If The Avengers is the french fry of the film industry, Guardians of the Galaxy is a chili cheese fry.
Critics are heaping praise on Guardians of the Galaxy, the wacky Marvel movie many fans thought would never be made. And it's worth the hype — the movie is good.
Marvel is exceptional at delivering exactly what people want. The studio has proven adept at delivering superhero movies with snappy dialogue, engaging heroes and larger-than-life worlds. The tone may shift between films — Winter Soldier is a spy thriller while Guardians of the Galaxy is an often-goofy comedy — yet the fundamentals stay the same.
It's a business of making cinematic french fries: addictive, tasty and mostly nutritionless. Guardians of the Galaxy is a littler spicier, a littler richer than the meals we've had before. But at its base, it's mostly the same.
It's not such a crazy plan
Guardians of the Galaxy could have been filler while Marvel stalls for next summer's Avengers: Age of Ultron.
The film finds Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), teamed up with a group of lovable underdogs. United by a "greater good" cause, they become the best of friends, fight evil and, spoiler alert, save everyone.
To movie-goers, this might seem like the space-centric version of the Avengers — and in some ways, it is. Pratt is a charismatic lead surrounded by characters such as a talking raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Vin Diesel playing a sentient tree-man and Zoe Saldana as Gamora, a green assassin.
The Avengers have money, polish and flair; the Guardians of the Galaxy are sort of like a conglomerate of trashy cousins cruising to the tune of classic musical hits. It's a weird movie by normal standards, but not so much by Marvel's.
This is not your mom's superhero movie.
Guardians relies heavily on its sense of humor to make its crazy world jibe, and that works because Marvel isn't shy about playing up the group's absurdity and off-colored nature. After escaping from prison and boarding Star-Lord's ship, Gamora makes a comment about how disgusting it is. As she saunters off-screen, Star-Lord is quick to agree, comparing the place to a Jackson Pollock painting under a black light. It's moments like these when Pratt really shines. His ability to drop deadpanned lines gives you the sense that he's not trying to win a laugh, but just does naturally. He's a wise-cracking womanizer who also happens to be a dangerous space pirate — and yet he's also a little like a best friend in college who once got too high and missed his final.
Not all of the film's jokes land safely. Drax, another member of the team, takes everything literally and can usually be found derailing conversations as a result. Star-Lord tells the great story of Footloose to make a point, and later Gamora references it by exclaiming, "We're just like Kevin Bacon!" Like many of the movie's half-baked ha-has, it's a cute thought that feels forced.
Gamora herself is something of a disappointment, and not because of Saldana's performance. She feels more like a placeholder love interest shaken up with a touch of deadly fighter. One of her biggest scenes in the movie involves her needing to be saved; the scene itself is shot with so much drama and visual flair that it's hard to take it as anything but a gratuitous damseling. The moment directly following it is a jab at the "finding something heroic inside yourself" trope, but it does little to give Gamora back her agency. Although she's not the first character to be rescued, she's the only one that feels like she truly needs it.
Guardians is the story of a team of remarkable individuals coming together to do a remarkable thing, but taken a few steps to the left. It ends with explosions and crashes and death, but also some impromptu dancing to remind you this is not your mom's superhero movie.
It won't nourish you, and you won't be able to eat it forever.
Even if you haven't seen the movie, I can assure you that you have a good guess of what you're going to get. At its worst, it's cheesy, riddled with stereotypes and includes the kind of positivity only a Disney film could supply without barfing. At best — and what a best to be — it is incredibly, undeniably fun. It didn't blow my mind, or redefine the way I look at the superhero genre; it's not the next Batman Begins, and it's not even the next Avengers. It's a solid movie with a few good laughs and enough of a personality to make it stand out from the summer crowd. Expectations, meet reality.
With Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel isn't looking to invest in steaks. It's not taking any brave new steps. It won't nourish you or make you grow, and you won't be able to eat it forever.
It's the order you place because you know exactly what you'll get, and that's OK. Sometimes you just need comfort food.