Before sharing my thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy, I should acknowledge first that I’m a Marvel fanatic, I’ve been reading comics my entire life and I’ve been shamelessly rooting for the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since it really began in 2008 with Iron Man. There are plenty of Marvel movies that I feel fall well short of their mark, but on the whole I’m a true believer and hope the Marvel franchise will flourish for many years to come. I say this only so that nobody reading this will expect unbiased, objective film criticism (if such a thing even exists). Since the first trailer for this film hit the internet, a lot of Marvel zombies have basically made up their minds to champion this film no matter what in the hopes that if successful, the film would unlock more corners of the Marvel universe and embolden Marvel Studios to take more creative risks. Reading some of the first reviews online over the last week, I got the paranoid sensation that some critics were still trying to talk themselves into thinking they had enjoyed the movie more than they did. That said, with the sequel already announced, we can safely assume Marvel is happy with the film, in particular James Gunn’s original take on these rather obscure characters. Whether or not mainstream audiences will fully embrace the movie is something I’m not confident I can predict but I can say for myself I will be returning for second helpings. I am completely onboard with this new series. Just like in comics when a creative team dusts off an obscure character nobody cares about for a new direction, James Gunn has taken this motley crew of misfits, thugs and murderers and turned them into a powerhouse team that has the potential to become the most interesting, fertile corner of the Marvel Universe.
Guardians of the Galaxy is unlike any mainstream movie in a long time. It is a crazy mashup of Seventies rock, Eighties pop culture references, cosmic space opera, and of course an abundance of Marvel lore and Easter eggs that should keep us busy for months trying to identify them all. The movie is also funny as hell and has heart to spare between the members of the team that make up the ensemble cast. Like any great ensemble piece, the five heroes all get a turn to chew the scenery and it’ll be interesting to see which of the five heroes (Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, Groot, Drax the Destroyer) children embrace in the months to come. I have to say that for the first thirty minutes of the movie I was tensing up with anxiety that the movie was going to disappoint me. I just wasn’t surrendering to the movie at all and didn’t feel like I was in safe hands. It isn’t until all five of our heroes are united that the film really gets underway and finds its stride. From that point on the movie is an absolute blast, moving along at a dizzying pace without stop until the story finally takes a breath after all the bad guys have been dealt with. I went to see this movie with a group of friends and the film actually had the most positive impact on those of us that aren’t hardcore Marvel geeks. Nothing about this movie has anything to do with superheroes, a first in the superhero genre, and something I hope will help this movie find a new audience that Marvel movies typically don’t reach. This universe feels very organic and lived in, with the Guardians a natural extension of all the insane characters and civilizations that exist on the fringes of the Marvel Universe. Heroes in tights fighting their little battles on earth feel a little mundane by comparison.
There’s a lot to take in upon first seeing this movie but there are so many scenes that make a conventional superhero flick like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 feel hopelessly obsolete and old-fashioned. Watching the Guardians soar into the skull of a giant celestial to the tune of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” gave me goosebumps. I finally felt like we were in the territory of the truly psychedelic tales that Jim Starlin astonished us with in the 1970s with his legendary runs on Captain Marvel and Warlock. I can only hope that James Gunn taps into more of that lore in future films. There is so much that this movie gets right. My favorite part has to be the scene pictured above where Star-Lord and Gamora share an intimate moment as Star-Lord attempts to describe to her the power of music. There’s something about seeing a beautiful green alien in deep space wearing the headhones to a 1980’s walkman that grounds this wild, uncanny adventure very much in our own reality. The soundtrack is exceptional and constantly reminds us that this story is happening right now, in our universe, and is part of the overall tapestry of Marvel films that we have grown to love. Is the film a total home run? Not exactly but the movie is too damn entertaining to worry much about its flaws. James Gunn has made an incredibly original work that I predict will be a total game changer in the years to come. Joss Whedon has his work cut out for him trying to top this with Avengers: Age of Ultron and I suspect no one will be happier for James Gunn’s success than Whedon himself. It is time for all filmmakers working in this genre to up their game. After seeing Guardians of the Galaxy there is no going back. Audiences will be ready for and expecting something more.
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