Something is happening with the Marvel franchise. After years of stifling unoriginality and repetitiveness, ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ came completely out of nowhere as a terrific action film mixed with the spy thrillers of the 70s that played against what we’d come to expect from Marvel. It was nothing however compared to what they delivered next: going back to what made the studio in the first place by taking an unknown comic series and turning it into something spectacular. Before this year, the public at large had never heard of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’. That changed completely when they hit the big screen.
The Guardians in question are a team of criminals from different intergalactic backgrounds pulled together to save the universe. There’s Star Lord, aka Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a human with a thing for 70s pop tunes; green-skinned Gamora (Zoe Saldana), an assassin with possible anterior motives; Drax (Dave Bautista), an muscled alien seeking revenge for the death of his family; Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a raccoon-machine hybrid with a bad attitude; and Groot (Vin Diesel), a tree-like creature whose only words are ‘I am Groot’. You couldn’t find a more rag-tag team, and that quality permeates every frame of James Gunn’s joyous film. While other Marvel films (and most superhero films these days) take themselves very seriously, ‘Guardians’ is an all-out space-opera adventure comedy bubbling with irreverence and pop culture riffing. It all feels very familiar, but this is exactly the point, the film following the structure and style of the great adventure films of the 80s and 90s, all the while driven by stunning visuals and a terrific sense of fun. Gunn approaches the material with great affection but a lot of daring, helping an audience unfamiliar with these characters fall head-over-heels in love with them. The Guardians are crass, unprofessional and almost completely incapable of working together, but what we find amidst the comedy is tremendous heart. In fact, the greatest surprise about ‘Guardians’, and something Marvel has never been able to find before in their films, is a genuine emotional core. These characters might not care in the slightest what you think of them, but you can’t help but care about them, helped immensely by terrific performances from all five of the Guardians, even those made entirely of pixels.
In almost every way (its villains could do with a bit more of a kick), ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ is exactly what the superhero genre has been missing of late. It balances tremendous technical skill with genuine entertainment that never goes for the cheap shot, and all at a breezy two hours. And it doesn’t end with the kind of dumb post-credits scene that reduces it to nothing but a trailer for another film years away. ‘Guardians’ feels like a film we’ve seen many times before, but this exactly what makes it work. It’s pretty much the closest you’ll get to snuggling under your 80s-themed bedcovers and becoming a kid again.
PICTURE & SOUND
Of course ‘Guardians’ gets top marks for video and audio on Blu-ray. Its 1080p 2.35:1 transfer brings the vibrant colours and details of the film to life with stunning clarity, giving you another chance to take in its rich visual landscape. Colour is especially important in ‘Guardians’. James Gunn wanting to return the opulent style of classic space operas to modern sci-fi, and the high definition image replicates that beautifully. We also have a thunderous DTS-HD MA 7.1 track that captures the bustling aural world of the film.
In almost every way, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ is exactly what the superhero genre has been missing of late.
What we have here is pretty much a checklist of Marvel Blu-ray Extras. We have a few making-of featurettes, a few forgettable deleted scenes and a gag reel. It’s all vaguely interesting, especially a discussion of the design of the film, but a proper making-of documentary would have been very welcome. We do get a lively audio commentary from Gunn that provides a lot of background on the film. Lastly, there’s a forgettable preview of ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ that just talks about how loud it is and how many things are blown up. Ah well, at least ‘Guardians’ is a great film.