Saving the world doesn’t have to be a serious business. There is a place for ‘dark knights’ and sullen ‘men of steel’, but it’s a very shadowy one, somewhere on the Warner Bros backlot where you wouldn’t want your children to venture. Disney are going a different way with their Marvel properties, namely Iron Man, Thor, Avengers Assemble and this summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy, keeping in mind that comic books were always intended, first and foremost, for kids.
That’s not to say parents won’t have a blast as well. In fact, this is perfectly crafted family fun – Disney doing what it does best. It’s not as super slick as Iron Man and co, but being a little softer around the edges means that it’s all-embracing. With no fancy armour or obvious superpowers, Chris Pratt is starting from zero to achieve hero status. He calls himself “Star Lord”, this petty thief whose actual name is Peter Quill, and he’s relentlessly chirpy despite being chased across the galaxy for an all-powerful orb. It’s his knack for understatement that frequently brings the aerial action back down to earth with a comical bump.
Pratt neatly marries comedy and machismo and he has a wide array of ‘straight men’ to bounce off, none better than a walking lump of wood. No, seriously. Vin Diesel picks up the easiest pay cheque (and cheapest laughs) voicing a humanoid tree who can only utter the words, “I am Groot”. Bradley Cooper talks circles around him, brilliantly voicing a wisecracking racoon who might otherwise be found in a ‘friends of the forest’ type Disney animation. After a run-in with the law, they all band together with David Bautista, playing a meat-headed alien who takes the one-liners too literally, and Zoe Saldana as the requisite kick-ass female for the post ‘girl power’ generation.
With the exception of Saldana, these guardians of our galaxy are, frankly, a bunch of clowns – although, she is caked in green makeup so it’s tough to take her seriously when she warns that Ronan (a hooded Lee Pace) has plans to pinch the orb and destroy the universe. Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan is another bad egg; bad enough that she’s turned blue in the face. The characters are so colourful they’ll make your eyes pop. Up-and-coming writer/director James Gunn takes that psychedelic, retro look through into the set design – though each planet has its own unique markers – and he succeeds in creating a richly diverse galaxy, like a giant, cosmic bag of M&Ms. Or Revels, because you occasionally get a nasty, coffee flavoured one.
For all the sweetness and light, Gunn can also ignite an air of menace. Gillan and Pace are suitably steely-eyed, never stopping to try and justify their evildoings (like the sort of terrorist you might find in a Christopher Nolan film). They just like to blow stuff up, okay? The bigger the better for your 3D viewing pleasure. The action is fast, fun and flashy; however, this being an upbeat Technicolor affair, there’s never a great sense of peril. Peter risks life and limb for an antique Walkman (plus 70s mixtape) and he doesn’t even flinch. In case you had forgotten, this is a Disney film where people get hurt but nobody bleeds and the ultimate goal is friendship. Yes, some of us have blue faces, some of us, green, but evidently we can all still join hands around the galaxy and dance to disco hits from the 1970s. You see, this space caper has its head in the clouds and its tongue, firmly in cheek.