Box Office Democracy: Guardians of the Galaxy
I have spent months telling everyone who would listen that I thought Guardians of the Galaxy would be the first flop of the Marvel Studios era. While Iron Man and Thor were hardly household names before their recent turns they were the practically Superman wearing a Mickey Mouse costume compared with Star-Lord and Groot.
There’s also the inherent tendency for cosmic stories to end up feeling pretty nonsensical, maybe not more nonsensical than the Asgard stuff but audiences didn’t connect with Green Lantern and that seemed to be the closest comparable movie. I thought this would be an emperor-has-no-clothes moment and would unravel the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I’m happy to report I was a complete moron and while many of those ill portents might have been true James Gunn and his cast made such a thoroughly enjoyable movie that they don’t matter.
Guardians of the Galaxy is easily the funniest Marvel movie but it also derives its comedy in such a different way than most super hero movies. Every super hero movie I can think of either has one character that’s responsible for generating 90% of the laugh lines (your Tony Starks or your Lokis) or by sort of having moments of acknowledging the absurdity of the premise (this was way overdone in the later Schumaker Batman films). Guardians lets all five members of the team be funny and it helps so much. It helps the plot (and I’ll get to why the plot needs a little bit of help) but it also lets the actors shine in these characters.
I knew coming in to expect great things from Chris Pratt but I was not expecting Bradley Cooper to turn in the best performance of his career playing a mutant raccoon. I don’t even just mean he’s funnier in this movie than anything else, although he is, but he disappears in that character and I never thought I was hearing Bradley Cooper. Vin Diesel steals entire scenes despite only ever saying three words. This ensemble might not be better than Downey, Evans, Johansson et al. in the Avengers franchise but they fit their roles as good if not better than the big team and it’s stunning to watch.
I mentioned earlier that the plot needs a little bit of help and that’s not entirely fair. As someone who has been reading comic books literally as long as I can remember I had no problem following what was going on. The three people I went with who did not have that background had no idea what had just happened. They enjoyed themselves immensely, and that should be the real measure of a movie, but they could not tell me who the non-Guardian characters were, what their motivations were, or what an “Infinity Gem” did. They push through a lot of stuff without time for anything to sink in or without providing a lot of exposition and just relied on the general charisma of the rest of the film to carry the plot a little bit. It worked flawlessly and is the biggest difference from Green Lantern, which explained everything in laborious detail, and had no joy anywhere to be found.
I still think there are flaws in the MCU road map (honestly, who is clamoring for a Doctor Strange movie?) but I can’t doubt them any longer. I will anxiously await every movie they put out until they prove they can’t do it. I went in to this movie thinking I wouldn’t like it at all and walked out with only a minor quibble about the use of slow motion. Make mine movies Marvel.