This month has seen the latest Marvel Comic franchise hit the big screen with Guardians of the Galaxy. Comic books normally translate about as well as that fake signer at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, so as a Guardians fan I was pleasantly surprised to be charmed with Marvel’s new offering.
The plot is relatively straightforward, and pretty much follows the ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ template: a bunch of intergalactic characters are thrown into a situation whereby they must work together to save the universe from a fascist overlord who is hell bent on destroying planets.
Played by Lee Pace, the fascist overlord takes the shape of Ronan the Accuser, and represents my only real gripe with the entire film. Ronan is angered by a peace treaty between his own kind, the Kree, and the planet Xandar. He goes rogue, and then decides to destroy the planet.
There’s just not enough justification for this apart from the fact that Ronan is a kind of religious fanatic who obviously wants to destroy the planet of Xandar because its inhabitants dress like new romantics.
Ronan spends just about the entire film sitting on an imperial throne inside a sweet wrapper-shaped space ship and growling commands in old-testament terminology. After a while it becomes almost impossible to imagine him anywhere else, giving him a somewhat impotent feel.
I think the problem may be the Disney factor. If you’re aiming a film at a young audience then logic will tell you that your bad guy has to be ludicrously evil, but somewhere between its retro seventies soundtrack, ironic characters, and death by giant hammers, Guardians of the Galaxy clearly isn’t trying to be a children’s film, so it shouldn’t shy away from giving us a legitimate antagonist for fear of alienating its younger viewers.
Watchmen got this right. We were presented with an enigmatic murderous antagonist and a messianic good guy, yet by the end of the film the bad guy’s ends arguably justify the means. As an audience we’re given the chance to look back at the narrative and make an informed decision as to how we feel. Debate even.
When you have some guy running around trying to destroy planets with a giant hammer, this character essentially paints the entire narrative into a corner. The other characters are unable to develop the layers needed for an audience to really fall for them because they’re unable to act independently of the guy running around trying to destroy planets with a giant hammer.
To have such a one-dimensional bad guy really stood out in a film which always seemed aware not only of itself, but of the flops which have preceded it. Chris Pratt who plays Peter Quill is just about as likeable as they come, and takes on the honor-less yet charming Han Solo role. His character is genuinely funny and is engaging enough to invest in. He has grown up in an environment where interstellar travel is possible, Glen Close is Margaret Thatcher, and where everyday you mix with a whole host of humanoid species living in the severed head of an ancient celestial being.
To say the least it’s been character building for Quill, and the result is a multi- faceted character with some depth. Played expertly by WWE’s Dave Bautista, Drax the Destroyer offers a lot of comic relief and appears to be a parody of one-dimensional sci-fi characters.
Drax has one aim, and that is to kill Ronan in order to avenge the death of his family, even if it’s at the expense of any shred of common sense, or discernible plan.
Bradley Cooper voices genetically engineered raccoon, Rocket. Rocket is part of a growing trend of cute mammals inhabited by the essence of Joe Pesci, and for now it works. Rocket delivers a lot of interesting dialogue, and is a good guide as to how the universe works. The jokes come thick and fast with Rocket, but for the most part they’re erratic and unpredictable. At one point he convinces Quill to acquire him a prosthetic leg just to see if he’ll do it.
All in all, Guardians of the Galaxy is a very enjoyable film with great visuals. I just hope that by the sequel they’ll sort out their bad-guy issues.