Back during my Marvel Comics-reading days, when I was what you'd now call a "tween", I'd catch fleeting references to the Guardians of the Galaxy here and there. But they were obscure. They had no comic of their own, and members seemed to dart in and out. I was surprised to learn that the group that's gathered together in the 2014 big screen adaptation only dates back to 2008 - a motley team of random Marvel characters who had been introduced here and there over the preceding three decades.
In short, I have to hand it to Marvel Studios, and their mastermind producer Kevin Feige: Guardians of the Galaxy has proven that audiences will now flock to a Marvel film based on the studio's imprimatur alone. No major stars or well-known characters are required anymore. This is not something they could have gotten away with five years ago.
Anyway, the film's setup is achingly familiar - rather an echo of The Avengers, in fact: a gathering of misfits, each with his or her own skill sets, quirks, and inner demons, must cooperate in order to stop an interstellar madman from destroying a planet. The difference here is in the film's sheer newness. For most audiences, these characters are complete unknowns, and the world they live in has never been depicted on screen before. It must be great fun for filmmakers to kick-start a brand new sci fi franchise - especially for the art and costume departments - and on this level, Guardians really soars. You can see the creativity at play, and the visuals are a breath of fresh air. (The makeup alone is Oscar-worthy.)
That said, I couldn't get into it.
I realize the movie's a hit. I accept that millions of people are already falling in love with it. That's great. But sometimes you can see a perfectly well-made film and it just doesn't do anything for you. With Guardians, I guess it was just its endless array of space battles. Guns. Sparks. Starships crashing into each other. It got to be deadening. And TV star Chris Pratt, playing Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord, an Earthling abducted back in 1988 when he was just 10-11 years old, fills the soundtrack with 1970s tunes from his Walkman's mix tape, wisecracks against ultra-serious aliens... and I didn't much care for him.
I could go on with my nit-picking, but my point is, I found nothing objectively wrong with Guardians of the Galaxy. It simply didn't work for me. Perhaps the bar set by this year's other Marvel films - Captain America: The Winter Soldier's surprisingly paranoid tone and franchise-changing plot twist, X-Men: Days of Future Past's expert juggling of characters and time periods - was too high to be met by Guardians' by-the-numbers storyline.
Marvel is known for hiring offbeat yet strangely appropriate directors for their projects; James Gunn is known mostly for writing two low-budget superhero satires: Super, which he also directed, is flawed but edgy and kind of brilliant. The Specials, despite its intriguing similarities to the bickering heroes in Guardians, falters mainly because of Craig Mazin's flat direction, but Gunn's script is no home run either. It was a bold decision for Marvel to take the guy who once thumbed his nose at superhero movies and put him in charge of their latest blockbuster. Suffice it to say, all of Gunn's strengths - and weaknesses - are on full display.