If “Guardians of the Galaxy” had tried to be a superhero movie, it would have been in trouble.
Not only because it would have been the fourth of its kind this year, but because it would have had to follow the superlative “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and the very strong “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” (And, um, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” but not much competition there.)
Instead of yet another comic book movie, “Guardians” is the best comedy of the year, and it just so happens it’s based on comic books. It’s more “Firefly” than “Avengers,” and that’s the best thing about it.
“Winter Soldier” took the superhero movie to extraordinary new levels (with help from the source material, of course) by using comic book tropes to examine the current state of the U.S. government. I recently spent 20 minutes discussing whether Cap’s decision not to wear a motorcycle helmet signaled a libertarian bent and then another half-hour on how much of his nostalgia for the America of the ’40s was brought about by his position as a straight white guy; one has to wonder if Gabe Jones, the lone African-American in the Howling Commandos, would look back at that time in our history with as much fondness as Steve Rogers does.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” doesn’t have such a deep message, but that’s not a fault — that’s a strength. The few false notes in the film come when its reach exceeds its grasp in terms of emotional punches, though it does, at times, have resonance. This is the first film in recent memory where a genetically enhanced talking raccoon made me tear up.
Instead of profundity, you’ve got genuinely likable characters who learn a Valuable Lesson About Friendship, but not in some heavy-handed after-school-special kind of way. Even the hamminess of the film works; as the major villain, Lee Pace revels in his evilness and chews so much of the scenery I’m surprised there weren’t teeth marks in the screen itself — but everything about the film is so over-the-top and joyous that what would be unforgivable in a more serious film fits in here. My major quibble with “Guardians,” in fact, is that the 3-D conversion is terrible. Go for 2-D.
You don’t need to like sci-fi to like “Guardians”; you don’t have to have darkened the door of a comic book shop or know who Jack Kirby was or be able to say whether Batman is DC or Marvel. You don’t even have to have seen another superhero movie in your life. All you need to do is drop any biases and have enough money to cover your (2-D) ticket. Just sit back and enjoy; the Guardians will take care of the rest.
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