Published on July 31st, 2014 | by Hazel Southwell2
Review: Guardians of the Galaxy
Waiting around for Guardians of the Galaxy to start, I attempted to explain the concept to two people who have probably not spent quite as long diving through Marvel’s back catalogue like Scrooge McDuck in a pile of money as I have: “It’s not The Avengers. It’s basically the Star Wars Cantina Band- they go to jail and kill people a lot, don’t hug, do care.” At the time, I suspect I’m two-pints-of-fairly-strong-lager-and-a-plastic-glass-of-wine into talking complete cockshite that sounds promising enough to make them want to see the movie as much as I do.
As it happens, I don’t know if I’d temporarily acquired prescience but with the exception of not having realised the film would also evoke that particular sensation of having your brain smashed out by a gold brick wrapped in a slice of lemon this was a totally accurate summary of what was about to happen to us.
Guardians is brilliant. It’s rude, it’s funny, it’s got a loneliness chip the size of a fucking Star Destroyer stuck in its shoulder. It’s about not having to be totally independent to be self-determining, it’s about the best way to conduct a bar fight in a space casino. It is, manifestly, not the Avengers; which is its strength- space outlaws can say ‘shit’ a lot more than even Iron Man’s allowed to.
The moral of the story doesn’t have to be about choosing permanently between good and bad- this is space, the weight of lapidary morality is considerably lessened in zero gravity. The Guardians are ultraviolent, have issues out the wazoo and lives made small by being lived in the confined spaces suitable for covert interstellar travel, by the singular goals that would drive you to plunge across star systems, by the fear of finding yourself aimless in the abyss of vacuum.
“Why you gotta do what you do?” is hardly a new question for superhero films. But when you’re looking at it in the ennui-inducing, purpose-absorbing meaningless vastness of the universe then it seems like a bigger query. And what exactly is it that you do, that you were fashioned or made or chose to be?
One of the themes of superhero movies is that you don’t have to navigate a straight line from where you came from to know where you are now. So Guardians starts as tragedy; Star Lord’s orphaning is an emotionally brutal opener, the opposite of the upbeat mid-section parts shown in the trailers. And with that at the start, for all it might look like farce, it continues melancholy. The Guardians’ lives don’t make sense, they exist in an uncaring vastness and only ever a few steps ahead of forces that seek to destroy them- this is, in essence and in the same way Iron Man 3 was a film about PTSD, a film about being aimlessly depressed and batted about by life.
The Guardians themselves are a collection of deliberately oddball characters- there ain’t no thing like any of them, as Rocket would put it. Gamora’s the last of a race murdered by her adoptive, Titan father, Thanos. Star Lord’s the only Terran roaming the cosmos, Drax is Drax, Groot is either alone or isolated from the other sentient megaflora and Rocket is the only thing ever made like him. Well, only raccoon.
The humour in Guardians isn’t the wry, cool half-smile of the funny beats in, say, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s not even the scenery-chewing mania of Iron Man 3, it’s very on par with (maybe not that bizarrely) 30 Rock- it’s fast and more than a little naff, the sort of humour that happens in real life. Because without a script, your funniest friends wouldn’t stand up to much analysis and most real jokes are actually… kind of bad. (“For more exploration of this, listen to anything Hazel says on the 3 Bods podcast” – Facts Editor)
Guardians is a nerdy film about nerdy shit; it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. The soundtrack is cheesy old eighties pop that you fucking know you love. The characters are losers (albeit, hugely compelling, repulsively good-looking losers with tragic back stories) who aren’t going to become a glittering team. The Avengers are all fucked up to hell and back, obviously but they’re figures who inspire, who lead- heroes in the godlike sense that we think of comics cover stars as.
The Guardians are your shambolic mates with all their fucking issues, nerdish pride over their particular domains and personal vendettas- you know how you can’t mention that thing to Graham because he’ll start crying, if he’s had a few? Like that but with everything, ever. The Guardians would probably eat pork scratchings, is what I’m saying. And that’s what makes this film effective- its claustrophobic intimacy between near-strangers (the only pre-existing relationship between them in the film is that of Rocket and Groot) and a desperate search for something to hold on to when you’re that kind of drunk where the room won’t stop spinning. When you’re not leaving this pub until you find your iPod and you don’t care if they closed three hours ago.
There’s two truly moving bits in the film; the sort of thing that leaves me a crying mess and might at least cause a bit of throat-constriction in a person not wholly conditioned to weep uncontrollably at comics. The first of the scenes has the Guardians drunk, horny, pathetic. They start acting out the personalities they’ve crafted for themselves- the brawling mercenaries of love and war they’ve set out to be. It ends in tears, embarrassment and near-death. The sort of cringing, realistic outcome that you recognise in Peep Show and your own sweaty, hungover fears- the flaws of temper and embarrassment that you know your own self-esteem doesn’t hold up to.
The second moment, which I defy you to watch without welling up, is a CGI-heavy emotional beat between the least human characters, which makes even ‘Who the hell is Bucky?’ look like tame fare.
Because yes, this is a nerdy film about nerdy shit but it’s not working off a SyFy budget- it’s a movie so ludicrously good looking (not just Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana) that it manages to carry off its own kitschy aesthetic, it’s unlikely textures and characters, it’s goofy nature and make it look smooth and sharp. It mixes its eighties soundtrack with gorgeously dramatic scoring and its Abed Nadir-style pop culture references with breathtakingly choreographed fight scenes. It takes a bunch of losers and weirdos such as ourselves and shows them as badass, shows their very strangenesses to be not only their strengths but the thing that’s shared.
There are a lot of stories about saving the universe with pop music. There are even more stories about saving the universe with friendship. This is not per se either of those things, it’s more about saving the universe with the seat of your pants, coincidentally containing some old gig tickets and borrowed from the floor of an associate you woke up on that morning. And that’s probably the kind of pop music and friendship we deserve.
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