Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy ★★★★

"On my planet, we have a legend about people like you. It's called Footloose, and in it, a great hero, named Kevin Bacon, teaches an entire city full of people with sticks up their butts that dancing, well, it's the greatest thing there is."

Sometimes I feel like I'm one of those people with sticks up their butts simply in need of some Kevin Bacon. I had a lot of fun with Guardians of the Galaxy, but when I hear it billed as Star Wars for the next generation I start to wonder whether my skepticism comes from my lack of investment in the comic book universe or if I'm missing some bigger piece of the puzzle. And that's not to say that I don't think this is an important step forward in terms of how we think about the superhero genre. This is definitely a step forward, but it's not quite where it needs to be just yet.

Here's what I hope will be the enduring legacy of Guardians of the Galaxy: in a world where the darkness of The Dark Knight has infected the entire superhero genre, it brings a more lighthearted and fun tone without sacrificing narrative consequence. It finds a happy medium between the downcast, philosophical bleakness of the 21st century and the vapid, popcorn cheesiness of the 1990's. It achieves levity without floating away into nothingness and depth without falling into the abyss. In retrospect, this shift away from Nolan's heritage can even be seen at work in The Avengers, with the banter and in-jokes bringing light to the shadow cast by the planetary invaders, but Guardians takes this as its central tonal core and builds upon the foundation laid by Joss Whedon.

And at its best it really is hilariously funny and lovingly characterized. Its trailer is one of my favorites of the year so far (along with Godzilla) because it succeeded so well in depicting the comedic tone of the film and the personality of its story and characters. I don't think anybody that watched it will be able to listen to Hooked on a Feeling the same way ever again (behold: evidence). It's hard not to love the monosyllabic Groot and his violent affection for his friends, or the recklessly adorable Rocket and his excessively explosive inventions. And the story contrasts this light humor with serious elements, particularly concerning the characters' origins.

The reason I think we haven't quite reached the point where we can finally leave behind both overbearing melancholy and gossamer frivolity and measure against a new scale is that the movie still feels like it's jumping between these two extremes. There's both dark and light, but the transitions are abrupt and rough around the edges. Star-Lord's affection for his Walkman bridges this gap by providing both the serious grounding for his character and the basis for several of the film's best gags, but it feels like the exception rather than the rule. Everyone has something dark in their past, but there's no progression between this on the one hand and the comedy on the other.

This is all to say that Guardians of the Galaxy is a wonderfully fun adventure, it's just not quite the genre-redefining film I want it to be. But the good news is that it's a step in the right direction, and hopefully Marvel will see its success and realize that audiences are ready for something new. And of course it's a lovely little film to watch while we wait.

2014 | Superheroes | Spaceships
Expanded review (with pictures!)

ScreeningNotes liked these reviews