There’s a whole lot of movie-related craziness happening around the KSR compound this week, so I thought I’d join the fun. No, I’m not entering into the “Best Movie of All Time” fray, nor am I worried about Funkhouser’s competing “Best Movie of 1984” effort.
Instead, I’d like to take a minute to, in light of its sequel’s release next week, celebrate the best movie (no bracket necessary) Marvel Studios has ever made: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1.
Upon seeing the trailer for GotG a few years back, I had one thought: this is either going to be really, really good, or it’s going to be absolutely terrible. There really was no middle ground. For one thing, it was the first time Marvel had made a movie about characters that didn’t have a notable following outside of comics nerd land, so they couldn’t just coast on fans’ enthusiasm at finally seeing beloved heroes on screen for the first time. They had to:
- Present characters interesting enough to stand on their own,
- Integrate those characters and their stories into a larger, already-developed cinematic universe,
- Nail the comedic, self-aware tone of the comics and let audiences in on the joke of making a patently ridiculous movie (there was no way this thing was going to work as anything but a comedy), while still generating emotional investment.
- Perform well enough at the box office to overcome the lack of built-in comics nerd fans and generate enthusiasm for the sequel, which the Marvel universe needed if their huge overarching story was to make sense.
If it had failed to do any of the things listed above, it could’ve been a train wreck, the ugly, forgotten Marvel cousin that everyone avoids at the family reunions. Instead, it’s the best thing they’ve ever put on screen.
Now, you may disagree. That’s fine. I can sympathize. Marvel’s done a lot of good work in the past decade. The Captain America movies are the studio’s most timely, dealing seriously with issues of government surveillance and the complexities of war in an age of nearly limitless technological power. The Avengers did a nearly perfect job of bringing together fans’ favorite heroes and somehow making a movie that wasn’t just two hours of stuff getting punched or blown up. The Iron Man movies are hit-or-miss, but those charming Robert Downey Jr. performances make up for it.
Yes, there’s much to be said for Marvel studios, but not one other movie they’ve produced has been as immediately engaging, as thoroughly entertaining, as consistently funny, or as sharply written as GotG. In some ways, it’s a shame they even have to do a sequel, since it’s almost certain to fall short of the out-of-nowhere brilliance of its predecessor.
It’s not just those four macro-level accomplishments I listed above that make it so great. Let’s think about some of the other incredible things GotG pulled off (another list; hooray!):
It made Chris Pratt a star.
Yes, Parks and Recreation made Chris Pratt (and his lovable goofball persona) famous, but GotG proved that he could parlay that into the kind of leading-man charm that saw him become the face of the Jurassic Park franchise and a member of Denzel Washington’s Magnificent Seven. I don’t know if you saw Chris Pratt in the early years of Parks and Recreation, but “leading man in an action franchise” was not a phrase that could have been credibly used to describe him. Yet here he is. Guardians took a chance on him, he rose to the occasion, and now he’s one of Hollywood’s fastest rising stars.
It starred a talking raccoon and a tree that says just a single word. And it worked.
Be honest; when you saw the trailer for GotG, you scoffed at the machine gun wielding raccoon. You did. It’s ok. But then you saw the movie, and somehow, the talking raccoon worked perfectly. He delivered laugh after laugh while quietly serving as the movie’s emotional sensor. A talking raccoon. I swear I still don’t know how they did it. As for the talking tree? Vin Diesel’s finest performance, no question.
It made a random collection of cheesy 70s and 80s tunes the number one album in America. Yep, a soundtrack was the hottest album on the charts after GotG was released. In 2014. That’s amazing.
So yes, Guardians of the Galaxy is the best Marvel movie. It has more personality in its little finger than Thor has had in two movies (and if you watch the trailer for the third, you’ll notice a distinct whiff of Guardians flavor. As great as I think Vol. 1 was, however, I don’t have incredibly high expectations for its follow-up. I think it’ll be funny, and I’ll be glad to see the characters again, but James Gunn and company are no longer playing with house money. If GotG had failed, no one would have been shocked. But it was a smash, and with any smash comes a heap of expectations, which generally translates to safe, palatable sequels. I’d love it if the movie proved me wrong.
Wouldn’t be the first time.