Yes ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ is great! Let’s talk about why.

by Trey Hock on August 3, 2014

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Solid Rock Fist Up]

You’ve almost certainly heard by now that Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn’s entrée into the Marvel Film universe, is great.

It is.

This is coming from a film critic who became so fatigued from the same tired summer film tropes, and rehashed costume super hero plots, that I gave up the summer after the woefully overrated The Avengers. That’s right. I gave up the just-for-fun, eye-candy, summer blockbusters. I just couldn’t take it. I was action movie bored, which is the worst kind of bored you can be.

So why did Guardians of the Galaxy pull me back in, and what in the world was it able to do that Iron Man, Thor, The Avengers, Superman or the X-Men were all incapable of doing?

The reason I even entered the theater is pretty simple. James Gunn. He’s a smart, funny and talented filmmaker that is able to maintain his love for genre films, without relinquishing his criticism of those same films. Look at Slither. This is as much as love letter to various sci-fi and body horror films of the 50s, 60s and 70s as it is a lens into why these horror films are sometimes just charmingly stupid.

KCTV5

In Slither, Gunn’s critique of horror has the tone of your best friend making fun of you. Sure they’re pointing out your weaknesses, but their doing it because they love you.

James Gunn got me in the theater, but Guardians of the Galaxy made sure I left happy, because it harkens back to the smart action adventure films of the late 70s and early 80s, it maintains the loving critique that is at the heart James Gunn’s style, and first and foremost the emphasis is entirely on the characters.

Remember how Raiders of the Lost Ark was fun and exciting, but also smart? You have Indiana Jones, an archeologist who is at the top of his field, but can also fight Nazis. You get bookish explanations and car chases. Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does approach the summer action film with a reverence and seriousness that hasn’t been seen in years.

Yes there is a grand chase scene and all of the narrative ups and downs culminate in a huge battle that is fought on at least 3 or 4 large and small fronts, but everything stems from the characters. Star-Lord’s (Chris Pratt) relationships, personal insecurities and flaws motivate all of his actions. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) has her own agenda and it’s linked directly to her past. Even side characters get just enough emphasis to build interest, without bogging the viewer down with unnecessary explication.

So great characters, and a smart, if not inventive, structure, but what about internal critique, you ask? Guardians of the Galaxy is full of it. Some is overt, and some is very subtle. One example that stood out to me occurred when Drax (Dave Bautista) was getting ready to board an enemy ship. One of the other companions was concerned about the number of enemy soldiers they might encounter. Drax dismissed the concerns and referred to the adversaries as “Paper People.”

Hilarious!

Gunn is openly, and within the context of his own film, making fun of the fact that the good guys in any large comic book film always mow down scores of bad guys. It’s hard to ask for a better wink or nod to the intelligence of your audience.

Guardians of the Galaxy does also have a couple of minor disappointments, so in the interest of evenhandedness, I should probably touch on them.

The story doesn’t do anything wholly innovative. It’s structured like Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark or even a bit like The Fellowship of the Ring. It is almost predictable in its structure, but this is a minor complaint, because the execution of the structure is really great. The predictability could also just as easily be blamed on the fact that we get to know and like the characters so fast, that we just get a feeling for what they’re going to do.

Perhaps the bigger and more expected disappointment comes from the lack of a super shocking James Gunn scene. Those Gunn fans out there know what I mean. The bedroom scene in Slither, when Starla comes downstairs to find the transformed Grant all to the lilting sounds of Air Supply, or the moment in Super, when Libby rapes Frank, both epitomize where Gunn can force his viewers.

These moments are brash and bold. They are make or break moments and far too risky for a 100+ million dollar production. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t want one of those scenes in Guardians. The consolation is that we almost get one with Groot (Vin Diesel), when he takes on a cadre of paper people all by himself. It’s close, and probably even more than I should have expected. I just wish it went a bit further.

The bottom line is that Guardians of the Galaxy is a fun and exciting summer movie, that has better characters, and a more thoughtful storyline than any blockbuster for at least 5 years. It won’t change the landscape of summer cinema, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying it while it’s here.

In addition to contributing to Scene-Stealers, Trey makes short films and teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute. Follow him here:

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