Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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Like most comic book fans, I was impressed by Marvel’s courage they announced a film based on this obscure property but skeptical that it would turn out decently. Then I was all hyped up when I saw how responses to it on Broken Forum were overwhelmingly positive. But now that I’ve seen for it for myself, I’ve ended up being only lukewarm about it.

At the same time, I do get why some audiences, most especially Americans, like it so much. The only other James Gunn movie I’ve watched is Slither, a B-movie homage that I loved. Thing is, Guardians of the Galaxy feels like a very weird hybrid of your standard big budget summer action blockbuster and the so-bad-it’s-good, tongue-in-cheek sci-fi B-movie. The special effects, large scale action scenes and costumes are all of course top notch and big budget. But the irreverent tone, trollish jokes and the willingness to interrupt the standard pacing of an action movie are all very much B-movie territory.

Watching this in a Malaysian cinema, it’s pretty obvious that most of the jokes went right over the audience’s heads judging by the complete lack of laughter (Drax: Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too fast. I would catch it.) Probably not many understood that Peter Quill had made a cum joke or what Kevin Bacon has to do with anything. For my part, I admired the audacity and cleverness of this brand of humour, but was too weirded out by its presence to find it laugh-out-loud funny. Still, I feel that stuff like including Howard the Duck goes too far towards being an in-joke that is accessible only to a very small minority of the audience.

The unconventional humour might be easier to swallow if the action scenes were more effective. Unfortunately it’s run of the mill fare with few memorable scenes. The sets look impressive enough, including Knowhere (though I would have preferred more close-in shots of the whole head and a wider angle look at the action) and Xandar. But the action choreography is lacklustre. Worse, you don’t walk away feeling that these characters are badass. Drax the so-called Destroyer is so underwhelming that you get the feeling that The Winter Soldier Captain America could take him without too much trouble.

I did like that the plot, though simple, flowed well and there were no obvious flaws. But I would really appreciate it if the remainder of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films would refrain from using the Infinity Gems as MacGuffins. We’ve seen the same story play out too many times already. As for the characters, it’s obvious that this film didn’t get the benefit of having them develop over several films before being thrown together, but the group dynamic here works well enough. Some moments were surprisingly well done but were probably understated, including Rocket’s drunken breakdown about his lot in life.

Moving ahead, it’s obvious that this eventually tie in with The Avengers somehow due to the common connection with Thanos. I wonder how that would play out given that Team Earth will pretty much curb stomp the so-called Guardians of the Galaxy. But in the end, this is much closer to sci-fi action than superhero action. It would be fairer to compare this to Star Wars or Firefly than The Avengers and seen in that light, it actually stands up decently given the relative poverty of this genre.

As underwhelming as I found it to be, I still liked it enough to want to see more. This could be the start of a cool new direction for Marvel and it is interesting to note that Stars Wars, now also owned by Disney, is its closest competitor.

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