Film (2014). Marvel Studios. Directed by James Gunn. Written by Gunn and Nicole Perlman. Cast includes Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper (voice), Vin Diesel (voice and some motion capture), Karen Gillan, Lee Pace, Chris Pratt, Michael Rooker and Zoe Saldana. 121 minutes. Colour, 3D (converted).
Five outlaws chasing the bounty on a cosmic McGuffin are cheated of the prize and thrown into a space Prison together; when the orb they pursue turns out to be a planet-destroying super-Weapon, they hero up to thwart the genocidal cosmic psychopath (Pace) who seeks to wield it.
A striking departure from earlier films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this was the first film to emerge from Marvel Studios' in-house programme indenturing early-career screenwriters to develop Marvel Comics properties for potential film versions. SF enthusiast Perlman, offered a range of gender-inflected titles, opted instead to develop the low-recognition Guardians, which for most of the title's history had been set in the Far Future, but which had recently emerged from a 2008 reboot with a new lineup in a present-day interstellar setting as part of the cosmic arm of Marvel's main continuity. Perlman's script was passed to other writers, and low-budget veteran Gunn hired to direct; unhappy with the studio drafts, he took over screenplay duties as well. The result is a lavish if lightweight Space Opera in the Star Wars mould, with a stripped-down team of five and a plot which owes little to the comics version and connects only peripherally with the terrestrial arm of the MCU, but which stakes the MCU's claims to more comedic and more cosmic territory than had previously been felt safe. The plot is assembled from standard MCU components (collectible cosmic McGuffin pursuit leading to climactic sky battle), and the film's address to Space Opera is unapologetically backward-looking, action-driven, film-inspired, Spaceship-set, and ironic; the half-Terran hero (Pratt) was abducted by UFO in 1988 and remains comedically frozen in the music and popular culture of that era. Nevertheless, following the exhilarating Wormhole acrobatics of Thor: the Dark World (2013), the film confirmed a decisive end to Marvel's early timidity over the cinematic deployment of its comics canon's interstellar sf canvas, and with the renascent Star Trek and Star Wars series and the Wachowskis' Jupiter Ascending (2015) signalled a revival in studios' appetite for franchised space adventure. (The number of worlds displayed in a single film is the largest since Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith .) Marvel's own confidence in the property was confirmed ahead of release by the preemptive announcement of a 2017 sequel, and subsequently borne out by healthy worldwide box office. The film won both the Nebula award (Ray Bradbury Award) and the Hugo for best dramatic presentation. [NL]
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