Guardians of the Galaxy ★★★½

The fanboy hype surrounding Guardians of the Galaxy has been such that I've avoided seeing the film for as long as I dare. My partner and I went to a 7.30 pm screening and I was surprised to see the cinema fill up considering the film is so late along in its theatrical run. The film starts in the most surprisingly unlikely of places: the cancer ward of a hospital where a young boy prefers to listen to his Walkman than deal with the trauma of losing his ailing mother. The cardiograph flatlines and the boy runs out of the hospital and outside into the night when suddenly ... something quite (un)predictable happens.

There are other even more predictable moments in this latest Marvel offering: the Guardians shift from being dysfunctional ragtags to a tight-knit team, an evil villain's omnipotence seems unstoppable, the Guardians decide they are willing to die in order to stop the evil and of course they succeed, but only after their resolve is thoroughly tested. It's all classic heroes journey stuff that in the last ten years especially has become dry and formulaic. Indeed, it seems like pretty much every so-called blockbuster coming out of Hollywood that slavishly employs Joseph Campbell's monomyth structure is dull and unconvincing. Not so with Guardians of the Galaxy. Immediately after the predictable scene outside the hospital, all bets are off. The humour comes thick and fast and refuses to pander to the lowest common denominator. My partner wondered if this was one of the reasons why we, and a guy sitting a couple of rows in front to our right, were the only ones in the theatre consistently laughing at a lot of the genuinely funny and surprisingly risqué jokes being churned out thick and fast. The Jackson Pollock crack was hilarious ... and very naughty.

Throughout the expository sections of the film, I wondered what I was in for as everything seemed to be happening so quickly, but this actually added to the humorous pace of the film and was understandably condensed as there is a lot of plot to get through. The nostalgic pop songs added a surreal joy to the film for baby boomers and Gen Xers that reminded me of Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs which likewise uses a retro score in defiance of the conventions of the caper genre. In both films, the juxtaposition really works. In Guardians of the Galaxy, it actually enhances the film's affection for the joie de vivre captured in '80s fantasy and science fiction films in the immediate post-Star Wars era when American cynicism went on holidays. Groot, voiced by The Iron Giant himself, ends up being one of the most joyous and dynamic characters, demonstrating Vin Diesel's capacity to do much more than drive fast.

Overall Guardians is an entertaining and very funny addition to the growing Marvel universe and with the canny addition of just a couple of quick shots, slots nicely into the same universe occupied by The Avengers.