Overview: A group of assholes come together to save the galaxy and a talking tree will make you cry. Walt Disney Studio Motion Pictures; Rated PG-13; 122 minutes.
The Marvel Formula: I’m a constant defender of the recent explosion in Superhero movies but I have to be honest; if not for Marvel Studios’ approach to the genre, I would be far less optimistic. With a handful of exceptions, other superhero franchises are stuck in “superhero” business, not understanding that this is a genre in which anything is possible. Marvel has taken full advantage with that by making a superhero political thriller and a space opera in the same year. That’s worthy of praise on its own right. The fact that both films raised the bar of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe is deserving of a standing ovation.
Why I’m Hooked On A Feeling: Minus the use of another MacGuffin, Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t feel like traditional Marvel fare. It is, first and foremost, a James Gunn movie. It follows the footsteps of Iron Man 3 and The Avengers having the stylizings of the respective director. There are plot elements and characters that are obviously being set up for future films in the franchise (How cool was that Thanos scene?) but this movie tells a complete story.
This story of five a-holes coming together to save the galaxy is far more emotional than I ever expected. The cold open had me in tears before switching to Chris Pratt, who gives a performance so good, he immediately deserves head-to-head with RDJ or Chris Evans. As a fan of Gunn’s previous movies, it’s clear the man loves his tonal shifts. He uses them to help his narrative feel fresh and in constant motion. When you think you’ve understood a familiar emotional beat between Peter Quill and Gamora, the characters take a left turn with humor and subvert the expected dramatic trope.
Gunn’s hilarious tonal shifts also work because it’s all grounded in character. Peter Quill has what it takes to be a hero but he’s also an idiot. Drax is an unstoppable killing machine but he can’t understand metaphors. Gamora is a hardened assassin with a heart of gold who has no understanding of Quill’s Earth references. Groot is basically a giant dog who loves his friends and will kill anybody who tries to hurt them. Rocket hides his anger issues under vulgar jokes.
What A Bunch Of A-Holes: That’s the sad truth to these characters: they’re broken people, losers (You know, folks who have lost stuff?). Through all their fighting, with each other and the villains, there’s a sense that these outcasts have finally found a place of belonging. When the Guardians face down the chief villain of the film, Ronan the Accuser, they’ve all got reasons for being there. There’s no loose ends. They’re willing to sacrifice their lives for their new-found purpose. They’re willing to give a shit.
Final Thoughts:While Gunn’s previous films haven’t been awe-inspiring for their aesthetic elements, Guardians matches a great script with some truly eye-popping visuals. Set designs will feel comfortable and familiar to Serenity fans and space battles haven’t been this much fun since the original Star Wars. If I have an opportunity to rearrange my list of Best Space Adventure Movies, Guardians will rank near the top.
It should be noted that everyone in this movie has the opportunity to steal the show and become your new favorite Marvel character. For me, it fluctuates. Most of the time I end up settling on Drax the Destroyer but there’s no wrong answer (Shout out to Dave Bautista for wicked comedic timing and legitimate character pathos).
Is this the best Marvel movie? I don’t know, but only one movie in the MCU brought me to tears a total of 5 times (If you can guess the scenes, you win a hug at some point in the future).