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My stuff and your stuff: I write books, produce music, rant a bit, and in the meantime review things other people have done. With words.

David Kimberley marvels at the movies…

 

Whenever I see the flickering Marvel logo at the start of a movie now, I know that the next two or so hours will be a visual bombardment of amazing special effects and jaw-dropping action sequences. The team at Marvel must be rubbing their hands together as more studios become interested in their franchises, whether it be to offer up another sequel or to focus on one of the myriad heroes yet to make it to the silver screen. Seventy-six years after Marvel was founded, it seems they can do no wrong.

 

With the movies being churned out at a remarkable pace, one of the latest to grace our screens is Guardians of the Galaxy, a science-fiction epic based on a comic that first appeared in 1969 and which boasts the most entertaining group of characters thrown together since…well, ever.

 

Focusing on the team Marvel created in 2008 to replace the 1969 characters, the movie follows Peter Quill, a human kidnapped by aliens when he was a child, who is now trying to get himself known as outlaw Starlord. When he finds a powerful orb that holds the key to destroying the galaxy, he is suddenly thrown together with assassin Gamora, vengeance-driven Drax, genetically engineered raccoon Rocket (yes, a raccoon!) and the plant-like Groot in prison but, when the group escape and ultimately lose the orb to hammy villain Ronan, they work to stop the maniac from destroying planet Xandar.

 

Despite the odd plot, this is pure sci-fi at its best and you will find it hard not to be drawn in. The visuals manage to blow away previous Marvel movies and the humorous dialogue between characters is well-scripted and delivered with gusto by Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista and Bradley Cooper’s Rocket. Even Vin Diesel’s Groot manages to induce laughs via the delivery of the only three words he can say.

 

The action sequences are slick and sometimes jaw-dropping, showing you just how far special effects have come in the last decade. Go back to 2005 and Marvel movies hitting the big screen included Fantastic Four, Spider-Man 2 and Elektra (two of these failing badly at the box office). The X-Men series was in full flow, with The Last Stand about to come out and wow audiences and Ghost Rider…well, let’s not go down that road! The point is that, if you were to watch the original X-Men trilogy now for example, the special effects are great but certainly do not look as polished as those in GOTG. Hard to imagine how they can get much better.

 

Lots of positive remarks about GOTG then, but there always has to be something that niggles at you after watching a movie and makes you think ‘It would have been perfect if…’ In this instance, it is the bad guys. Other Marvel villains include such memorable characters as Doc Oc, Magneto and Loki. In GOTG, villain Ronan pouts like a scolded child and pulls hissy fits when he doesn’t get his own way.

 

Overlord Thanos (who made a cameo post-credits in Avengers Assemble) merely spends his limited screen time glaring and swivelling on his fancy throne. Both these so-called villains are outshone by Nebula (played by Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan) who understands that actions speak louder than words when being a good baddie.

 

A special mention has to go to the soundtrack. As soon as Quill starts dancing his way through the opening credits to the beat of Redbone’s Come and Get Your Love, you know the music is going to live up to the title on his 80s cassette – Awesome Mix Vol. 1. The blend of nostalgic and new-age tunes works to great effect. While the visuals treat your eyes, the soundtrack definitely makes sure your ears don’t feel left out.

 

There have been over 40 movies (so far) based on characters from the Marvel universe, not including the 1944 version of Captain America, and now several TV shows too. Surprisingly, the whole franchise began with a long-forgotten movie co-produced by Lucasfilm in 1986, following the exploits of one Howard the Duck who has since been absent until a bizarre cameo in GOTG.

 

Howard was followed in 1989 by the first outing for The Punisher but even the presence of (ahem) Dolph Lundgren couldn’t save it from quickly being swept under the huge carpets of Marvel HQ. After an attempt to get Captain America back into the hearts of movie-goers in 1990 and a Fantastic Four effort in 1994 that was promptly pulled before release, it seemed as though perhaps Marvel was barking up the wrong tree.

 

However, 1998 saw the release of Blade (not widely known as being a Marvel character) and, at the time, Wesley Snipes could do no wrong so it became the first success for the studio. Despite an unsuccessful attempt by Blade’s original creator to sue Marvel, the vampire hunter went on to make two more in the series.

 

It was 2000 though when they truly kicked into gear, as the X-Men franchise arrived, produced by big-hitters 20th Century Fox. From then on, Marvel Studios began churning out two or three movies per year. Some hit the mark and of course some missed badly (yes, we’re looking at you again Ghost Rider) but what was not in doubt was their intent to keep the Marvel candle burning for as long as possible. When a title doesn’t receive a fantastic reception, the studio merely shrug it off now and look to one of their other characters.

 

If Marvel’s movie pipeline keeps producing gems like GOTG, the future is bright for comic-book crossovers.