One thing that has run its gambit far longer than it should have is the current slew of superhero movies that have been infesting the majority of major releases of the past few years. To clarify, there is nothing wrong with a consistent flow of a specific movies in a genre, but when it is seemingly the only genre being attended to, then it becomes redundant and tiresome, regardless of the movies coming out. At least that is what has been personally fueling an abjuration to these films since 2012, till watching Guardians of the Galaxy.
This film has come out at precisely the right time. When superhero movies (with sequels constantly climbing in number) have been slated for our foreseeable future, this adaptation of Arnold Drake and Gene Colan’s seminal work breached all expectations. The tongue-in-cheek attitude of the characters, their criminal stature and their motivations making them unlikely heroes culminate in a formula that alters the traditional superhero mold (seemingly along the lines of Joss Whedon’s Firefly). A film sporting a cast of the likes of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close and Benicio del Toro is something that by its merits alone should pull in an audience. The acting never feels stilted or forced (as opposed to Man of Steel), at certain points it came across as taking inspiration from Luc Besson’s similarly over-the-top space epic The Fifth Element, which did nothing but aid in the attitude of not only the characters, but the tone the universe takes in general.
One of the chief complaints that have been circulating about the film is the flat villain characters, with those of only the comics understanding the weight Ronan and ultimately Thanos carry in the story. But personally, this actually is a positive thing. Never once did it feel like the villains were underdeveloped, with this film obviously being the origin story for the group, the more simplistic the motivations and actions of the villains, the easier connections with the audiences can be made. This is not to say superhero villains are all just there to serve as the mindless dragon that needs to be slayed (see the Joker, Magneto and Ra's Al-Ghul). And even though there are actual motivations explored in the comic universes about why Ronan (played by Lee Pace) and Thanos (played by Josh Brolin) do what they do (as well as a basic mentioning of it in the movie). But as for context to the movie, its full divulgence isn’t necessary. This is primarily due to the heroes of the movie itself not caring. They have been hurt and spurned by their relations to these villains, whether directly or otherwise, and they are trying to destroy the galaxy. It’s a simple motivation to oppose them, and if they can get a payday out of it as well, then all the better!
The special effects are impressive (which is in it of itself impressive given our normal onslaught of computer-generated movies of the last decade), and not overbearing. There are just enough of each type of scene that it literally feels like the closest thing that can be achieved to a comic book being transcribed for screen (the closest that this has come to being real is Sin City), but at the same time, it detaches itself and creates a dynamic that is entirely its own (like The Avengers). Now, this came as a bit of surprise (but at the same time explains a lot) that the trio helming this project were James Gunn, Kevin Feige and Nicole Perlman.
Though the only personal exposure to Perlman has been reading her 2006 Black Listed screenplay Challenger (which is fantastic), there isn’t anything else to have a basis for her talents. However, Feige has been a part of almost every major superhero adaptation since 2000 (with X-Men), and has many projects still on the way (see The Fantastic Four reboot, Ant-Man, Black Widow, Thor 3, etc.). This seasoned veteran of Marvel films adds the polish to the movie. This film feels complete, even if it isn’t; and that is a true production talent. It can be considered that Feige is a producer on par with James Cameron, Brian Grazer and Lawrence Bender with the numbers he’s racked up over the past decade, as well as the crews he’s assembled for all of these ventures. However, the surprise here is Gunn.
Gunn’s career began in Troma, the infamous production company still active today making Z-Grade schlock at the wonderful whim of Lloyd Kaufman, writing the even more infamous film Tromeo & Juliet in 1996. Though he had made it as a Z-to-B-Grade writer into the 2000s (with the screenplays for Scooby-Doo and Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake) his directorial debut was 2006’s gag-fest Slither, which was passable at best, bringing tropes normal in Troma films over to the new generation of horror filmmaking. But his second film Super as well as his writing the videogame Lollipop Chainsaw made it aware he was up to the task of not only keeping the attention of an audience, but also having the ability to hold the audience through emotional conveyance as well as humor. That’s a rarity in many of these superhero movies. Unless it’s Joss Whedon, Jane Goldman, Peter Stebbings or Christopher Nolan, it hasn’t been expected that much of the mix occurs in these films.
It has also been announced that Gunn will helm the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel in 2017, not much else in the way of information has been released. And for the first time since Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, this critic is excited for a superhero sequel.