Guardians of the Galaxy is Pure Cinematic Joy

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It’s generally accepted that film critics must maintain a high, if not absolute, degree of detachment and objectivity when evaluating a film. A critic, it is thought, must “leave their baggage at the door” and review a film dispassionately, not letting their personal biases, impressions or background influence their feelings on a film.

I think it’s a load of old bullshit, myself.

Granted, a film can be evaluated purely on its formal merits, and a degree of objective evaluation is possible, but the reason I prefer writing in the first person (and in my particular hyperbolic, snarky style) is that my impressions of a film are generally that: my impressions. If I like a film it’s just as often because it appealed to something of my personal taste or sensibilities as because I can appreciate it’s formal qualities objectively.

And while I do try to maintain a degree of this supposedly essential critical detachment, there are certain films that I know going in that I cannot be objective about. Films that I want to be good, that I want to like. Guardians of the Galaxy is one of these films, which means you should probably take it with a grain of salt large enough that Grand Admiral Thrawn is liable to fit it with a cloaking device and park it next to Coruscant (Christ, that’s an obscure reference, even for me) when I say that I loved it to little bitty bits.

Guardians posterAnd those who know a thing or two about my personal tastes should understand why, I mean a movie directed by a former Troma Studios writer about a guy who was abducted by aliens in the 1980s and went on to become a wannabe space adventurer, all the while endlessly listening to a mix tape of 70s classics? A movie that completely and utterly shirks any aspirations toward realism and high cinema with its crass humor, a gun-toting talking raccoon and more space opera adventure and excitement than has generally been seen on movie screens in bloody decades? Of course I’d want to like this movie, it might as well have been made for me!

But while I went in hoping that Guardians of the Galaxy would at the very least be good, imagine my delight when it turned out to be not just good, but great, and for reasons I wasn’t even expecting. By now much fuss has been made about the film’s action, comedy, likeable characters and direction laden with personality and charm by Director James Gunn. But what made Guardians connect with me more than any of that was how once in a while it would gently pull back the fun, jokey atmosphere and actually get serious for a moment.

Oh sure, most of the time things are all quips and wisecracks, but once in a while the facade will drop away and you’ll realize that that raccoon is dealing with some serious emotional trauma. The biggest example of this is, though, is Chris Pratt’s character Star Lord.

The film starts with a pretty serious emotional gut punch that, for very personal reasons, hit pretty close to home for me and made that personal connection even stronger. See, I told you, I’m biased. Guardians is one of these increasingly rare summer blockbusters that not only asks its audience to form a connection to the characters, but succeeds in doing so, and doesn’t feel phony or pandering with its attempts. That alone makes Guardians a triumph.

But on top of having more emotional chops than any other blockbuster on the, well…block, Guardians succeeds by just being fun. The action is crisply filmed and creatively executed, and cast in something other than the usual sci-fi colors of gunmetal gray and rusty brown. The soundtrack, as has already been talked about to death, doesn’t just do the usual thing of ape Hans Zimmer or John Williams, but uses actual songs to give mood and character to scenes.

The characters actually enjoy themselves from time to time rather than go through the whole thing with determined grimaces and heroic stoicism. There’s a sense of fun and enjoyment that permeates every single frame of the thing and makes it almost impossible to leave the theatre without a smile on your face.

Much of this comes from the cast, who all deliver excellent performances, and beyond obvious favorites like Vin Diesel’s Groot and Bradley Cooper’s future fan-favorite character Rocket, I found myself having far too much fun with supporting cast members like Yondu, played in full hillbilly glory by Michael Rooker.

Guardians Yondu

And no, it’s not perfect. The main villain, Ronan, isn’t exactly the most exciting bad guy ever. Another adversary using ill-defined bowers and legions of dull-looking footsoldiers to obtain the all-powerful cosmic mcguffin du jour, but he has enough presence and enough of a theatrical, operatic charm that puts him leagues above Thor: The Dark World‘s Malekith and whoever the fuck Guy Pearce was supposed to be in Iron Man 3. And sure, once in a while a delivery will feel a bit flat, but those moments are few and far between in a sea of fun, interesting performances.

But whatever scant flaws the film may have are vastly outweighed by everything I just adore it for. It feels fresh and dynamic, with real personality in its direction and some of the best sci-fi visuals in years. Everywhere that Man of Steel was drab, dull and joyless, Guardians is vibrant, exciting and utterly joyful.

But importantly, it doesn’t let that joyfulness keep it from trying (and succeeding) to have some emotional depth. And it’s that depth, more than anything else, that makes Guardians an absolute treasure, undoubtedly one of Marvel’s best films yet and so beautifully unlike any other blockbuster you’ve seen all year.

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