, blathering on about nonsense with silly names, trying to sketch out various tribal allegiances that you need series TV (or a comic book) to really do justice to. At the core of the plot, though, is a mysterious orb, a classic MacGuffin whose purpose and power is fairly redundant. After all, the point is surely the journey of the five outlaw protagonists, led by Chris Pratt’s likeable goofy Andy Peter “Starlord”, as they pursue this orb — and at that, the film succeeds.

I mentioned the writing above, but I don’t mean to criticise it. The real joy of the film — as with most of Marvel’s films — is in the character interactions, and these are all done well enough that I was left wanting less of the action-adventure and more of the hanging out. A standout is Rocket the genetically-modified raccoon-like creature (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a ball of maniacal energy imbued with a carnivalesque sense of dangerous fun and a touchy ego. In fact, when stacked alongside his character, a kind-hearted mutant tree called Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and the heavily-tattooed and scarified warrior Drax (Dave Bautista), it’s the humanoids who have the tough acting job here. Pratt plays to his strengths so well honed in The Lego Movie, while Zoë Saldana’s Gamora gets a lot of glowering done under her green makeup, but they have to work hard not to be relegated to sideshow attractions.

The tone of the film is largely comedic, so when the bad guy Ronan (Lee Pace) is introduced, his vengeful pantomime (which is played and filmed totally straight, all threatening low-angle shots of his blue face lurking in shadows against the starry night sky) quickly descends into bathos. There’s so much of this kind of thing — Karen Gillan’s Nebula is another blue-skinned vengeful opponent, one amongst many — that it becomes a little wearing. Indeed, every so often the film requires an injection of fun, so has Starlord popping up at some inappropriate moment to boogie along to another 70s rock classic (you can certainly tell when the director was born, and in its persistent musical referencing of the era, it particularly calls to mind American Hustle).

It’s not perfect by any means: there are some very weird and apparently pointless moments of nastiness (such as Benicio del Toro’s ‘Collector’ and his subjugation of women) that aren’t even effaced by the presence of a female screenwriter — a rare enough occurrence on this kind of project. There’s also a post-credits sequence that briefly threatens the return of one of the more unloved characters in the Marvel back catalogue. Most aggravating is the reliance on what is now becoming the most inflexible of plot points for this Studio’s universe — the protracted destruction of a major city by bombardment from the air (not a real city, this time, but a sort of alien composite of many you’ll be familiar with). However, despite all this — which makes the running time seem longer than it mercifully is — Guardians of the Galaxy is on the whole a rather enjoyable comedic adventure romp.

Guardians of the Galaxy film posterCREDITS
Director James Gunn; Writers Gunn and Nicole Perlman (based on the comic book by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning); Cinematographer Ben Davis; Starring Chris Pratt, Zoë Saldana, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper; Length 122 minutes.
Seen at Genesis, London, Monday 4 August 2014.

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I Give It a Year (2012)


NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Director/Writer Dan Mazer | Cinematographer Ben Davis | Length 97 minutes | Starring Rafe Spall, Rose Byrne, Anna Faris, Stephen Merchant, Olivia Colman | Seen at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue, London, Sunday 10 February 2013 || My Rating 1 star bad


© StudioCanal

I’m writing this to catch up with the films I’ve seen this year; I saw this a month and a half prior to writing this review, and my memory of it has faded. It’s a British romantic comedy involving four people, two men and two women, who are with the wrong partners, basically. The film is about them finding the right ones (i.e. swapping who they’re with).

On the one hand, Rose Byrne is really pretty, and perfectly convincing as an uptight professional woman. On the other hand, not a single one of the four main characters is in any way likeable, which means by the end of the film I really don’t care whether or not they get together with the right person, or are all hit by a bus and die. I can reveal that the latter does not happen, but then what does happen is scarcely any more enjoyable.

What keeps the film from being an utter failure is that there are a number of nice comic cameos. Stephen Merchant as a boorish best friend is essentially in a different movie, and although he’s no more pleasant or likeable than the leads, he is at least intended to be that way; small consolation I concede. Even better is the ever-reliable Olivia Colman, who gets the biggest laughs as a relationship counsellor, even if she’s not particularly believable as one (the joke being that she has terrible relationship issues with her own spouse).

None of the actors is particularly bad: they do what the can with the material they have to work with. It’s just a pity, because this could be a likeable film (there were enough jokes to pack the trailer with mirth), it just manages to miss the target.