From the outset, everything about Guardians of the Galaxy suggests a different kind of superhero movie. Consider the elements: light comedy over serious drama, Björn Skifs instead of Hans Zimmer, James Gunn at the helm instead of Zack Snyder, and all of it driven by a dorkish protagonist with a gift for clever wordplay and lame ’80s references, instead of superhuman strength or heightened intelligence. It all sounds very promising, a new kind of Marvel movie. And yet, after two hours of watching this space opera unfold, the only question is, why does this all feels so painstakingly familiar?
The players may be different here, but they’re still participating in the same enervating game designed by a corporate-over-creative minded Hollywood. Leading the charge is Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, or as he likes to call himself, “Star-Lord.” Quill is a charismatic thief who accidentally becomes the leader of a ragtag team of extraterrestrial misfits. Joining Quell is Gamora, often referred to as “the most dangerous woman in the universe” (Zoe Saldana), Groot, a sentient tree (voiced by Vin Diesel), Drax, a vengeful warrior (Dave Bautista), and Rocket, a literate CGI raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper).
On the run after stealing a coveted orb, this eclectic group has one thing in common: a disdain for the malevolent Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), who — if in possession of this item — would “cleanse” the galaxy of all those he doesn’t like. Simply put, life as they know will cease to exist if the self-proclaimed “Guardians of the Galaxy” can’t get the all-powerful orb into safekeeping.
Although the film inhabits the same universe seen in other Marvel properties, Gunn navigates the landscape differently. Dripping with irony and sarcasm, there’s not a scene that goes by that isn’t self-aware, constantly cluing the audience in that this is all supposed to be played for laughs. Except when it’s not. Much like The Avengers before it, Guardians of the Galaxy is at its best when its varied batch of characters run around cracking wise and goofing off. That sort of wink-wink approach is refreshing in contrast to its stuffy, overly serious contemporaries.
But then Gunn falls down the same rabbit hole, reducing his movie to yet another superhero joint replete with laughably solemn monologues that always seem to begin with “behold!” Once the tiring exposition comes — all of which seems to exist to service the comic book fans that come into these movies with a checklist of who and what needs to be included — it doesn’t stop. Unfortunately, this onslaught of explanation about world domination and interplanetary politics arrives at the cost of comedy and wit.
When characters aren’t strategizing or providing long-winded explanations of what they’re going to do next, they’re beating each other’s brains out. After busting out of a space jail, the Guardians are forced to fight just about everyone: the police, the government, and eventually Ronan. The enemies arrive in spades, but none are as carefully crafted as our heroes. Instead, we get hollowed out sketches of Evil Creatures, and a disappointing Big Bad in Ronan, who, like most Marvel villains (not you, Loki) feels underwritten.
In fact, after about minute 30 the film gives the unpleasant taste of being awfully undercooked. The narrative grows weary and the action repetitive. Then again, such pejorative descriptions are not unfamiliar to Marvel’s recent output, which often ops for mediocrity in the name of profit instead of originality. But for a while there Guardians of the Galaxy offers an unique experience — one paved with enough humor and lightness to make you laugh and smile before turning sour.
At the end of the day I think it’s only appropriate to stack the filmup against its peers. Gunn’s listless adventure through space is not as uproarious as the Iron Man series, as thrilling as the Spider-Man franchise, or as dramatically serious as Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Though not entirely without its virtues,Guardians of the Galaxy crumbles for one simple reason: it doesn’t trust itself and its own comedic sensibilities.