The last few days I’ve been mulling over what I really liked about Guardians of the Galaxy. What really set it apart from a lot of other Marvel movies? Spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.
Yes, the humor in Guardians is excellent. There are no doubts there. It is a funny movie. It has other elements as well, but none of them are as good as the humor. Well, except one.
One of the things that geeks always complain makes a movie fall flat is that the characters are just wooden dialogue deliverers. In many a film, they exist just to deliver exposition and plot. They have zero character development or growth. They’re just there. I don’t feel that way about some of the Guardians. Quill is abducted just after he sees his mother die and his only real connections to her or Earth are a mix tape she gave him of good songs from the 70s and a present for his birthday that she asked him to open when she was gone. He had what appears to be an uncle who was less than sensitive about the whole situation but who was “trying” to do the right thing. Plus, we don’t know where his father is but he certainly isn’t in the picture and that isn’t an situation for anybody. So, immediately, Quill has a backstory that helps us to sympathize with him. The mix tape is so powerful for him that he’ll risk life and limb to retrieve it because its the only thing connecting him to his past. Its a little cliched, but it works. Quill learns a bit about love and friendship by the end and we’re hit with his mom’s gift: a second mix tape. I was a little worried that the gift would be some clue to his father’s origin or something, which would not have felt real, and I was glad to see the gift was simple, realistic, and powerful.
Drax and Gamora have motivations too, but they are weaker than the rest. Drax is out to revenge his family. He confronts the villain part way through the movie, fails miserably, and learns some perspective. Once again, its cliched, but its actual character growth. By the end of the film, Drax has been converted into a true friend. Gamora is a tough character to watch in this movie because Zoe Saldana deserves more than what she got, in my opinion. Gamora’s entire character arc is based upon torn loyalty. She ultimately makes the decision to defy Thanos and his crony (gutsy) and join the Guardians. But, her interactions with them seem really forced to me, especially her pseudo-romance with Quill. Her relationship to her “sister” is explored in all of one scene in which they fight each other and I honestly could not have cared less about that fight, other than it had an actual goal. I think so much more could have been done with her character, yet the irony is that it is still more than the average character in any action film.
This brings me to Groot and Rocket. Their friendship is ultimately what provides the rock or example for the rest of the characters. Groot and Rocket have been “adventuring” together for quite some time. When they were introduced I was really worried that Groot would be played as a dumb abused sidekick (to some extent he is at the start), but it becomes rapidly clear that Groot loves Rocket and, when push comes to shove, Rocket loves Groot. Rocket treats him that way because he has emotional damage, and that is how Rocket is attempting to express love without losing his machismo. As a guy, I can relate to the hell out of that. Rocket gets a (too) short little back story about his creation in a lab and Groot gets to make the final sacrifice in the movie. I was rooting (pun intended) for Groot and Rocket throughout the film. I cared about them. How often can we really say that for most action/sci fi movies? I’m sad to say there are very few.
People will dismiss Guardians of the Galaxy as Sophomoric. The humor is. But I think when you start to unwrap the layers of this film you start to see that it has two important aspects that set it apart. There are protagonists that one can actually care about. There is character development that, while limited, does its actual job in creating a sense of loyalty between the audience and the Guardians. At least it did for me. I mean I can remember watching both Fantastic Four movies and honestly not giving a crap whether they succeeded. Fantastic Four 1 and 2 are “team drama” movies and are just really first-world problemy. Their problems aren’t interesting, they’re there to attempt to make something more than just a bunch of CGI. And they failed miserably. Guardians is different and those differences make all the difference.