It’s nice to know that despite the success of The Avengers and the shared cinematic universe as a whole that Marvel are still interested in taking risks. In an age where most movie studios are content to rest on their laurels and produce only the slightest variations on previously successful titles, it is refreshing to see Marvel Studios make something different. And Guardians of the Galaxy is certainly different. Not in the way it was made or really how it feels, because it still at its essence feels like a Marvel movie, but different in the sense that this is only loosely tied to the overarching story that the Avengers has presented thus far.
In broad terms, the potential viewers of the Guardians of the Galaxy fall into two categories. Marvel fans, especially those who have read the comics, will readily accept and hotly anticipate the film. Casual fans on the other hand may be a bit weary simply because Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t have the name value that Iron Man or Captain America does. Those characters had Saturday morning cartoons and have been major characters in the comics so even casual viewers of Marvel films will have likely been exposed to them at some point in their lives. The closest a film in the series comes to being a risk is Thor but even that was for different reasons. People mainly questioned whether they could make the magical god-like being believable in a franchise that thus far had focused mostly on science and technology. The question facing the Guardians of the Galaxy is more accurately ‘who are these guys?’
First and foremost, these guys aren’t exactly superheros. They aren’t even really heroes for the most part. At least in The Avengers you could say Thor and Captain America were heroic. Most of the guardians are mercenaries or out for revenge. Gamora is an alien trained as an assassin by Thanos sent to steal a precious orb in Peter Quill’s possession. Quill is also wanted by a group that he betrayed, so Rocket Racoon and Groot are after his bounty. Drax the Destroyer’s family was killed by Ronan the Accuser for whom Gamora is currently working, which puts them at direct odds. These aren’t just reasons for dysfunction, however. The set up not only brings the group together but by the end actually makes them stronger.
At first glance the guardians are discount versions of The Avengers. Peter Quill, played by Chris Pratt is mostly human but lacking powers, he instead utilises technology that allows him to breathe in space and fly for short bursts. He also sleeps around, makes snappy remarks and references a lot of pop culture. So he’s basically Tony Stark if you take away the money and most of the brains. But he’s also more likeable. There is a reason that Tony Stark is becoming Superior Iron Man in the comics. Quill, or Starlord as he likes to be called, is a scavenger for hire so while he isn’t the most honourable guy in the galaxy he generally does the right thing.
Comparisons could be made for the rest, such as Drax being an amalgamation of the Hulk and Thor (they even changed his skin colour to avoid similarities to Bruce Banner’s angry counterpart) but Guardians of the Galaxy is a much more complete film. The Avengers lost some of its allure if the audience had failed to keep up with the previous instalments of Iron Man, Thor, Captain American and The Hulk. Guardians of the Galaxy introduces the team, builds up the threat and remains entertaining while doing so proving that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a bonus, not a crutch.
All is not well, however. There has been a trend in some of the phase two films where the tension of the story is undercut by moments of inopportune humour. I criticised Iron Man 3 and Thor 2: The Dark World for being too silly at times and Guardians of the Galaxy falls into that same hole a few times. It’s mostly Quill who brings the comedy when it’s not needed. I can understand the reasoning of why the humour crops up but it ends up dragging the film into the realm of self-parody at times. Not as bad as those awful Disaster Movie type parodies but rather like Scary Movie; a light-hearted mocking of it’s own tropes while still being apart of the same genre.
Those moments are few and for the most part the comedy is actually hilarious. Drax, played by Dave Bautista, is especially funny as an alien whose race has no concept of metaphor. It’s a character trait that could have fallen flat but Bautista makes it work and is a surprisingly good actor. Of all the wrestlers who might make good actors he would not have been one I would have picked but I’m more than happy to be wrong. Furthermore, Vin Diesel has more character development as a tree than his character Dominic Toretto experienced in six Fast and Furious films.
Guardians of the Galaxy was always going to be a risk because it ostracised casual fans who have no idea who or what these characters are. A far ballsier move by Marvel is that this film bares only only a fleeting relation to the main franchise. Even the post-credit scene does nothing to build towards The Avengers: Age of Ultron. And yet, the film is so funny and exciting that it easily draws in all viewers.
Despite some minor flaws, it is hard not to like this film because it hits all the right spots that a summer blockbuster should. The story builds nicely, the characters are all well defined, distinctive and developed throughout and none of the conflict feels shoed-in or awkward. Most importantly it avoids being bogged down by the big picture and focuses on just being enjoyable. For a well structured, serious yet enjoyable superhero film take another look at Captain America: The Winter Soldier; for a fun, boisterous film that takes an easy going approach to the destruction of the universe, Guardians of the Galaxy is a must see.