It seems that every summer since Iron Man (2008), Marvel Studios has been making sure to bring us more and more pieces of their cinematic universe, slowly building the massive, diverse world that longtime comic book fans are used to, and with this years Guardians of the Galaxy, we see a huge step towards that expansion.
So far, we’ve had every single Marvel Studios flick be a piece of the larger Avengers story, with each major team member getting their own fleshed out movie that adds up to their part in the final team up. It was a brilliant way to make a team movie feel more balanced, the characters more meaningful and less cheated out of screen time. After all, if you watch The Avengers and want to see more of a given character, you can just watch their own movie. The point is, all the Marvel Studios have taken place on earth, with earthbound crime fighters, such as Captain America in Marvel’s other fantastic entry to their saga this year.
Guardians of the Galaxy breaks that earthbound pattern and takes the franchise to the outer limits of the cosmos, starting the introduction of characters, ideas, and concepts that will only make everything in these movies more rich and fleshed out. As a Marvel Comics fan, Guardians was one of the movies on their list for recent times that excited me most because of this, and I can happily say that the finished product is everything I was expecting and more.
Let’s start with the humor and overall feel of the movie. Marvel has a great strategy in making their own movies seem so varied and unique from one another, with the Winter Soldier feeling more like a fast paced thriller and action film, Guardians is a totally different feel to keep audiences from tiring of the Marvel universe on-screen. It is a contender for funniest Marvel Studios film yet, with laser fast one liners, sight gags, running jokes, and moments of random stupidity all well-balanced with a great cast of characters.
That’s the strongest point about it: the characters. Marvel has always been more about its characters than the complexity of its plots and story-lines, and that’s okay. When they’re represented right, their characters are so damn good. We see that in Guardians, an obscure team dating back to the late 60’s who were given a major overhaul in 2008 by writers Andy Lanning and Dan Abnett. Lanning and Abnett’s run was praised for being funny and not overly serious, while still maintaining complex characters and exciting situations. This perfectly sums up the movie also. The movie not only manages to balance comedy and drama well, but often does it impressively in the same scene, with the dialogue smoothly ping-ponging between tense to hilarious without seeming forced or like to much to process.
It’s true that the team is somewhat slimmed down from the comics, but movies are a different format and the film is busy enough as it is with the fantastic performances, costumes, and writing of the characters we do see. The movie manages to give us a feel for who these characters are in a very short amount of time, but it still doesn’t feel rushed. If I had to sum it up, I would say that the heart behind this is very obvious and evident, these characters aren’t as large of pop culture forces as the X-Men, or Spider-Man, and they don’t even try to make them into that with this movie. It revels in their obscurity, proudly addressing the idea that while The Avengers are the main stars of the show on earth, there’s a weird team whose members include a talking tree and raccoon somewhere out in the deep reaches of space that did just as much good as they did, they just aren’t as organized or recognized for it.
The largest criticism I would have for Guardians would be the villain, and the conflict surrounding him wasn’t really expanded upon that much. This sort of makes the main storyline seem a bit generic, and the villain as well by extension. Like I said earlier, the main characters are so strong, their interactions so engaging, that even though the plot is average or slightly above, I don’t think it affects the overall enjoyment of the movie. Knowing Marvel history and storylines will help you understand how big of a deal characters like Ronan the Accuser are, the nature of the Kree/Skrull war and how the Xandarians factor into it. It could easily pass you by in this film if you don’t know it that well, with you the viewer seeing Ronan and the alien races as fairly generic. I will say that this criticism might definitely be addressed with future Marvel Studios movies, they’re only just starting to branch out into the cosmic part of Marvel, and future movies would be able to show more and more.
Guardians is an excellent example of what a summer popcorn movie should be. Yes its loud and fun with great special effects, but behind that there are real, relate-able characters. Great performances, and a feeling that the cast and crew really believed in what they were creating, instead of it just being an empty cash in. If Marvel Studios continues developing a mini-franchise of Guardians within their current universe, the next crop of Star Wars movies have their work cut out for them. I have nothing but praise for Marvel being daring enough to use characters that aren’t as standard, didn’t have a mainstream representation, and are very offbeat. So to reference the movie’s excellent retro soundtrack, when it comes to the horizon of Marvel Studios films, it looks like things are only going to get brighter.