After the thump-grimace-exposition-repeat pattern that turned Captain America 2 into such a self-serious snooze (that everyone nonetheless seemed to love – agree to disagree, y’all), I worried I might be done with the Marvel universe. In fact, between all of Cap 2’s winking references to the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (GRR, BRAND SYNERGY!) and Edgar Wright being forced out of Ant-Man just eight weeks before shooting, evidence was mounting that Disney was about to ruin Marvel the way they had Pixar and Miley Cyrus (aw, remember how wholesome she once was?).
The world would be simpler that way, and hating Disney purifies my soul, but alas it wasn’t to be. The Disney hype machine notwithstanding, Guardians of the Galaxy somehow feels like it was made just for me. A wisecracking womanizer in a lawless universe full of incorrigible rogues? Here, take my wallet. Hell, I like you, you can come over to my house and f*ck my sister. Guardians is so good at making you totally willing to overlook its faults that there’s no way I’m even going to be able to write about it without every word evoking the sound of saliva being sucked over a retainer. So, enjoy this, and sorry about all the dandruff.
Ahem. (*clears throat*) (*shuffles papers on desk*) (*straightens glasses*)
OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS, CHRIS PRATT AND A TALKING RACCOON!
Marvel tends to be at their best when they’re doing goofy fun and at their worst when getting serious or attempting social commentary. Protagonist in a moral quandary? Don’t care. Characters in a love triangle? Don’t care. Scarlett Johansson had a bad childhood? Doooon’t care… S.H.I.E.L.D. is an allegory for the security state? DON’T. CARE. AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP EXPLAINING YOUR OWN SHITTY MACGUFFINS!
Guardians instead gives us a hero somewhere between Han Solo and an intergalactic Wooderson in a story that’s like two hours of the Mos Eisley cantina scene in Star Wars. In fact, if the world needed another Star Wars movie (it doesn’t), James Gunn would be just the guy to direct it. Ignore the TV spots selling Guardians as your typical BADASS, BRO superhero movie, it has more in common with The Fifth Element. Narratively conventional, but with world building of such supercharged weirdness that every frame is a dorked-up roller coaster ride.
I’m a firm believer that a comic book movie should absolutely be a little silly, and “embrace the silliness” comes through in every frame here. You have to love the fact that they hired Vin Diesel to say only “I AM GROOT” and Bradley Cooper to do an unrecognizable-as-Bradley-Cooper voice for a gangster raccoon. (And without Andy Serkis there to tell the animators how a raccoon or a tree should act! How did they ever manage!) I love it when big celebrities get hired to do voice work because of their famous voice, and then show up doing some elaborate impression. It’s like Bill Murray promoting Suntory Whiskey in a rubber Richard Nixon mask.
That’s not to say Guardians is perfect, but James Gunn and co. absolutely understand what the fun part of a comic book movie is and devote their resources accordingly. 90 percent of Guardians consists of exuberant world-building, with only the most cursory fraction of screen time devoted to self-serious characters gravely explaining plot devices. Even when they have to do it, the costumes give it a bonkers silliness, with Lee “American Hiddleston” Pace and Benicio Del Toro competing to see who can out-ham Gary Oldman’s Zorg. No one should be surprised that a wrestler can act at this point (half of wrestling is live improv, after all), but Dave Batista is wildly enjoyable as the giant blue guy who doesn’t understand metaphors.
For the most part, Guardians takes all that unneeded exposition time and uses it instead to build, for instance, a galactic titty bar where the patrons bet on a rat-baiting like game where miniature blue dinosaurs run around a roulette board biting each other. Rat-baiting-inspired sci-fi, it’s all I’ve ever wanted. Every set is a new, fully-realized experience, and it’s all so beautifully done that it might be the first movie I’ve ever seen where I was actually thankful for the invention of CGI.
In the film, Star Lord (Pratt) has a prized possession, an old Walkman with a cassette tape filled with seventies hits (“Awesome Mix”) gifted to him by his dying, beautiful, cancer-riddled mother. Is the cassette entirely believable or important to the story? Not really. Does it make a great excuse for James Gunn to shoot a bunch of balletic, slow-motion fight sequences set to music that owe more to the “Stuck In The Middle with You” scene in Reservoir Dogs than to the thumpy Bourne stuff? Yes, yes it does, and count me in for that. “Awesome Mix” is a nice analogy for the movie, a lot of pop references mixed together and cranked up real loud that you can’t help but want to dance to.
Oh right, these movies were supposed to be fun! Guardians is the kind of movie you’re going to see kids walking out of brandishing imaginary guns yelling “remember when the raccoon was all ‘PEW PEW PEW!'” instead of trying to figure out which cross-branding tie-in fit in where. And Disney will probably be happy anyway, because now they’ll be able to sell boatloads of raccoon and tree toys. If James Gunn can make me cheer for that, forget Star Wars, maybe we should get him to talk to the Israelis and Palestinians.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. You can find more of his work on FilmDrunk, the Uproxx network, the Portland Mercury, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.