While watching Guardians of the Galaxy, I felt something that I haven't felt since watching a very special children's animated feature. (For the record, there are no GotG spoilers in this article.)
Guardians of Galaxy is the best Marvel movie in recent memory. This is high praise, as one can't deny that Marvel's ongoing plan to weave together their epic superhero universe has been a rousing success. Hell, even the "bad" movies are still entertaining in their own rights. Marvel could have very well stuck to their guns and continued to create movies based off their most famous characters year after year, and it totally would have worked. Lucky for us, they took a chance.
When the first news of a Guardians of the Galaxy movie hit the internet, the collective response was, "Huh?" When the first trailer was released, the response was mostly positive, but there was still a lot of "Guardians of the what?" going around. We all knew that this movie was going to be different than the rest, but no one really knew how different it would be.
Guardians is self-aware, irreverent, and uproariously funny. All of the phase 1 and phase 2 Marvel films have featured solid humor, but the comedy has always been more of a way to "lighten up the mood" in the face of ever-present dread and despair. Guardians will leave you laughing from beginning to end, not because it has to use humor to lighten up darker themes, but because it simply wants to make you laugh. Oh, and it also apparently wants to say "dick" as much as is allowed in a PG-13 Marvel film.
I'm not complaining. Guardians of the Galaxy is a character-driven comedy first and an epic sci-fi superhero movie second - and it totally works.
Ok, I swear I didn't mean for this to turn into a full review, so let's focus in on the reason I felt the need to create that poorly-photoshopped header image!
After walking out of the premier last night, I realized that Guardians of the Galaxy didn't really feel like a Marvel movie. The entire tone of the movie felt different than any of the previous films set in the Marvel universe, and for a while I couldn't quite put my finger what exactly it was. It hit me almost as soon as I woke up this morning and tripped over my cat. The only other film that left me with a similar feeling was, you guessed it, Disney's 2000 treasure, The Emperor's New Groove.
If you haven't yet seen The Emperor's New Groove, check out the clip below for a great example of the style of humor in this movie. Also, what is wrong with you!? It's currently on Netflix streaming! GO WATCH IT!
Prior to New Groove, Disney films had always stuck to a pretty well-defined formula. Sure, they had comedy, and an occasional "parent joke" thrown in, but most of the movies didn't really feel "fresh." I don't remember why I went to see this, but as I walked out of the theater I remember thinking to myself, "Wait, was that actually a Disney movie?!"
I wasn't the only person to realize how different this movie felt, in a good way, in comparison to Disney's previous animated efforts:
"The unfussy, tossed-off quality actually helps give this original story zippy irreverence some of Disney's plusher cartoons lack."
- David Ansen, Newsweek
"Lickety-split banter between brilliantly conceived characters, chase scenes that leave you breathless with laughter and surprise ... this is a whole new ballgame for Disney."
Jeffrey Overstreet, Looking Closer
"This Disney comedy makes a self-conscious and largely successful attempt to modernize the studio's format with a jive-ass sensibility."
- Wally Hammond, Time Out
I'm not completely sure what "jive-ass sensibility" is, but if you swap out "Disney" for "Marvel" in those quotes, they could easily be used as blurbs for Guardians of the Galaxy reviews.
The Emperor's New Groove is chock-full of sarcasm, quick banter, and incredibly sharp humor that is easily lost on the majority of children who see it. There are no princesses to save, no evil relatives, and no all-powerful villain to defeat. I mean, the entire story revolves around an unlikable character that turns into a freaking llama! It is so different, and so out there, that it completely works. I truly believe that this movie lead to a general change in the way Disney approaches modern animated films, and I think we're going to see some changes from Marvel as they move into phase 3 of their master movie-plan.
In a sense, this really is "a whole new ballgame" for Marvel. They took a risk in hiring James Gunn to direct and write this movie, as he doesn't exactly have a huge number of beloved films in his repertoire, even with a few cult hits like Slither and Dawn of the Dead under his belt. Gunn's "emergence" as a big-budget action movie director is akin to Brad's Birds transition from the family-friendly Ratatouille and The Incredibles to the thrilling Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.
On top of taking a chance with the writing and directing, Marvel also put themselves out on a limb with the source material for the film. The Guardians of the Galaxy franchise isn't exactly well-known outside of the comic book community. Much like New Groove, which spent years in hollywood hell while the writers and producers fought to keep the unique tone of film, Guardians was undoubtedly a difficult sell for Marvel.
But damn if they didn't sell it. Oh boy, did they sell it!
Guardians of the Galaxy is to Marvel movies what The Emperor's New Groove was to Disney animated films, and I think it shows that you don't need be The Avengers or The Dark Knight to absolutely captivate and entertain your audience. Humor doesn't need to be a crutch to hold up more "serious" and "realistic" themes in big sci-fi adventures. Rather, it can effortlessly drive an entire movie with a sense of swagger that very few sci-fi films are able to emulate. If anything, Guardians of the Galaxy makes me even more excited for a future Deadpool movie!
Joss Whedon once said, "Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke." I feel like James Gunn's version of that quote would be, "Make it self-aware, make it sarcastic, make it hilarious, but then, for the love of God, don't take yourself so damn seriously you dick!"
Matt "Smi1ey" Dunn is a former mobile gaming journalist (which is why you haven't heard of him) and a newly-minted member of the TAY crew. Learn more about him and get in touch here!