Guardians of the Galaxy ★★★½

Overhyped but entertaining. Let's be honest: the reason everyone is so excited about Guardians of the Galaxy is that it doesn't quite feel like an assembly-line Marvel movie. Which is why it's disappointing when the ball is dropped occasionally in an effort to differentiate it from the pack.

Guardians is set entirely in outer space with a new cast of characters in an unfamiliar world. There's a sense of diegetic freshness, even as Marvel works the Guardians into the MCU. However, the world-building is incomplete, or at least fuzzy. Viewers who have no familiarity with the comic books will undoubtedly have contextual questions. Politics are glossed over quickly at the beginning, and the sovereignty of Nova Corps is always unclear. Relationships between various villains are nebulous. In the end, these things do not matter much for the narrative at hand, which means James Gunn and co. make the mistake of packing too much information into a two-hour story.

Narratively, it's more Star Wars or Serenity than Iron Man or The Avengers. It's an origin story, but the kind that doesn't linger too much on the characters' backstories. The protagonists are defined by their actions in the moment rather than their pasts (smart move), and this is ultimately why the viewer ends up caring about them—even a humanoid tree who says only three words with various inflections. Like RDJ, Chris Pratt is an outside-the-box casting choice that really pays off in his ability to balance gravity and levity. Dave Batista, however, is a mistake. Even playing a stiff guy, Batista comes off stiff in his acting.

Guardians has attitude. Gunn has infused the picture with a burst of zany energy lacking in many other Marvel movies. But this also feels like the first Marvel film that would have benefited from an R rating in order to punch up the profanity. I don't know what the language is like in the comics, but every time Rocket opens his mouth, I expect to hear Bradley Cooper cussing up a storm. Quill, likewise. Guardians could have been for Marvel what Conker's Bad Fur Day was for Rare (video game company), but that would probably ruffle too many feathers or perhaps negatively impact the brand in the eyes of Kevin Feige. But why not do something different? Guardians will always be the odd duck in the Marvel family.

Like Iron Man 3 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians is two-thirds of a really good flick with a third-act climax that is pure Marvel formula, right down to the big battle featuring massive metropolitan destruction and a planet's survival in the balance. Is this a contractual obligation for Marvel screenwriters? Bigger does not equal better. I'm reminded of a line from Chuck Tatum in Ace in the Hole: "One man's better than 84. Didn't they teach you that? Human interest. You pick up the paper, you read about 84 men or 284, or a million men, like in a Chinese famine. You read it, but it doesn't say with you. One man's different, you want to know all about him. That's human interest." Now, I dislike human interest stories in my news, but in screenwriting, it's a great approach. The global catastrophe w/ nameless faces in Guardians is merely a distraction from the thrust of the narrative. The protagonists can be heroes without saving millions of lives.

Still, it's an entertaining film with enough gusto to stand out from the cookie-cutter Marvel movies. I'm torn between a 3 and 3.5, but I'll be nice.

Jared liked this review