This entry is far beyond its window of relevance, considering there’s now probably only about a dozen people left on the planet who haven’t seen it yet, but for whatever it’s worth, I really, really enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy, the latest entry in the interconnected film franchise that’s come to be known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was everything I hoped it would be, and everything I’ve been craving for a while: a feel-good space adventure with likable heroes — hey, remember those?! — and a healthy sense of humor, balanced with just enough pathos and epic scope to keep the whole thing from tilting over the edge into outright comedy.
While I enjoyed the story and characters, honestly, a lot of the appeal for me was the environment of this movie. Like its distant ancestor, the original Star Wars, Guardians drops the viewer into a fully realized, busy, populated universe where it feels as if every individual on the screen has some life off the screen. We get the feeling that there are a billion stories in this universe and we’re only focusing on this one handful of characters for a while, that we could easily shift our focus to those guys over there and it would turn out to be just as entertaining. That sounds like no big deal, but it’s a trick very few sci-fi movies — very few movies in general, when you think about it — manage to pull off. I found myself really appreciating the sensation of verisimilitude, the feeling that I could crawl inside this movie and walk around and meet people. And since I had absolutely no background with this property going in, I also had the pleasure of discovering something entirely new. As much as I’ve enjoyed the other Marvel films — Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, as well as the X-Men movies (same comic-book publisher, different movie studio) — I already knew who those characters were and the rough outlines of their most famous adventures, so the pleasure I felt with those movies came from seeing how successfully they brought life to the familiar. Guardians, on the other hand, was a clean slate for me, and I dug the things it filled up with.
In addition, I liked the overall look of Guardians. It’s kind of a weird observation, but I was deeply struck by the way one of the main locations, the planet Xandar, was such a bright and sunny place, where the police aircraft are a shining gold and citizens wear brightly colored clothing. Such a refreshing change from the desaturated, grayscale visuals and perpetual nighttime setting of so many science fiction films in recent years.
I have to mention the soundtrack, naturally, which consists mostly of upbeat, bubblegum-flavored pop tunes from the 1970s. Kudos to director James Gunn for choosing just the right songs to evoke a mood, and for working with that old music I love so much instead of ironically mocking it.
About the only complaint I have with Guardians is one you’ve heard before, which is that the big action scenes are unfortunately cut in the jittery, zoom-in/zoom-out, lots-of-crap-flying-around, which-way-am-I-supposed-to-look style that’s been the vogue for the past decade or so, ever since those damned Bourne movies. I hate to admit this, because I’m fairly certain it’s a sign I’m getting old, but I simply can’t tell what the hell is going on in action scenes these days. Guardians wasn’t as bad in this regard as other flicks I’ve seen, but there were a couple of shots (mostly in the segment involving a dogfight in and around a place called Knowhere) that I had a lot of difficulty following.
Still, that’s nitpicking compared to the overall level of joy I received from this film. Honestly, how could I not love a space movie that references the Kevin Bacon classic Footloose? Am I right? And of course the cameo everybody’s been talking about absolutely made my night. Whoever thought we’d see that guy on the big screen again, in any form?