Directed by: James Gunn || Produced by: Kevin Feige
Screenplay by: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman || Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro
Music by: Tyler Bates || Cinematography: Ben Davis || Edited by: Craig Wood, Fred Raskin, Hughes Winborne || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 122 minutes
As I’ll further discuss in my larger, multi-part analysis of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU, 2008), the most ridiculous thing about all the hype and hoopla leading up to and immediately following the release of Guardians of the Galaxy is how much we all doubted it. Somehow, for some reason, it became extremely trendy among comic book nerds to downplay the marketing strategy of Marvel Studios and anticipate that, for whatever reason, the MCU must hit their first speed-bump with this “risky” adaptation of a virtually unknown brand. Yeah, that’s right. Everyone thought that the MCU would screw up here, now.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m proud of being more aware of the fickle nature of mainstream pop culture, particularly that of Hollywood culture itself, than the Average Joe or especially the average Marvel nerd. The MCU will taper, lose steam, and eventually die out — most likely due to market over-saturation of the comic book source material in the near future — but that time is not now. Right now, Marvel and their MCU juggarnaut are on the up-swing, both in terms of market sense and in terms of average artistic quality per film. The franchise is still riding high on the smash success of the first Avengers (2012), and that hype has been well sustained by the best film in the series so far, The Winter Soldier (2014). Thinking that their new franchise expansion into the cosmos, Guardians, would be anything but a firm box office success, was simple naivety regarding Marvel’s marketing strategies. Right now, Marvel could sell water to a well.
In any case, thinking that Guardians is a huge leap for the MCU to take or represented a major deviation from the sort of movies they made before is also idiotic. As much as diehards of the comics or newcomers to Marvel’s cosmic legacy will argue the film’s uniqueness or departure from previous Marvel formula, Guardians is the typical Marvel film. The film is itself a microcosm of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe — it’s big, its bright, it’s colorful, it’s full of quirky and funny characters, it’s filled to the brim with CGI, its villain is utterly forgettable, the story and action are relatively consistent despite their generic style, and as always, it hints at a larger filmic universe beyond its central narrative’s borders. Yep, that sounds like a Marvel film alright! The only significant difference between Guardians and the rest of the MCU standalones is that Guardians features a team of minor heroes rather than a single major one.
Moreover, claims to Guardians‘ obscurity in the eyes of the mainstream are valid, but again, that’s not much (if any) change from how the MCU started in the first place. How many people were Iron Man fans before 2008? How many people even knew that Thor was a Marvel superhero property before 2011? No one outside of a comic book shop appreciated the original core Avengers team (and that goes double for Nick Fury, SHIELD, Hawkeye, and Black Widow) before the MCU, and Guardians of the Galaxy is no different.
As far as Marvel movies go, Guardians is above average as far as storytelling, direction, and overall cinematic style are concerned. It’s a consistently entertaining sci-fi/action space-adventure romp in the vein of Star Wars (1977) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), with plenty of spunk, humor, and personality to please both general audiences and genre enthusiasts. I disagree with everyone claiming that it is a new Marvel masterpiece, however.
First and foremost, the MCU hasn’t produced any true cinematic “masterpieces” as of yet, except maybe in a blockbuster sense, and Guardians is nothing new. While all the good things about the MCU that I love are present here in full force, so are the series’ inherent weaknesses. Guardians has well-cast heroes, good humor, and plenty of cool (if over-digitized) visuals and special FX. On the other hand, as expected, the heroes are thinly written, the action is tame, the villain is a throwaway, and the story is at best a cheeky Star Wars-ripoff, and at worst another generic, empty, Hollywood FX-extravaganza.
There’s not much else to discuss about the movie, quite frankly. It’s yet another typical Marvel movie that’s lifted above mediocrity by a great cast and a competent director. The screenplay itself is serviceable but nothing special. As for the much discussed 70’s soundtrack, that too is serviceable but nothing worth shouting about. The only song that’s well used in conjunction with the visuals is the opening song, “Come and Get Your Love,” by Redbone. Every other song feels thrown in randomly for nostalgia purposes and to service the lighthearted, party-feel of the movie. This is no Tarantino-selection.
That’s about all I can and should say about Guardians of the Galaxy. If you’re really into Marvel movies or similar lighthearted, generic action movies, you’ll have a good time with this film. It’s little different than something like the new Star Trek (2009, 2013, 2016) reboots (also Star Wars-knockoffs, for better and worse). If you expect anything more than a consistently entertaining popcorn adventure, you’re not going to find it here. Marvel is just continuing to do what they do best: Oversell generic but well-made action blockbusters to the dimwitted masses. That’s all that Guardians is — no more, no less.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Director James Gunn takes screenwriter James Gunn’s mediocre script and makes it work with colorful visuals, a neat space-opera setting, and a good cast led by a noticeably toned Chris Pratt. Hell, even Michael Rooker shows up and kicks ass. The action isn’t much but it works.
— However… the movie’s visuals are commendable but one-note. Everything looks, feels, and sounds computer-generated, like most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The story as a whole isn’t terribly fascinating beyond its meager space-adventure aspirations. Ronan the Accuser is lame, as are most of the supporting characters. See what an atypical, risky venture this was for Marvel?
? “I am Groot,” does not count as a starring performance, people.