Let’s be upfront about this: Guardians of the Galaxy flies directly in the face of most of what has allowed Marvel to make successful movies. Addressing the most far-flung corners of their pre-existing content universe, Guardians uses practically nothing that we knew before the lights go down. The characters are antagonistic, have practically nothing heroic about them, and have unclear motivations for much of the film. The villains are opaque and unremarkable, existing only to pave the way for something yet to come. The director is a turbocharged weirdo, existing generally on the fringes of this type of cinema, being known for work with Troma. By all accounts, Guardians of the Galaxy is a major gamble.
Good thing is it hits the fucking jackpot.
Photos Courtesy of Marvel.
Take a step back: Marvel has succeeded mostly by executing relatively traditional stories well. Other than building a franchise around Iron Man, there have not been a whole lot of risks taken, and even Iron Man seems less a gamble when the character’s place in their universe and the involvement of Robert Downey, Jr. are considered. The build-up to the first Avengers movie was apparent from the get-go, with Marvel even dropping the scharade when Captain America: the First Avenger gained its full title. Thor and Iron Man 2 colored within the lines, using the various machinations of their stories to introduce other characters which would prove important later on; the Tesseract and Black Widow would both gain some import when the made the jump to the Avengers big-leagues.
The interesting part is coming now: once all these crazies and their batshit world are introduced, and its rules set in place, where do we go from there? Captain America: The Winter Soldier responded first, and brilliantly, delivering a toned-down espionage thriller which would still have its footing if it existed in any other world. Marvel’s “Phase One” introduced us to the breadth of this world, and so far “Phase Two” seems to be plenty happy to give us the depth. Thor: the Dark World snuck in some concepts which seem like they’ll be present in the future, but just below our eyeline, and mostly was about the relationship between the Asgardian brothers: Thor and Loki.
Guardians of the Galaxy steps in at just the right time. Going into this summer, think-pieces about the superhero genre in winter (made especially punny by timing themselves with the release of a Captain America movie with “winter” in the title) looked prophetic with the resounding THUD of Amazing Spider Man 2. With the recent Transformers release turning up lame against expectations, it looked like reboot-and-sequel-and-old property patterns had grown stale with many of the releases seeming stale or otherwise unexciting. Guardians doesn’t seem to give a shit.
The one-line plot synopsis is simple and unsuitable: A gang of unlikely heroes unite to stop a powerful object from falling into a madman’s hands, but Guardians knows it’ll get about as weird as a movie with a $170 million production budget can get. Self-awareness suits it perfectly, as it fully embraces jokes its no-name cast of characters, gonzo set-pieces, and Benicio del Toro in a Liberace-on-mescaline costume. This is a scumbag’s space opera: Star Wars if it never left the Mos Eisley Cantina, and with five Han Solos.
Even in terms of aesthetics, this movie bears little resemblance to anything within the Marvel brand. Instead of the almost sitcom-y brightness of the Iron Man movies, or the muted colors of The Winter Soldier, Guardians opts for a vivid, high contrast palette, using flashes of greens and reds to pull the eye away from the background. Director James Gunn uses all the tricks he can to put your eye where he wants it, opting for a very shallow depth of field and allowing focus to shift within each composition. There is so much going on in each frame of this movie between the sets, the wild creatures, and differing locales that Gunn acts almost like a tour guide through this corner of the universe, which requires a director fully in-tune with the weird. Gunn knows and loves the quirks of these rebel characters, who serve no such masters like the order of Captain America or even the ego of Tony Stark.
What Marvel needed was a way to fold in its bizarre 70’s cosmic storylines with the pre-existing universe to make room for the story to expand. With The Avengers introducing alien races invading earth, and singularities coming from each Thor installation, Guardians of the Galaxy enlightens us with the scale of these concepts with which we’re barely acquainted. We know all about Earth, but we needed to know how far out this universe goes so everything can be tied together. Presumably, Guardians is the last run-up to the Avengers sequel where the hand that Guardians has helped deal will finally be played.
Like The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy is a fully-formed standalone movie which succeeds admirably with its own characters, plot, and setting. Taken as part of a larger whole, Guardians is a perfectly-fit cog in a growing machine. Compared to the banal heroism of Thor: The Dark World: or even the wounded character growth of Iron Man 3, Guardians of the Galaxy is a breath of the freshest air: a movie which thrills us, makes us laugh with it, and fills us with wonder at a world larger than our own. What’s easy to forget, is that these are the reasons we go to the movies in the first place; Guardians of the Galaxy never seems to forget.
Pete Salomone (interj.) condition centered around over-consumption of coffee, bourbon.
Went to some schools. Worked at some places. Wrote some stuff, read some things, watched some other stuff. Threw it away, started over. Thinks too much, sleeps too little, wonders just the right amount. Part mechanical, mostly imaginary, unfortunately human. Bleeds red. Breaks bread. Eats lead. Zed’s dead.