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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

Guardians of the Galaxy movie review: empty space

Guardians of the Galaxy yellow light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Just another rote space adventure. It’s not actively awful, but there isn’t a single damn thing in the least bit surprising or memorable about it.
I’m “biast” (pro): love the Marvel films
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Sorry, fanboys, but I’m not really seeing how Guardians of the Galaxy is any different from Earth to Echo.

I know: Blasphemy!

But look: It’s a bunch of 80s stuff jammed up into a package that’s only just barely distinguishable from its progenitors, and only that thanks to “awesome” CGI FX that can cram more crap onscreen than your brain knows what to do with. Okay: that’s some 90s and early 2000s stuff, via George Lucas and his ADD approach to “awesome,” which has no focus and no point and considers those lacks a virtue because look at all the spaceships! And look at the completely plausible, utterly realistic cyborg warrior raccoon. I mean, that’s fan-freakin’-tastic, ain’t it?

It’s kind of sad, actually. We can put a realistic cyborg raccoon onscreen, but we can’t come up with a story that doesn’t recycle all the good bits from all the movies we loved as kids? Seriously? We can put a realistic cyborg raccoon onscreen, but we cannot conceive of a female character who is present in the story pretty much only so that she can succumb to the nonexistent charms of the anti-hero?

Peter Quill was kidnapped from Earth against his will. I would like to volunteer to leave and never come back.

Someone threw The Last Starfighter and Star Wars and Doctor Who and Star Trek and Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy into a blender, and out came Guardians of the Galaxy. But that’s cool, allegedly, because it was the 80s when eight-year-old Peter Quill (Wyatt Oleff) was snatched off Earth by aliens, and he hasn’t been back since. So today, grownup Quill (Chris Pratt: The Lego Movie, Delivery Man) has only his Walkman and “awesome” mix tape to remind him of Earth, and only 70s and 80s references for his security blanket in the big wide scary universe full of a few incredible alien species and a whole bunch who look just like humans with green skin and/or funny foreheads. It’s as if the movie has itself been puked out of Quill’s subconscious. When Quill — working as a thief, salvager, and all-around scoundrel — snatches “the Orb” to sell on for profit, best he can manage to describe it is that it has an “Ark of the Covenant vibe” — without noticing, it would seem, that he had to snatch the Orb in a way that echoes Indy’s snatching of the statue in the South American temple. And it’s meant to be funny? I can’t tell.

(What is the Orb? If Quill had been around to consume any cool 90s stuff, he might joke about the galaxy being on Orion’s belt.)

Not that there aren’t plenty of wisecracks and weird-forehead aliens who discover they like grooving to “The Piña Colada Song,” but Guardians isn’t anywhere near funny enough to be a comedy. It’s just one more rote space adventure that, every time you think it might do something even a teensy bit fresh, inevitably falls back on cliché. As with Gamora (Zoe Saldana: Out of the Furnace, Blood Ties), one of the bounty hunters sent to get Quill and the Orb for superbig bad guy Ronan (Lee Pace: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2), who wants the Orb because that’s what Orbs are for, to be desired by superbig bad guys who want to take over the universe or whatever. Gamora is completely badass and appropriately disdainful of Quill, who is kind of a jerk: he is charmless and gormless, once a kid who got beaten up for standing up for a frog some other mean kids killed for no reason, now a man who kicks little froglike creatures across an alien landscape for fun. (And while Pratt is a handsome guy, he’s not much of a screen presence; he’s no Harrison Ford, and Quill is no Han Solo, though we’re clearly meant to think he is.) Until, of course, she succumbs to Quill’s dubious appeal because that’s her job in the movie as the only female character on the “good” side. It’s like, why else would there be a woman on the team? That’s what women are for, in the long run.

(The other bounty hunters: the raccoon, Rocket [the unrecognizable voice of Bradley Cooper: American Hustle, The Hangover Part III], and his sidekick, the treelike Groot [the unrecognizable voice of Vin Diesel: Riddick, Fast & Furious 6]. Everyone hangs around with Quill because he and the Orb are too valuable to let out of sight. Not because they like him. Until of course they do.)

That’s far from the worse retreat into cliché. The big one feels like an enormous storytelling cheat, and nearly made me groan out loud in despair.

What makes Guardians so instantly forgettable is that it isn’t about anything. Not even a little bit, not even in an awkward clumsy way (like how Earth to Echo was ultimately about friendship, if almost embarrassingly so). It’s not about, say, diplomacy versus military power, via how Ronan fails to respect some treaty or other between his people and that other alien world he ends up attacking. It’s not about revenge, though there are some desperate attempts to make it so (basically everybody hates Ronan and has cause for vengeance). I almost want to say that it’s about Quill learning not to treat women like disposable garbage now that he appears to Have Feelings for Gamora. Cuz our “funny” introduction to adult Quill involves him having forgotten that a beautiful half-naked alien woman, whom we may presume he has recently had sex with, is still present on his ship. And there are lots of other “jokes” about how he makes women angry. But we actually don’t know if it’s true that Peter has learned anything: he doesn’t have much time to treat Gamora one way or the other before the movie ends.

Maybe the sequel will deal with this. Though I doubt it.

This isn’t actually a bad movie. It’s not actively awful. But for a movie that clearly is in love with how special and unique it thinks it is, there isn’t a single damn thing in the least bit surprising or memorable to be found in it.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Guardians of the Galaxy for its representation of girls and women.


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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) | directed by James Gunn
US/Can release: Aug 01 2014
UK/Ire release: Jul 31 2014

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated FOSAFSN (full of sound and fury, signifying nothing)
MPAA: rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate fantasy action violence, threat, moderate bad language)

viewed in 3D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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