I saw Guardians of the Galaxy last weekend (I’ve been a little busy since then), and it might be my favorite movie of the year. There’s still a lot of time left, and I’d need more reflection on the matter to be certain, possibly even another viewing, but I think that gives an idea of how much I liked it.
I had a lot of different thoughts about the movie, and my original article was just going to be those different points just sort of conglomerated under one umbrella post. However, looking over them, I think I noticed a common thread of sorts on the things I wanted to comment on: a lot of Guardians runs counter to the other superhero movies of today, Marvel or otherwise.
One of the first things is just how straightforward everything is. Mind you, there’s a lot going on, a lot of characters, and so on, but everything is pretty much exactly as you would think. There are no hidden motivations, betrayals, badly concealed secrets for the purpose of drama, or anything of the sort. It’s actually a little refreshing, especially in a time when superhero movies and other blockbusters (and heck, even Disney movies) regularly come with surprise twists in their narratives. Think Iron Man 3’s secret mastermind, or Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s political backstabbing, or in less well-executed cases, Amazing Spider-Man 2’s Oscorp that secretly controls everything it isn’t trying to backstab (to keep it to just comic book movies).
Speaking of straightforward things, Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser is easily Marvel’s least likeable villain yet, and it’s fantastic (a side note: I discovered there’s almost no word to compliment an actor for playing a villain so well that you can’t help but hate them without sounding like you hated the actor’s performance). I feel like this is something Marvel hasn’t really tried yet, for some reason. I keep running through their films in my head, and all of the villains either conceal their motives and have to appear likeable for the first act or two (the Obadiah Stane model) or are charming or hilarious in some way (the Loki/Trevor Slattery model). Ronan in Guardians is just flat out intense, and it makes for a very cathartic moment when he’s finally overcome at the end.
I don’t think any non-X-Men super hero movie has tried to dump this many characters on viewers, but it works here; plus, I love more ensemble-type films, so it’s even better. For anyone who still complains about too many villains (or characters, for that matter), let this serve as an example of how you do it. Actually, I feel like this applies for plotlines in general, since so many films try to bite off too much. Keep everything related to the main idea and you’re fine.
Also for the abundance of characters, Guardians might be the best superhero team movie, and as a self-described lover of ensembles, this makes me happy. Few other movies have even attempted something on this scale, and even fewer pull it off. I might even give it the edge over The Avengers and X-Men: First Class (Guardian’s competition in this regard) if only because those two had six and four movies, respectively, to set their ensembles up. Each character gets their moments of development and heroism and backstory. It gives the film a rich feel to it.
But aside from the bigger things, Guardians of the Galaxy just gets the smaller things right as well. There is not much of a love story, so to speak. Gamora isn’t just there to become Peter Quill’s girlfriend at the end; if they end up together at all, it’s entirely in subtext that I missed and/or forgot. The only time it’s explicitly addressed is Gamora shooting down his attempts at seduction for comedic effect. The movie is first and foremost about the camaraderie of the team.
And then there’s the team actually saving the people threatened by Ronan’s rampage. Like other movies, there’s a lot of destruction in his wake. Like in The Avengers, though, the writers actually make sure to assuage any worries about collateral damage. I remember feeling uncomfortable in Star Trek: Into Darkness when massive spaceships crash into futuristic San Francisco; surely there were massive casualties? And yet, no one seemed to react on screen to something that just leveled one of the largest cities in America. I haven’t seen Man of Steel, but I’ve heard several similar complaints from friends.
Guardians actually does include a spaceship drop onto a city, like Into Darkness. Instead, though, the Guardians pass along a warning to the city ahead of time, granting them time to evacuate and avoiding this dissonance. Later on, a Nova Corps officer passes along his thanks, saying the team is “the reason his family is alive” and further driving home the point. Something this simple is all it takes to show that your heroes can do heroic things. You don’t have to show them saving everyone one-by-one; just make some effort and audiences can figure out the rest.
Maybe that was an advantage that Guardians had over those other films, though. Everyone knows that Spider-Man/Superman/the crew of the Enterprise are the heroes, which makes it easy to become lazy and forget that they need to occasionally give us reasons to care about them, or do things to earn the hero title. Meanwhile, the James Gunn and Nicole Perlman couldn’t bank on any prior knowledge of the Guardians characters, forcing them to give us reasons to care about them and root for them. Whatever it is, it works.
I don’t know how much more I can say about this to show my love of it, so I’ll just close it like this. I loved the mixtape idea running through the film, and I’m not sure that I’ve seen superhero movie rely on pop songs like this. But it adds into one of my favorite scenes ever (not just of comic book movies), the title scene. Star Lord surveying a desolate planet in search of treasure, only to bust out his Walkman and burst into song and dance for Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love”. Everything about it works, the beautiful alien landscape, the song, the goofy and loveable explorer jamming to his favorite song in a way that I recognize. Everything about it adds together into a feeling of pure joy.