Comic book adventure Guardians of the Galaxy is full of comic twists.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (12A)
From its visually stunning opening set to the funky strains of Come And Get Your Love by Native American rock band Redbone, Guardians Of The Galaxy lends the Marvel Comics big screen universe a delightful retro twang.
The sardonic anti-hero is seldom parted from his Walkman and he inspires his cohorts to greatness with repeated references to Kevin Bacon and Footloose.
As the slick special effects attest, the budget for this intergalactic romp is big – so too are the laughs courtesy of director James Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman.
The opening sequence affectionately nods to Raiders Of The Lost Ark and when the mystery surrounding the film’s fabled treasure is revealed, the space cowboy casually notes the trinket has “a shiny suitcase, Ark of the Covenant, Maltese Falcon vibe”.
Gunn doesn’t skimp on the spectacle – if anything, a couple of the outlandish set pieces are too long – but he adds a comic twist to each deafening blast of pyrotechnics.
Thus a centrepiece prison break is underscored by Rupert Holmes’ 1979 hit Escape (The Pina Colada Song) and when the anti-hero barely escapes death in his spaceship and an extra-terrestrial girlfriend stumbles up from the hold, he looks at her with embarrassment and confesses, “I’m going to be honest with you. I forgot you were here.”
Abducted from his parents as a child and raised by thieves led by blue-skinned tyrant Yondu (Michael Rooker), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a thief for hire, who steals a mystical orb sought by sadistic warlord Ronan (Lee Pace) and his army of Sakaarans.
Peter evades Ronan’s clutches and eventually aligns himself with a motley crew of mercenaries comprising green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), genetically engineered raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), his tree-like sidekick Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and vengeance-seeking warrior Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), whose entire family was slaughtered by Ronan.
When Peter learns the orb is an ancient artefact with the power to destroy the universe, he must put selfish desires to one side to repel Ronan and his underlings, including fearsome intergalactic hunter Korath (Djimon Hounsou).
Guardians Of The Galaxy is a blast.
Pratt brings swagger and dry wit to his emotionally wounded hero, while Saldana adds sass and sex appeal to her otherworldly assassin.
Bautista is marvellous as the hulk who takes everything literally – “Nothing goes over my head, my reflexes are too fast” – but almost every scene is stolen by the computer-generated double-act of Rocket and Groot.
Cooper voices his feisty gun-toting fur ball with a wonderful blend of defiance and sarcasm, and breaks our hearts when it seems that he might be separated from his beloved sidekick forever.
Cameos from Benicio Del Toro and Glenn Close hint at a wider canvas of political intrigue that director Gunn will be keen to explore in a sequel star-dated for release in 2017.
THE NUT JOB (U)
All of the hastily sketched characters in Peter Lepeniotis’ 1950s-set computer-animated adventure go nuts at some point during the poorly paced proceedings.
A money-grabbing ex-con goes gaga at the sight of rats, a pet pug is driven barking mad by her owner’s repeated use of a silver dog whistle, a girl scout whoops with maniacal glee as a runaway food cart careens into oncoming traffic, and an army of woodland critters loosen their tenuous grasp on civility when they stumble upon a horde of cashews, pistachios, macadamias and walnuts.
Protagonists of the two-legged and four-legged persuasions in The Nut Job might be bright-eyed and – in the case of the squirrels – bushy-tailed but most of Lepeniotis and co-writer Lorne Cameron’s script feels tired.
The narrative lacks fluidity, most of the animals don’t exist beyond a single personality trait and there’s a palpable absence of jeopardy during a centrepiece bank heist.
References to a certain foodstuff are sprinkled liberally throughout the dialogue – “We found it: the Lost City of Nutlantis!” – so any parents who wake suddenly from a sneaky power-nap in the dark are soon reminded where they are.
Raccoon (voiced by Liam Neeson) and his red bird sidekick Cardinal preside over the animal denizens of Liberty Park in the sprawling metropolis of Oakton City.
Winter is fast approaching, so every groundhog, squirrel, mouse and mole gathers supplies to add to the food store in the trunk of the great oak.
Everyone except for mischievous squirrel Surly (Will Arnett), who has always ploughed a lone furrow.
“I’m independent, which means ‘looking out for number one’,” Surly reminds fellow squirrels Andie (Katherine Heigl) and Grayson (Brendan Fraser).
When a raid on a food cart goes disastrously wrong, Surly is banished to the city by the other animals.
The ravenous rodent stumbles upon a store selling nuts and plots a daring heist with trusty rat pal, Buddy (Rob Tinkler).
Little does Surly know that the new owner of the store, King (Stephen Lang), is the leader of a gang of robbers, who intend to tunnel from the shop’s basement to First Oakton Bank and plunder the vault.
The Nut Job orchestrates some pleasing slapstick and visuals are colourful, including a couple of sprightly chases, but Lepeniotis’ film doesn’t justify a release on the big screen rather than a debut on home formats.
Vocal performances raise a smile, but little more, and the squirrelly love triangle involving Surly, Andie and Grayson is clumsily contrived.
Neeson uses his trademark growl to lend an air of menace to the dictatorial raccoon, who believes, “animals are controlled by the amount of food they have”.
Pickings are certainly slim here.