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Written by Rob Schultz (human).

#2,065: Guardians of the Galaxy

I have a dissenting opinion. I don't want to, but here we are.

I went to Guardians of the Galaxy on opening weekend, and I didn't like it.

The response from friends, acquaintances, and internet jerks is overwhelmingly positive. Almost suspiciously positive. As a result, a) I worried about how I could have possibly missed out on such a fantastic experience, and b) it's tough to have a conversation about it on the internet without being shouted at.

To be clear, I didn't hate it. I didn't walk out of the theater mad that I watched it. It's not like this is Transformers or Into the Wild, I just didn't really like it and I certainly didn't love it. I suspect it's my least favorite MCU title.

Let's start with the comedy. There's an awful lot of reference humor in this thing. In my learned opinion, "Hey, remember something from the '80s?" is not a joke. The self-referential stuff is slightly better, in that it is an actual joke construction, but if you're going to lean on worn out clichés, winking at the audience to let us know that you know you're doing it doesn't actually excuse you from doing it. You still did it. If this weak move didn't already have a name (lampshading), we might call this the Lego Movie problem.

Frankly, my overall complaint might simply be that this movie is a big shiny bundle of weak moves. The moments that are clearly intended to feel big and awesome all seem to be undercut by terrible writing. I'd love to read the original script that the director is practically disowning in the press.

And for a movie so clearly proud of itself for every joke, I'm not sure if I can believe that the comical things that take place that aren't commented on are actually intended to be jokes. I was sure the death of Quill's mother was supposed to be have a gag or a twist on the end of it, be a nightmare, or a memory, or just anything but that oddly written, oddly staged, goofy scene. And somehow that is the scene where the movie decides to commit? (Second example: the dressing of Dark Helmet.)

Presumably, we only needed to see the backstory of one character, because every Guardian has the same character arc: They're lonely, and eventually, each one of them gets a scene where they dramatically announce that they would like to be friends. I couldn't believe it when the fourth, fifth, maybe seventh "let's be friends" scene came around. I see a lot of people write about how they want to see movies with characters that care about each other instead of just saying impossibly cruel things to one another as banter, but that's a sentiment that can easily be expressed through actions that aren't standing around talking about friendship.

But this is a movie chock full of telling instead of showing. We're told that Gamorra is this incredibly dangerous assassin and daughter of a crazy god creature. But we can see that she loses just about every fight she's in. She loses to Quill, to Rocket and Groot, to the cops, to the prisoners, to her sister a couple of times...

I don't know if we ever find out why Nebula wanted to blow up a planet, or why the Kree hate the Nova (if they had been Skrulls, than I might have at least had extended universe type knowledge to apply. Are Skrulls part of the Fantastic Four license?), or why we should care about the Nova except that planetary destruction is uncool, or why the Nova planet is a good place to keep the infinity stone, given that it was pretty easily invaded just a few minutes ago and their whole defense force was just destroyed, but we're told it's so.

We're also told, I think, that there's going to be danger, but nothing in this movie feels dangerous. Let me head off a common internet argument at the pass right here: my complaint is not of the "the movie is called Superman, he's not going to die" or "they already announced a sequel so they're going to make it" variety. I'm usually pretty sure Iron Man is going to survive the movie, but sometimes it looks like he's in trouble. I love to see movie characters that are good at what they do (versus, say, another origin story where the heroes don't know how to use their powers, or the beyond dull powers-missing-in-act-2 plot), but the Guardians aren't good at what they do. They're not even lucky. They're successful because the script says so. When the movie tells you the bad guy is unstoppable, and then the hero defeats him easily on the first try, you've got Green Lantern. If you've got a team, I want a villain that it takes a whole team of diverse talents to defeat. It takes the X-Men in First Class a whole act to triumph, and it comes to them at a cost.

It seems like there's a lot more. The sameness of the environments, the prequelish greenscreenieness, the prequelish CG vomit in place of a geographically understandable action sequence (I understand that the Nova's helped the Milano (ugh) get to the bad guy ship when there was "too many of 'em!" but it didn't really look any different), the preponderance of meaningless moments that are there to make the trailer look cool, all the time spent laying groundwork for future movies that supposedly made everyone mad at Iron Man 2.

The Avengers was full of cool, understandable action sequences that used each member's powers appropriately, and the parts in between where we get to see the interaction between distinctly drawn characters are just as fun, if not more. This was just the opposite: waiting around for the generic action to conclude so we can get on with the plot, only to get saddled with that friendship scene again.

When all is said and done, superheroes aside, I'd rather watch a paranoid thriller than an episode of Family Guy, so sure, Winter Solider is going to be my bag, not Guardians. Maybe I don't like the cosmic Marvel as much as the human Marvel. Maybe I prefer comedy used as a means and not an end. It's the really rare movie that I see, don't like, and figure that somehow I'm the one that messed up, but whatever the thing is that did it for just about everyone else, I sure couldn't find it.

★★☆☆☆

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