I blame Christopher Nolan.
Don’t get me wrong – I love Christopher Nolan movies and he is one of my favorite directors working today. But ever since he got his hands on the Batman movies and they were so successful, it’s had a ripple effect through the superhero universe. Superhero movies have now almost universally become dark and broody affairs and while that works for Batman and his personality it has kind of sucked all the fun out of the genre. Superhero movies are all beginning to look the same – they are darker, more violent and everything is somber and solemn. Now, I have no problem with dark and broody in and of itself – I practically live in the space of dark and broody – but when that becomes the rule rather than the exception, it can get a little exhausting. I don’t know if I have it in me to watch another city get destroyed and our hero be a tortured guy with a ton of baggage. I mean, Superman is killing people now. Even I, a non-comic book girl, know that is a big deal. There are the occasional moments of comic relief in most superhero films, but that’s just what it is – relief. Relief from the onslaught of very important, joyless action. Superhero movies have mostly stopped being fun; The Avengers was a good time and there is always slightly more humor in Spiderman or Iron Man films, but the Spiderman and Iron Man films also haven’t really been that good in a while. In the wake of the Dark Knight trilogy, almost all superhero franchises have taken a turn to the dark side. There has been no joy in Mudville; in the words of a Nolan creation:
Then along comes Guardians of the Galaxy, the runt of the superhero universe. Casual superhero fans like myself have never even heard of this title and when they first announced that it was being made I figured that this was some sort of experiment – if we picked the weirdest and most obscure property and slap the Marvel name in front of it, will people still go. I guess they figured that they had been so successful in the past that they could take their chances. The folks over at Marvel pretty much run Hollywood now and are playing with house money, so they can afford to try something a little different. I don’t know that they would have predicted that Guardians of the Galaxy was not only the superhero movie that we needed, but the superhero movie that we deserved. Because Guardians of the Galaxy is a breath of fresh air to the comic book universe; it’s a film about superheroes that is *gasp* a ton of fun to watch. It’s funny and charming and entertaining – when you leave the theater you will have a big old grin slapped on your face. When’s the last time that happened after a superhero movie?
Guardians of the Galaxy flips the script; instead of giving us comedic relief from the action, this film gives us action relief from the comedy. Because make no mistake about it, Guardians of the Galaxy is a comedy first and an action movie second. The audience was laughing so hard at points of the movie that you could hear the next few lines. That’s not to say that the action in the film is second rate – it absolutely isn’t. There are some very cool and thrilling sequences that are what you would expect from these types of films. But because they are spaced out in between all the comedy, I think you appreciate them more. You don’t become numb to the action in Guardians of the Galaxy, you look forward to it.
I didn’t know much about Guardians of the Galaxy before the film, but these comics must have been the black sheep of the comic book world. This is a decidedly weird entry in the superhero sweepstakes; it really feels like the brainchild of writers in the 70s who took a lot of acid and thought it would be fun to stick our heroes in space. If you’ve seen the trailers, you know that this is a campy, kitschy and goofy movie – two of the main characters are a talking raccoon and a tree creature – and I was nervous going in that they wouldn’t quite get the tone right. A little weird goes a long way and I feared that they would have trouble striking the right balance. It turns out that James Gunn was the perfect guy to pick to adapt this film, as he found the sweet spot of making a cult movie that has universal appeal.
The plot for Guardians of the Galaxy is exceedingly dense and even after sitting through the film, eyes glued to the screen, I don’t know that I could fully explain everything that was going on. There’s a lot to digest, but mostly it’s all a MacGuffin; it’s the same basic story that everyone wants some magical thing and the good guys have to keep it away from the bad guys or the universe/planet/galaxy/city will be destroyed. Don’t get hung up on the details of it all, because that doesn’t really matter. In this film, our potential saviors are an unlikely band of heroes: Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a small time thief that fancies himself as much more important than he actually is; Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is an alien who had been programmed to be an assassin; Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) is a humorless warrior whose primary purpose is to avenge the death of his family; Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) is a tree creature with a limited vocabulary; and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) is a genetically engineered raccoon who is a mercenary bounty hunter. The five of them meet in prison and find common ground in their desire to stop Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) from destroying the universe, though they all have very different motivations (greed, altruism, revenge). This sounds super serious, but believe me, it is not.
A lot of the credit for the success of Guardians of the Galaxy belongs not only to writer/director Gunn but also to star Chris Pratt. Pratt has enough charm and charisma that you could power a small city if you could harness it and he is perfectly cast in this role. He brings not only the necessary goofiness but the swagger to Quill. In Pratt’s capable hands, Quill is kind of like Hans Solo’s goofy younger brother. He’s just fantastic. I’ve been a fan of Pratt forever from his role on Parks and Recreation and this is the role that may make him a star. The casting in this film is universally great – all of the actors in the major roles do a tremendous job – and I couldn’t really imagine other people playing/voicing these characters. Saldana is always solid and Bautista, who is best known from his work as a professional wrestler, is much better than I would have anticipated. He holds his own with the more experienced actors. Though we never see Bradley Cooper, his voice work provides Rocket with the necessary attitude and personality to make the CGI creation seem real. Honestly, this is the most I’ve enjoyed Cooper in a role in a while – he’s always good, but he gets to have more fun in this role. I continue to be fascinated by Lee Pace’s transformation to playing the villain; while I primarily know him from his work on Pushing Daisies, he’s quietly become the bad guy – first in The Hobbit and now in Guardians of the Galaxy. He’s the most serious character of the bunch, but it provides a nice balance from all the other silliness.
Some other thoughts:
- There are two post movie sequences for Guardians of the Galaxy; one immediately after the movie and one at the very end after all the credits. The first scene was possibly my favorite part of the whole movie. The second is tremendously odd – I’m not even sure if most of the audience I saw the film with even got the reference. They may be too young.
- You’d be forgiven for thinking that this film is going to be another self-serious movie from the first five minutes of the film. So if you are confused at the very beginning, just trust me that you are in for a fun ride for the rest of the film.
- Benicio del Toro, Glenn Close, Michael Rooker and John C. Reilly all turn up in smaller roles. And I didn’t even realize that Karen Gillan was in the movie until after the fact; she’s completely unrecognizable (and bald!).
- Chris Pratt dancing may be my new favorite thing.
- Sounds like there will be an eventual Guardians of the Galaxy/Avengers crossover. I cannot wait!
- Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t necessarily aimed at kids, but I think this is the most family friendly of the recent superhero films. The language is pretty PG (other than one obscene gesture) and the presence of Rocket and Groot helps illustrate that the violence/action is all fantasy.
- Here’s a Guardians of the Galaxy trailer…in LEGOs!
- I wasn’t sure if there would be an earl audience for Guardians, since it is such an unknown quantity to most people, but the film is the biggest August pre-seller in history.
- I’ve already touched on how much I love the music in this movie, but it is deployed perfectly.
- There is going to be a Guardians of the Galaxy animated series. A movie sequel has already been green lit.
- It’s not all laughs in the film, there are also some very sweet moments about friendship.
- If you need a refresher on where Guardians fits in to the larger Marvel universe, here you go.
- Uproxx also put together a non-nerd’s guide to the film.
- I’m really curious how much they paid Vin Diesel to play Groot, but since the character only says four words in the entire film his work day must have been pretty short. Here’s Diesel saying “I am Groot” is a bunch of different languages. And yes – he’s on stilts.
- Reason 5,321,343 that Chris Pratt is the best – he surprised a bunch of kids at a charity screening of the film in New York:
- How much did I enjoy this movie? I may or may not have immediately come home and bought this Groot figure for my desk. (I totally did).
- This movie has a raccoon firing a machine gun. Why am I still trying to convince you to go see this; YOU HAVE ALL THE INFO YOU NEED.
This is easily the most fun that I’ve had at a superhero movie since Avengers. In fact, I kind of want to go see the film again; like, I might go again this evening. It was just so nice to see a superhero movie that knows how to be goofy and tell a fun story. The audience that I went to see it with burst into applause at the end and while I normally think that is hokey, I actually contemplated joining in. I didn’t of course, but the fact that I even thought about it is a major victory. As Vulture so perfectly put it, this film is the class clown of the Marvel universe – and who doesn’t love a class clown? Guardians not only saves the galaxy, but it saved my summer movie season. I’m still smiling about the film 12 hours later.
Guardians of the Galaxy opens nationwide today.