I’ve been trying to put my finger on why I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy so much. I don’t think it’s the best movie of all time, but that just makes me think of the limitations of best-of lists. I remember over the past week, having a discussion about the best wrestler of all time with my cowriter Erick Freitas & Jarrett Williams (creator of SuperPro KO), and we all had wildly different ideas of who the BEST was. Sometimes, you love something so much, you don’t need reasons. In fact, reasons never do the object of affection justice. Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t a perfect film, but it’s an instant classic. And it does what every superhero movie has been struggling to do since the genre began roaring at full steam in the early 2000’s: Simply have a happy ending.
Despite the genre having to be by necessity, about heroism, i’d argue that every blockbuster superhero movie has been a movie about heroism in spite of itself. Spiderman should be about responsibility, but is overwhelmed by loss. X-men should be about Justice, but its really about survival. Avengers should be about teamwork, but settles for sacrifice. All these movies, that we want to enjoy like how we did on Saturday Mornings as kids, fails to truly satisfy. You want to be a kid again, you want future kids to be inspired, and you want it to stay with them as they grow into adults.
Guardians of the Galaxy takes a completely new approach. It abandons the Hero-At-All-Costs for the Rogue, and it finds happiness in the most universal superhero theme – family. Every Superhero story is about family, but somehow that simple concept has escaped modern Superhero movies. Batman loses his parents, but there’s barely any family relationships in the Nolanverse, this universe’s Batman retires in anonymity and leaves all family behind. In Man of Steel, Superman inexplicably allows his Father to die, and only a few scenes earlier is told by his father that letting people die, might be okay. Captain America – The Winter Soldier, is a beautiful tragedy of two brothers losing their bond. Regardless of the quality of the movies, we are unable to leave a superhero movie and believe “Things worked out for the best!” There are no cowboys riding off in the sunset, no knights being saved by the princess, no astronauts experiencing the wonders of our galaxy. But it is a disservice to the genre, to abandon optimism, because there’s only one reason a kid puts a towel on his back as a cape. They believe they can save the day, not that they’ll keep the worst from happening or stave off genocide for one more day. They believe they can fly.
That is what is so damn good about Guardians of the Galaxy, thats why you watch it and it feels familiar and new all at the same time. There’s a scene where Rocket Raccoon can’t take being called Vermin anymore. Being called “a pet”, “a rodent”, and it’s maybe the most convincing CGI emotion i’ve ever seen. “I didn’t ask to be torn apart and tortured and put back together again a million times!” he yells and almost cries, and you can see his frustration at even letting himself get this upset, and you feel it. You know you feel it, because its no secret that hundreds of us were the kid called vermin, or rodent, or so many different names. So many of us got beat up and shoved and got hurt. For some of us, the torture was worst than we can really ever express, but we can’t do anything about it, we just are how we are now. This past year, i remember feeling so constantly frustrated, revealing how constantly angry i am. There’s a lot of dialogue about depression, but i often feel pretty alone when it comes to anger. There’s a reason i read Superhero comics, because it is a power fantasy, but its not power to defeat others, its power to simply protect yourself. Rocket Raccoon’s protector is the infinitely patient, majestic and immensely powerful Groot. Groot doesn’t judge him, Groot only wants to help him. We all want a Groot in our lives. This is why his final words are so important.Each character in the Guardians of the Galaxy, is dealing with some aspect of dealing with family. Losing a mother, being abused by a Father, being betrayed by a Sister, not knowing where you stand in these relationships, and finding security in new relationships. Worst than just having a broken family, is feeling broken yourself, knowing that the mechanisms you’ve created to survive are not enough to make a life on. Each new person you meet, is another affirmation that you can’t be loved, that you can’t do relationships, and it just plain sucks. When Drax reveals that all his rage and anger are simply covering up his sadness, it quickly cuts through all the moments you laughed at him as he raged impotently. Guardians of the Galaxy simultaneously allows you to see their foibles, lets us laugh at them, and lets you forgive them for their faults.
(spoiler alert) The final scene of the movie, we are at a familiar trope. It is always darkest before dawn, and almost every action movie needs the moment where you must honestly believe that this might be it. If you’re an art house film, it’s usually where you end the film, roll the credits, and collect your laurel leaf crowns for Best Picture at Film Festival. But for the more sophisticated tastes of children, thats where you prove your mettle, and show the audience what type of movie you are making. Man of Steel, had no darkest before dawn moment, it simply never ever relented with depressive imagery. The Avengers has it right before the Hulk arrives, when those giant technowhales arrive. The most recent Spiderman puts Gwen on a string, and she falls and brings his world down (and your mood) with her. In GOTG, our band of adventurers and scallywags, sits together, as if on moist dirt after a long summer’s day and you find out your best friend is moving away. They all might die in a fiery crash, but Groot decides to make a shelter of himself, knowing he will die. He’s only said the words “I AM GROOT” in different tones throughout the film, but when he says “WE are GROOT,” he says everything this movie is.You are not just your pain, you aren’t alone. Even though you feel like no one understands you (I am Groot?), all you want from your family and your friends, is to feel like their love is your shelter, and your shelter is your love. We want to believe bullies will turn into friends, because we let them borrow our walkman. We believe that Drax is trying his best to say he’s your friend, but he’s better at just showing it punching someone for you.
A lot of people have compared this movie to Star Wars. It’s interesting, because if you think that Peter Quill is this generation’s Han Solo, it’s because he’s a softer interpretation. By now, the Han Solo anti-hero IS the Hero, so Peter Quill ends up being truly rebellious by being sweeter. He looks like the once chubby dude, the kid on the bleachers who just let you have his snickers bar for NO REASON, the kid that even the teachers laugh when he’s getting in trouble. In Star Wars, Han Solo shot first, but in Guardians of the Galaxy, he leaves a little troll figurine in your pocket and you smile, and think “Oh, Starlord.”I think it’s much closer in style and approach to the Princess Bride movie, but both Star Wars and Princess Bride are movies that remind you how much you actually like a happy ending. Heroes gotta go up against some big bads, and as you get older and older, you realize that the evil of a man in a weird suit isn’t much compared to the evils of shrapnel wounds inflicted on children, or ideological fear mongering, racism, sexism, all kinds of crap. But if you really want to fall in love with a superhero, you got to let them win. Eventually, after some struggle, there’s gotta be a clear and amazing victory. You gotta pick up the big bad, symbol of all evil, and solve the problem by throwing him into a hole. That’s what puts the super in superhero. Actual heroism is the sad kind that happens on 9/11. But when we want to believe in something bigger than just the grey and greyer world we have, we need the lush colors of costumes and lasers. We need the saturated color of fiction, so that our often grey world doesn’t descend into a black hole of depression. More importantly, when you’re a kid and your whole world IS your family, sometimes you need to believe you can fly, with your friends the Raccoon, the Tree, The Brute and the Ninja.
Also, consider donating the price of a ticket to helping with Rocket Raccoon’s creator, Bill Manto’s healthcare costs. More info here: http://comicsbeat.com/on-bill-mantlo-rocket-raccoon-and-guardians-of-the-galaxy/ http://gregpak.com/love-rocket-raccoon-please-consider-donating-to-writer-bill-mantlos-ongoing-care/