Come 2013, when the new edition of the Book was to come out featuring the films of 2012, there was a rough concept that, I believe, permeated through the minds of just about all of us 1001 bloggers: would the editors of the list, as high-brow as they had the tendency to be, ignore the third-highest box office gross of all-time and unquestionably the new gold standard for the genre of comic book movie and not include The Avengers in the new edition? Well, sure enough, the 10th version came out, and The Avengers was somewhat conspicuously absent. Then the next edition came out, and it was still not there, even more conspicuously so. It seemed that the editors were going to remain steadfast in the face of overwhelming critical appraisal and audience approval and not have Avengers on the list to represent what is now undoubtedly the biggest genre in modern moviemaking. I was nonplussed about this, as I’m sure you can tell by this paragraph up to this point. In fact, I was so incredulous that, in the Letterboxd discussion for the list, when someone floated the idea that Guardians of the Galaxy should make the list, I actually tried to shoot that idea down; if The Avengers didn’t make it, what possible chance could Guardians have? Evidently the editors either wised up to their mistake, albeit in an unusual fashion, or there is no real cohesion as to their method of picking which films end up in the Book; Guardians of the Galaxy is in there, all right. Now, for an equally important question: should it be in there? Over Avengers, I don’t know, but if the comic book movie genre needed some representation, the editors could’ve done a hell of a lot worse, as Guardians is generally regarded as one of the most flat-out entertaining films of 2014.
Here’s where things get fun: the plot summary, which is so unlike any other film on the list that it becomes somewhat laughable. Peter Quill is a human abducted from Earth as a child by a band of marauding aliens known as the Ravagers. Having grown up among them, Quill is tasked with collecting one of their bounties: a mysterious object known as the Orb, which he later finds out is coveted by numerous forces in the region, both reputable and infamous. After finding out the true power of the Orb first-hand, Quill finds himself banding together with a ragtag group of misfits like himself, each with their own history and reasoning tying them to either Quill or the Orb itself, to try and keep the Orb out of the hands of one of the most dangerous forces after the object: Ronan the Accuser, who wishes to use the item’s power to wipe out an entire planet. Now, if you watched movies in the past year, regardless of how critically acclaimed they were or how elitist you may have been in the selection of films you watched, that plot summary is inconsequential to you, since you more likely than not have already seen Guardians, perhaps several times. So, to what end should I write this review, knowing full well that probably 90% of the people who would be reading it have already seen the film in question? I guess the only thing to do is to break down what the film does right so well, for the other 10% who, for whatever reason, passed this one up. First off, the script, or better said, the way the film is structured and compiled together; this film has by far one of the strongest scripts in the genre of comic book movies. Where writer/director James Gunn really succeeds isn’t just in how he structures the film, or even how he realizes the script into a nearly perfect form for the material, but in how he does all this while still making the film as wickedly entertaining as it is. The trick is in the humor; much has been made of how Gunn’s films have that streak of humor running through them, mild but knowing full well when to flare up and jab a stick into the viewer’s funny bone, and Guardians is no exception. Seeing Guardians in the theater, I was amazed at how much the audience openly laughed out loud at so many moments in the film, not because they were campy or hilariously off-putting for someone outside the fandom, but because of how genuinely amusing and funny they were, even to those outside the fandom. Gunn’s humor here is universal, his comedic timing as impeccable as his skill in the editing room, and it is largely this that I think made the film the breakout hit it otherwise would have been too niche-focused and out-of-left-field to be. Much has also been made of the film’s CGI, and how flawless it is, including the depth of character for the two of the five central protagonists who are entirely CGI-rendered; Rocket, in particular, could have merely been a quirk, a novelty of a character with no added dimension other than how much of a novelty he is as a creation, but Gunn makes a complete package out of Rocket, and the CGI artists as well are largely responsible for the success and level of sophistication that comes with all of Rocket’s mannerisms and expressions (as well as the voice acting by Bradley Cooper, who I was initially skeptical when I’d heard the casting news, but who does an absolutely phenomenal job).
So, if this film really is the most entertaining film of the year, coupled with the amazing achievement in just about every area that the film is, why the just-shy-of-perfect rating? Honestly, it’s for one reason, and it’s a reason I alluded to with my 10% comment: there’s still a certain subset of people that this film just isn’t for, at all. Either they won’t see it out of snobbery or perhaps a passing indifference, or they’ll see it and basically refuse to like it for arguably the same reasons. These people, this review is not for. I don’t think anything will change the mentality of such individuals, nor the outcome of a potential screening should they, for whatever reason, choose to have one; some people, if you’ll excuse the inconsiderate dismissal, are just like that. Everyone else, however, has already seen this, and if you haven’t, I honestly don’t know what the hell you’re waiting for; even if you’re not neck-deep into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this works just as well as a stand-alone feature, and, as I’ve said multiple times already, it’s just so god-damn entertaining that you owe it to yourself to see it at least once. I’m still surprised as heck that this did actually make the list, but I’m just as pleased that it’s in there.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10