By Ryan Stephens
Guardians of the Galaxy did everything right that a movie starring Vin Diesel as a tree and Bradley Cooper as a talking racoon could do. James Gunn, a director more famous for writing movies from Troma, the studio that brought us The Toxic Avenger, and a gross out horror film from 2006, managed to pull off one of the more risky movies of the summer. A Hollywood blockbuster does not come out of a concept like this, even if the wildly successful Marvel Studios and Cinematic Universe is attached to it. Actors like Chris Pratt, who stars as the Guardians’ team leader Starlord, and Dave Batista, playing as Drax the Destroyer, aren’t cast for big films like this. Considering their background, Guardians looked like it would be the first flop from Marvel Studios but came out as the strongest film in their line up.
As far as superhero movies go, the plot escapes much of the same tropes that its contemporaries fall into. A New York-esque skyscrape being torn apart to evoke some sort of 9/11 imagery, corny romances, and an origin story that starts with humble beginnings will not be found here and for the better. Instead, drawing from the comics, the story takes place exclusively in the outer reaches of space, using a sort of scale in a summer movie that comes around in rare circumstances. Among the titular team, all of the characters become fully realized by the end, with fleshed out backgrounds, comedic relief, and even some elements of tragedy. For once, all of the characters come off less as overly snarky and witty silver tongued heroes as seen in The Avengers and more as relatable with a sense of humor. The irony sticks out considering almost all of the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy hardly even know what Earth is. The screenwriter did a superb job in making the audience have any genuine feeling for characters that bring little to relate to in the first place.
Beyond that, the movie also captures its visuals far better than any other film from the summer. Guardians opens up with Chris Pratt dancing around, with a plethora of different shots being used in the span of a minute. The visual language of the film actually exists, which did not need to happen considering a majority of the audience members could not care less about what type of angles were used and more about the smoking hot body of Pratt. This works in Gunn’s favor as he managed to execute one of the most visually satisfying films of the year, even more so with such a big budgeted feature. Visual effects come off as expertly done and well crafted, however deserve little praise. For Marvel, the average level of quality blows most other competing films out of the water but more than likely will not be winning any sort of recognition. The stock quality doesn’t detract from the overall experience though as the worlds explored in the movie were crafted with care and all possessed a visual landmark that still makes them fresh, even for science fiction.
For the science fiction genre, the movie did quite a bit to make it much more approachable and for the superhero genre, it took a leap that most other studios wouldn’t dare to take. With such an unusual cast, both in terms of casting and writing, setting, and director, the fact that Guardians of the Galaxy managed to gross as much as it did comes off as a big surprise. The marketing machine of Marvel managed to stamp out a friendly, sterilized version of the movie that all ages would appreciate. Overall, for anyone that became a disillusioned person from the plethora of the over the top destruction fests, like Ernest Hemingway without all the drinking, Guardians could breath fresh air into an already stagnant genre while improving upon the tropes that flavor it.
Guardians of the Galaxy jumped out of the screen while Transformers 4 hung out comfortably in the pit of filth known as the action genre. As far as the summer of 2014 goes, Guardians crowned as the champion of the summer blockbuster and Transformer 4 regarded as the maligned villain would be a fair judgement. Representing the highs and lows of such a profitable period, the season of movies progressed within comfortable limits while still managing to prove that not much evolution occurred for the high earners. With the period of moustache-twirling profitability coming to a close for the theaters, the lesson that producers should learn from these two movies that could prevent another drop in money comes harsh to financing and as a boon to creativity. Trudging out of the swamp of creative comfort brings success more often than not. Even for Transformers, leaps made go far to at least add some spice to the series. The lesson may get through to the producers that hold the entire industry in a vise but if it does not, 2015 should deliver it.