Would it be fair to say that adapting any property into a $100,000,000 blockbuster is a risk? How about a film with a cast of five main characters, one of which is human, two are green aliens, one is a walking tree and the other a talking racoon? How’s that? That sound risky enough for you? Because that’s what Marvels gone and done.
Obviously high on their own sense of superiority after the massive success of The Avengers (which, let’s face it, is the glorified adventures of the bassist from Saxon, Social Security Man and Richy Rich and his Amazingly Expensive Tin Can), Marvel decided to really rub their success in everyone’s faces and make a film about the guys usually gathering dust on the back shelf of every comic book store in the western world.
The first of those guys, and doing the duties as audience surrogate, is Peter Quill a.k.a. Star-lord, a legendary outlaw. Well, the most legendary outlaw to occupy his own underpants. We are introduced to this guy twice. The first time is when he is a young boy visiting his mother’s bedside in hospital. The sequence is heart-breaking and reminded me of Up in the way that it could produce such a strong emotion so quickly and with barely any set up.
His second introduction takes place twenty years and twenty thousand light years away. This begins the story proper. We see him traversing through an alien wasteland with headphones around his noggin and a tape deck attached to his waist. He dances through this hostile wilderness to the beat of Redbone’s 1974 hit single Come and Get Your Love. This lets the audience know exactly what we’re in for, both in terms of tone and character. It’s up beat, it’s funny, its irreverent, it has no desire to dwell on the dourness of the last scene, and it shows you just how much care and attention went into the sound track. But most importantly, it’s unconventional and just a little nuts. A perfect taster for the insanity to come.
The part of Quill is played with a cheeky boyhood glee by Chris Pratt. His Quill is caught in a state of perpetual arrested development. He’s still the kid he was in the 1980’s, but now he’s got a smile on his face that says he can’t quite believe he’s spent the last twenty years living the life of every space adventurer that he read about in the pages Heavy Metal magazine.
While on this planet he’s after a particular artefact, one sought after by every cutthroat in the Galaxy. One such cutthroat is Zoe Saldana’s Gamora. Along with Karen Gillan’s Nebula she’s a daughter of Thanos (mega Marvel supervillain) and a ruthless killing machine. She’s been loaned out to Ronan the Accusor, a villain that reminded me of Thor 2’s Malekith, only if there were any danger of the audience remembering who he was when they left the theatre.
Marvel don’t make the same mistakes here as they sometime do with their other bad guys. He has face time with heroes and creates a connection with them, increasing both his threat and antagonising the audience. Too often the MCU keep the villains lurking in the shadows as an idea rather than a real menace. It ups the level of mystery and gives the heroes more screen time but can deprive the film’s climax of drama.
While Gamora is pursuing Star-lord, she runs into competition from Rocket and Groot. Rocket is a genetically engineered Raccoon with a penchant for weapons of mass destruction. He holds a very important role within the group. He brings them (and the audience) back to reality. No matter how high the stakes get (and they are arguably higher here than in any other Marvel movie), Rocket is there to remind us all that we are supposed to be having dumb fun. Moments when he breaks the stoic reverence the other characters give to these ridiculous situations are some of the funniest in the film.
Groot is a tree. Granted he’s a tree that can take down an entire platoon of Ronan’s henchmen with a grin like a child scoring his first penalty, but he’s still a tree. Vin Diesel gives a performance with only three words and shows you the versatility of the human voice by conveying a wide variety of sentiments and emotions with them. In many ways he’s even more human than Quill.
Groot is a prime example of how seriously the filmmakers take their characters. Groot has more character development than nine out of ten big blockbuster characters this year. You can feel all the time and effort that went into making all of the characters within the film feel different and memorable. Peter Serafinowicz’s character has two lines, no name and still manages to stand out in this carousel of freak show attractions.
Special mention in this category goes to Michael Rooker’s Yondu. Yondu perfectly encapsulates what director James Gunn brings to the project. He doesn’t neglect anyone or anything. Nothing gets lost in the shuffle. Do you remember the other Asgardian’s in the Thor films or Captain America’s team in The First Avenger? You would if James Gunn had been directing them. Yondu is true to the orginal comics, colourful, distinct and has memorable scenes and lines. It’s this level of characterisation that characters like Buckey Barnes and Sif deserved.
Take Drax, for example, the final member of the team they meet in prison. Under any other writer he would be a standard tough guy, dumb and angry. He’s both of those things, sure, but here he is so much more. One of the funniest guys in the film with some of the best lines, he has a dead pan humour and everyman charm that gives his character a depth that other screenwriters wouldn’t have bothered with.
It’s this level of complexity that makes this film a great one while other Marvel films (Avengers excluded) are merely good. When this much care has been taken in every aspect of the films development and shooting, from the soundtrack to the costumes, you make a film that is not guaranteed to make any money, but, sure as hell, it will be loved.