It was one of those evenings where you’re sitting around and it’s hot and you don’t have air conditioning because you live in the Pacific Northwest and you long for the reprieve of a cool, dark theater. It was one of those nights when I suggested we go see GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY to my lovely wife, who suggested we grab some dinner first and make it a date. It was a summer night.
And off we went to Lincoln Square in downtown Bellevue. We hopped in my roadster and took the back way through some neighborhoods and over some new roads that did that cool thing where the noise gives way to that smooth sound. When we got to downtown, I pulled in to the underground garage, which registered a balmy 96 degrees on my car’s temperature display.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY was never on my radar before I saw an early trailer several months back. I think that was the idea. The comic itself is somewhat obscure, at least compared to the likes of Spider-Man and Captain America. Thor and Iron Man are somewhere in the middle, characters that non-comic loving people know about but don’t really associate with the level of superhero-ness of the marquee Marvel heroes. In the case of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, one would wonder if the characters were entirely new if one didn’t know better, because none of the names were familiar save for Thanos, who made his appearance at the end of the forgettable THOR 2: THE DARK WORLD. There were some blink-or-you’ll-miss-it references to the other films, but nothing really overt. In that way, it made GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY stand on its own, as its own franchise builder, which was a huge risk. It paid off, big time.
When we got to the mall we had some time to kill and the wife wanted a slice of pizza, so we popped in for a nosh. Eating a slice of pizza before a comic book movie felt like I was a kid again. All we needed were red checkered tablecloths and maybe an arcade game or two beeping and blooping in the corner.
When I was a kid in the 1980s, comic book movies were nowhere near the quality that they are now, partly because special effects have come so far but mainly because studios thought of them as kids’ stuff. As GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY unfolded before me, I realized that this movie captured the uniqueness of the comic book medium. The movie was thrilling and quick, with charming characters and a fantastic 1970s vibe. Its mix of dark humor, overt knob jokes, gritty action, and ensemble cast has massive appeal to the 2014 moviegoing audience. Sometimes I wonder if these movies are made too much for The Now, and whether they will have lasting appeal. Will they stand out as classic 2010s? Or will they be timeless? Will the CG forever date this movie?
I reminded my wife that the director, James Gunn, also made SLITHER, a movie she and I had seen on a date in Dallas back in 2006. She didn’t remember the movie, but she remembered having seen it and having liked it. He also directed THE SPECIALS, which is a movie I really liked but many really hated. Must be a generational thing. His brother, Sean Gunn, is in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and my wife remembers him most vividly as Kirk in GILMORE GIRLS. Kirk had a lot of jobs in that show, and Sean Gunn pulls multiple duties in this movie, including standing in for Rocket, playing a sidekick, and I think he was a background prisoner in one scene.
While watching the movie, I never felt a sense of threat. I knew that the team would live on, I knew that the answers wouldn’t come in this movie, and I knew character stories would develop in the way they did. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of movies, and this one definitely doesn’t break from the mold. And to be honest, I didn’t expect it to. We never think Captain America or Spidey or Thor will die. But GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY did challenge my thinking of what a superhero movie should be. Peter Quill and Rocket and Groot aren’t like the members of the Avengers, the X-Men, or the Fantastic Four. There is a moment of real poignancy with Rocket that I identified with. He’s a raccoon, and I’m sitting there in the theater feeling like I could comfort him. That’s a new one for me.
As we walked out of the theater, I heard some teenage boys talking about the easter eggs and discussing how this fit into what will come in the next Marvel movie, AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. They were laughing and enjoying their summer break. They’ll go off to college this Fall, or the next, and they’ll grow up. I wondered if they would remember this night in twenty years and remember their friends, the ones they saw GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY with, their ensemble. I wondered if they would remember how great comic book movies were in the 2010s.