Posted by Mkilroy89
Earlier this week, the AV club ran an article that examined the late 80’s/early 90’s Batman franchise. It is a well-written article that offers a point of contrast, to the current landscape of blockbusters. The most notable point the author made, is that regardless of quality, the one thing, those four Batman films did right, was allow a certain degree of authorial control, on the part of the director. Batman and Batman Returns are Tim Burton films and Batman Forever and Batman and Robin are Joel Schumacher films, they just happen to feature Batman. In his new film Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn accomplishes the same trick. He does it so well, that Guardians emerges as the most unique of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. The reason being, that at its core, it remains a James Gunn film.
Just like a well-written essay, Guardians begins broadly, a scene with just one character, and gets more specific and detailed. It slowly introduces all the characters, villains and plot points without devolving into chaotic exposition or characters tripping over one another. After I saw the movie, I went home and tried to figure out which characters could have been cut and I realized that I could name them all, explain their motivation, explain what they did and their fates at the end of the film. This is normally unheard of, and points to a well-crafted and easily understandable, script. Especially, considering this movie had thirteen important characters. In this case, cutting characters would be unnecessary. Instead of relying purely on the visual, Gunn uses the dialogue to convey much of the important back-story and motivations. I guess we have recent television dramas to thank for reminding us that audiences can, and do listen.
This is the funniest movie Marvel has made, and it is mostly due, to the variety of comedy that the five main characters embody. In most super hero films, the humor is derived through sarcasm and wit resulting in a lot of chuckles. Guardians, offers huge, eye watering laughs, because it limits the sarcasm. The sarcasm element is filled by the Bradley Cooper voiced Rocket. Groot brings the body humor. Drax is the character that mistakes the figurative as literal, kind of like a ferocious Amelia Bedelia. Starlord is overwhelmed and exasperated by the insanity around him. Gamorra is the classic straight woman that has to hold it all together against the idiocy. It would be easy to mistake this as a Monty Python film, but just as Gunn brings the humor, he brings the action too. The villains in this film are some bad mothers and are more than a match, for the would-be heroes. They show up more than enough, offering the required beat downs, sword fights, explosions and dog fights in space, to keep everyone excited, when they have finally stopped laughing.
The script therefore is well balanced, but so was Captain America: The Winter Soldier. What sets it apart, is the panache that James Gunn’s style brings. The film is constantly referencing other films and directors, but not in a way born out of homage, but instead, character and pure love of movies. The first scene is one of gut wrenching emotion that reminds of the best Steven Spielberg. Then the opening credits cut to an almost direct quote from the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Spielberg again…and then Starlord puts on the headphones and the film instantly becomes its own beast, with one of the best musical interludes of all time. Throughout the film both of these techniques, the film references and the music, continue. At times it references Star Wars, the first scene on Knowhere reminds me of the cantina, and Star Trek, the collector’s menagerie, as well as several great chase films from the 40’s. The Maltese Falcon is directly referenced in dialogue, but Casablanca also comes to mind. It is also a Western and a pirate movie. The soundtrack is complete 70’s and 80’s nostalgia, which gives the movie an identity, unlike anything else in the Marvel canon, or at the movies this summer. It also sets the movie’s intoxicatingly, joyful tone. Where most super hero films resort to trying to end the world over and over again, Guardians accomplishes the rare feat of being a lighter affair. You never really think that the characters are going to be destroyed, but they are interesting and relatable enough that certain things remain at stake. Its biggest strength is that it isn’t a super hero movie, but just a well-made movie that has the capacity to entertain everyone. Thanks James Gunn for reminding us.
If the entire movie wasn’t enough, the post credits scene may be my favorite, since Samuel L. Jackson showed up as Nick Fury, at the end of Iron Man. Howard the Duck was created as an absurdist satire of all things comic books, especially Marvel, by Steve Gerber, in the 70’s. It seems to hold to the spirit of James Gunn’s, least Marvel of Marvel’s films, that such a creation would appear in his film, on the thirtieth anniversary of Howard’s first movie appearance, no less. It’s as if James Gunn is reminding everyone to sit down, relax and laugh, because, Biff! Bam! Pow! comics aren’t just for kids, they are fun for everyone.