I think it would be clear enough that I’m not a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This was perhaps a prime factor regarding why my own opinion of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy had turned out more favourable than my general opinion of their output and after having gone without seeing it since its theatrical run, it was nice enough to find that it still remained as strong as it did. With this and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2014 has proven itself to be the strongest year for the MCU because their offerings then didn’t end up feeling like they were constricted by the grating formula to which Marvel has been sticking to over all the years, which was really refreshing to have found for films that have carried their name. This freedom was what the MCU had needed after all these years and James Gunn only utilizes it in the best manner.
The film’s plot summary is already one that should ring familiar for films of these sorts: we have a group of criminals from different origins who are forced to work together in order to stop a greater threat to the galaxy. They are led by Star-Lord, played by Chris Pratt, and the team consists of Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradly Cooper), and Groot (Vin Diesel). As far as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s own stories have gone, Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t really one that feels a need to conform in that sense but this whole plot abandon is one among many things that allows it to stand apart and work as well on its own compared to the rest of the films they’ve put out.
A feeling of plot abandon ended up only turning out to be a good thing on behalf of Guardians of the Galaxy because the Marvel Cinematic Universe only shared a strict formula to their storytelling which only restricts the films from doing whatever they please. James Gunn doesn’t seem limited by that formula but he finds a way to work around it in order to play something so evidently style-over-substance because of his own experiences having formerly been a Troma director – now to direct a superhero movie that isn’t telling anything new, but Gunn isn’t taking the material so seriously. Among many of my gripes with the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes from how they always try to force in a sense of humour adding a sense of awkwardness to the material at play and while not all of the jokes land, the very best ones still manage to stick out and keep the film worth the time.
It isn’t to say that Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t free of what has been plaguing the Marvel Cinematic Universe all these years because once again, an underwhelming villain has come our way in Ronan the Accuser. In typical MCU fashion the most we get out of his presence are a few decent action sequences (and arguably the best climactic action sequence one can get from any of the MCU), but there’s so little to remember about the presence he left behind. Like many of Marvel’s supporting characters, he finds himself overwhelmed by all of the flashy colours and set pieces as they come together and knowing what James Gunn manages to work around by having fun with the formula for their films, it’s a rather disheartening note for anyone to consider when this prevalent issue once again remains bothersome in here. At the film’s most entertaining it can be very funny but when it doesn’t land, it comes out just as a typical MCU joke would, just forced and awkward.
What’s already difficult to hate about this film is seeing how Guardians of the Galaxy actually feels like it presents fleshed out characters through the titular heroes. Annoying or not, they all have their own arcs and a distinctive sense of charm (Vin Diesel’s Groot especially being an easy choice for a favourite). But it comes from how James Gunn has written these characters that allows them to stand out amidst the rest, they almost seem like an antithesis to what it is that is most recognizable about the already familiar Marvel characters without a need to draw back on several other films in order to form connections (one among many problems I have with any of the Avengers films). For even though we have so many characters coming in and out as a result of this space that James Gunn has, we can only expect some of the best to get sidelined (Karen Gillan and John C. Reilly among a few falling victim), the central five still present some of the most energy Marvel has ever presented with any of their leading characters to date.
Guardians of the Galaxy probably won’t reform one’s opinion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but it’s hard enough to dislike the charm it presents because of how James Gunn toys around with what he has inside of his own hands. It’s a superhero film at its core but at the same time a perfect throwback for the nostalgic whether it be from the soundtrack or Gunn’s liberal use of paying homages to adventure films from the 80’s. Gunn doesn’t allow Guardians of the Galaxy to succumb to the most redundant of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but what’s clear is that he’s having fun with the template that he’s given by being so open with the film’s irreverence and energy. It was nice enough to see a film that’s a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that doesn’t repeat the same stories they always have been over the years, but one that actually had fun and didn’t care. It won’t work for everyone but it surely did for me because of how fatigued I am by the repetitiveness.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
Directed by James Gunn
Screenplay by James Gunn, Nicole Perlman, from the comics by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Produced by Kevin Feige
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro
Release Year: 2014
Running Time: 122 minutes