I’m going to become quite unpopular among my friends, I suspect, when I say that I didn’t like Guardians of the Galaxy very much at all.
I didn’t *hate* it — it had an excellent cast, the effects work was as good as you’d expect, and there were a few good lines of dialogue (I was the only one in the cinema who laughed at the John Stamos line, as the only people who know about him in Britain are Beach Boys fans — and indeed there has just been a massive amount of drama about Stamos among Beach Boys fandom, which made me laugh a little harder than I otherwise would). Sometimes it’s a bit too knowing about the pop culture tropes it makes fun of (this is definitely a post-TV Tropes script), but it occasionally does interesting things (there’s one neat little twist when a very, very, obvious third act reveal straight from Screenwriting 101 *doesn’t* turn out to be true).
It also actually had some scenes with colours that aren’t orange or bluish-grey — not many, but a few. This is increasingly rare in the cinema these days, and is to be applauded. I’m sure I even saw a glimpse of yellow at one point.

But one of the reasons Marvel’s films have been so successful is that they have been *superhero* films. This one isn’t.
That’s not to say “this isn’t a film about people in long underwear battling villains” — I knew going in, as everyone did, that this is a caper film set in space, part Star Wars, part Dirty Dozen, part Ocean’s Eleven.
But what I did expect, given Marvel’s track record, is that there would be at least one good and decent character in the film — one person who is not utterly abominable.
I began to have doubts about this when the first post-credits sequence in the film established the protagonist very firmly as a psychopath. I mean that in the literal sense, not a euphemistic one — in the space of about two minutes he’s cruel to animals for his own amusement, steals a priceless object, tries to use glib, manipulative charm to escape the consequences of his reckless attitude, reveals that he has a hugely grandiose sense of self-importance, and at least attempts murder (we see him shoot three people — one gets up, and we don’t know about the other two).
This character is later described by another as “an honourable man”, despite the fact that at one point or another he betrays *every single other character he interacts with in the film* with the exception of his dead mother.
But “honour” is one of the only allowed motivations for a character in this film — the others being self-preservation, greed, power, amusement (reserved for shooting at NPCs and blowing things up), and vengeance, so as it’s the only one that could even slightly be considered a virtue it has to be applied to our “hero”.

And every single character is like this. Characters are shown to care for their “friends” (defined as anyone in whose company they have spent more than ten minutes) so long as those friends are protagonists — otherwise they will betray people they’ve known all their lives over nothing at all. Although, to be fair, since everyone in the film is a violent maniac, they’re probably not people you’d want to be friends with anyway.
Every character bar two also has the sixth-form cynicism that is apparently supposed to make them seem hard-bitten and world-weary but just makes them seem unpleasant (I make an exception for John C Reilly’s character, who is “merely” a functionary for what looks suspiciously like a police state, but does at least seem to care for his wife and daughter and not have a completely jaded view of all other sapient life, while Groot seems not completely evil).

One of the big turning points in this film, in fact, is very, VERY, reminiscent of the “yes, we’re dicks, but dicks fuck assholes” speech from Team America: World Police — except that here it seems intended to be unironically moving. And it’s about the only bit that *is* intended that way — anything that looks like it might involve a character behaving decently is undercut, usually by a wisecrack from Rocket Raccoon, who quickly left me longing for Attitudeless Badger.
And this is why it’s not a superhero film. Superhero stories, even the “darkest”, are fundamentally about how people are decent and do the right thing. This, on the other hand, is much lighter in feel than, say, The Dark Knight, but has none of the light of the human spirit in it.
I’m sure the “mindless entertainment” crowd will disagree, but I find films where there is only one character type to be every bit as monochrome as films with only one colour. Maybe it’s stupid to look for realism in a film about a talking raccoon in space, but I do like to have some semblance of believability, and I can’t bring myself to believe in a world where every character is a cynical, backstabbing, power-crazed lunatic. And if I actually thought the universe was like the one portrayed here… well, I’d be on Thanos’ side. Best rid of it, frankly.

11 Responses to “GAH-dians More Like (Geddit?)”

  1. plok Says:

    I’m in an interesting spot with this, that I’m sure almost no one will appreciate: because the Steve Gerber/Al Milgrom Guardians series from the Seventies is, for me, about as close to perfect as SF superhero comics ever got. I would’ve followed that thing to the ends of the earth; it really meant something to me.

    And it is so dead and gone for lo these thirty-odd years or whatever, that’s it’s like it never even happened. I saw a little of it boomerang back in Farscape, and it’s been suggested to me that this Guardians movie is like a brainless, artless, heartless attempt to do a Marvelized Farscape…that may well be true, but one thing I don’t see in it, can’t even recognize in it, is the thing I associate with its name, so…

    It’s WEIRD. They keep saying it’s “Guardians Of The Galaxy”. Okay, so that was never a really good name, or anything, but…

    It did used to identify some particular thing?

    I would recommend reading the whole Guardians thing that originally existed, from Drake/Colan to Gerber/Milgrom, to anyone. Of course I am biased, but I totally would recommend it, it influenced the hell out of me as a precocious little jerk in those days, and I don’t think even Alan Moore has done comics as “cinematic” as those Marvel Presents comics were.

    This movie, though…it just seems like something totally ELSE. Like if they’d called “Diehard” The Twilight Zone, or something. It wouldn’t really have…?

    I mean…that’s not…?

  2. Andrew Hickey Says:

    To be fair, it’s not the film that made this new thing “Guardians of the Galaxy” — this is the Guardians that have been in the comics for at least six years.

    I’ve never seen Farscape, so can’t comment on that.

  3. plok Says:

    Oh yes…in the Nineties they screwed around with the Guardians quite a bit, too, and then just chucked the baby out with the bathwater in the 2000s to make a “space team”. But really the genuine article started to fade away as soon as Gerber’s hand was off the tiller.

    So that this Guardians wasn’t my Guardians I already knew…so I was not prepared to see that trailer and be so shocked at how it wasn’t! I suppose it has something to do with the old comics fan thing where you spend your youth dreamily imagining what it would be like if these were big, respectable Hollywood movies…they can change Iron Man quite a bit, change Captain America, tweak Batman or Superman…all kinds of things might be done, but they’re still versions of the thing you had in your head. However, it was surprisingly jarring to see this Guardians being out forward as THE Guardians — not really what I’d dreamed of at all! Like, not even a little. Intellectually I knew my Guardians were long gone, but this made me really feel the distance.

  4. Daryl Tucker Says:

    “I can’t bring myself to believe in a world where every character is a cynical, backstabbing, power-crazed lunatic”

    …Yeah, I don’t don’t want to believe in that world either but the doctor increased my meds recently so now I have to accept reality. Thanks a lot, Noon.

  5. Thrills Says:

    I kept waiting for a ‘lesson learned/character redemption’ arc, and I thiiink there is supposed to be one but it didn’t really work? The whole ‘love story’ thing, likewise. It just sort of happened, incredibly inorganically, which was irritating as I sort of liked Gamorrah and hoped she would continue to not take any shit from loathsome misogynist Merchandisable Mask/Starlord.

    I ordinarily like Chris Pratt and his amiable schlubbiness, but his usual schtick is used here in a kind of gross, non-charismatic way, that I’m not sure was intended.

    There was a stream of misogyny throughout, which was hideous. I’m not sure what they were going for with the Collector, who seems to be played for laughs, yet is an abusive sack of shit who keeps slaves. Interesting to see Del Toro in Jarmusch drag, though.

    Rocket Raccoon is abysmal. LOL he’s cute but he has gunz and is sassy!

    There’s a whole bunch of creator rights issues the film made me think of, as well. And when will they stop putting Stan Lee in films?

    Oh, I like the idea that “Infinity Crystal” is any less ludicrous than “Infinity gem”.

    Ocht, I thought the film was okay, for all that. Some nice sci-fi book cover imagery amongst the Final Fantasy cutscenes, and a pleasant array of distracting TV actors (and Lloyd Kaufman of so-bad-they’re-bad film chumps Troma?). It’s the film I was hoping Green Lantern’d be.

    Low expectations really are an important part of going to the cinema, these days.

  6. K. Jones Says:

    It was muddled. I admit I was pretty happy with the color, and would’ve frankly been okay with rainbow colors, unabashedly not-over-explained jaunty visits to sci-fi settings, and the satirical quality of “the cute animal guy is a snark-spewing cliche” if every other character hadn’t been so dire, although Dave Bautista’s Drax may have subverted that a bit.

    My unconscious was nagging at me about having a Tom Baker or Patrick Stewart just show up and give a stern lecture to all these callous individuals about how the vaster the scale of the story, the vaster the implications of individual human inclinations.

    Clearly the police state had abjectly High Church of Ordered the hell out of the pagan warrior culture of the Kree. And then they had the nerve to call him “fanatic”.

    Why must all Marvel villains be H.R. Giger paintings?

    Critical mass.

    But I had no attachment to the source material and was in the exact mood for mindless ‘splosion. It worked on that front, and the critical critiques (effectively managed ensemble introduction, decent stakes, light touch) are not capital-W “Wrong”.

  7. jameswheeler Says:

    “so-bad-they’re-bad film chumps Troma” – good line. James Gunn got his start with them, revealed blogging superpower Joe McCulloch, which explains the cameo and Gunn’s “distaste for liberal piety” (Jog again).

    http://www.tcj.com/this-week-in-comics-8614-94-3-million-to-spend-on-comics/

    I wasn’t surprised by the film’s misogyny and a/im-morality, because I saw Super. Remember the petition to remove Gunn from this film in response to a dredged up blogpost about superhero “sluts” and “fags”? http://www.change.org/petitions/marvel-studios-remove-james-gunn-from-guardians-of-the-galaxy-movie Nobody else does, despite how hot and bright that burned for a day or two!

    I enjoyed the film but agreed with every point of your review, Andrew. I’d meant to comment sooner, but couldn’t really muster the energy to talk about these guys.

  8. Oliver Townshend Says:

    I read your review, and compared to all of the other rave reviews I decided you were being too cynical. However, now having seen it I’m inclined to agree, with Peter Quill putting me off from the moment he kicked rats for fun.

    I did like my nephew’s comment – “were those one liners meant to be funny?”.

  9. Reece M-Jones Says:

    @jameswheeler

    I think the blog post only burned hot for a few days because people soon realised that that particular post was taken heavily out of context.

    I did like Guardians quite a bit, but I do agree the misogyny at times did bring me out of it quite a bit. The view I took of Peter Quill is that he’s still a kid in him mind, trying to play the role of what he thinks is every cool rogue character, outdated views and all.

    In fact, I think that could be applied to every character. The film is basically Star Wars, if every character were Han Solo.

  10. jameswheeler Says:

    As others have pointed out though, Han Solo has a very clear “heart of gold” arc that Peter Quill doesn’t – the film never condemns him for being a dull sexist, or anything else.

    I watched Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain the day after I saw Guardians of the Galaxy, and was struck by how much of a harsher view of its leads that film took, despite ostensibly being much grimmer and more nihilistic. (Women still got thrown under the bus, of course.)

  11. Jeff Says:

    Good point about the rats at the beginning. During that scene, I was wondering if it was supposed to be funny. It’s been a while since I saw the Indiana Jones movies, but my take was that Peter Quill was supposed to be Indiana Jones if he’d been played as Han Solo.

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