Guardians of the Galaxy is better than The Avengers. Woah, hold on! Did I really just say that? Do I dare to claim that The Avengers, the third highest-grossing film of all time with a worldwide take of over $1.5bn, the event movie that combined half a dozen of Marvel’s most popular heroes, is outclasses by a band of unknown space-losers who include a monosyllabic walking tree? Yes, yes I am.
The Avengers, released in 2012, was the culmination of Marvel’s “Phase 1”: an ambitious project to launch film franchises for their most popular heroes and then to combine them in a cross-over film of unprecedented size and scope. It sounded like a dream come true for comic book fans.
It’s best known around London as “that film on the side of buses with the raccoon thing”
Guardians of the Galaxy, released this summer, came comparatively out of nowhere. Based on a relatively obscure comic book property, it didn’t come with anywhere near the brand cache of The Avengers. Instead, Guardians of the Galaxy is best known around London as “that film on the side of buses with the raccoon thing”.
So how does Guardian’s David stand a chance of toppling The Avengers’ Goliath?
Let’s get one thing straight right away. There’s virtually no chance that Guardians of the Galaxy will exceed The Avengers’ box office numbers. The Avengers raked in $207m in its opening weekend, whereas Guardians of the Galaxy made a relatively paltry $94m (both figures for US domestic market). Unless Guardians of the Galaxy can sustain a very long tail, there’s little chance it will ever catch up with The Avengers’ revenue.
Guardians of the Galaxy won’t “win” on numbers. But it is a better film.
The Avengers’ plot was so similar to the rubbish that happened in Transformers: Dark of the Moon that I’ve forgotten it all by association
I don’t want to go into a lot of the specific problems I have with The Avengers. I’ll only mention briefly the difficulty the film clearly has in reconciling characters with wildly different levels of ability, with Captain America often looking like he has nothing important to do. I won’t dwell on the destruction fatigue of the third act, where after so many explosions and crumbling buildings it becomes hard to care any longer. And the less said about the plot, the better. I vaguely remember something about dimensions colliding but it was so similar to the rubbish that happened in Transformers: Dark of the Moon that I’ve forgotten it all by association.
Instead, I’d like to talk about something called “fun”.
The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy are both frequently referred to as “fun” films, as a counter to the oft-repeated claim that they are also a bit dumb or shallow. But these two films have quite different ideas of what fun means, and I think Guardians hits closer to the mark.
There’s a self awareness here that we haven’t seen before in Marvel’s comic book films
Fun, in The Avengers, is derived mostly from putting established and sometimes well-loved characters next to each other and seeing what happens. It is, in other words, mostly about fan service. And we end up with ridiculous but crowd-pleasing scenes like Iron Man and Thor fighting to see who’s stronger (it’s a draw, of course, because you can’t risk annoying the fan base of either character); and Hulk whacking the villain Loki repeatedly into the ground.
Meanwhile, in Guardians of the Galaxy, the sense of fun runs through the entire film. Whereas The Avengers takes itself fairly seriously most of the time (despite the absurdity of the men-in-tights premise), Guardians of the Galaxy knows better than to try that in a film with a genetically engineered talking rodent. There’s a self awareness here that we haven’t seen before in Marvel’s comic book films, and Guardians is all the better for it. Just look at this:
Instead of a dramatic orchestral score we have a soundtrack of classic soul and rock from the ’70s and ’80s. Instead of square-set jaws and thousand-yard stares we get a series of impromptu (and knowingly lame) dance numbers. Instead of contrived action sequences designed to show off how awesome each our heroes is, we get a succession of embarrassing fumbles, made up for by smart-mouthed one-liners.
It lets us laugh with our heroes rather than forcing the occasional snigger at their expense
In many ways, Guardians of the Galaxy is the antithesis of the modern superhero film. It’s silly rather than gritty; it’s a fantastic adventure rather than a dense, thematic drama; it lets us laugh with our heroes rather than forcing the occasional snigger at their expense because of a moment of awful dialogue or clichéd plotting.
Guardians of the Galaxy is everything The Avengers (and its roster of conventional solo film) is not; and that makes it exactly what Marvel needed. Not because Marvel is failing to entertain its fans – the enormous success of films like The Avengers proves that’s not a problem. No, Marvel needed Guardians not to satisfy its existing fan base but to grow a new one.
There’s a hilarious subversion of the over-hyped phenomenon that is the “post-credits sequence”
A lot of people love The Avengers, but there are plenty of people who just can’t get behind the men-in-tights superhero concept, especially when Marvel’s films take themselves increasingly seriously. There’s potentially a big market for a film franchise with the Marvel seal of quality that offers something very different: comedy, adventure, fantastic worlds, underdog charisma, Blue Suede, and a hilarious subversion of the over-hyped phenomenon that is the “post-credits sequence”.
I don’t say this often, but I loved this film. The Avengers was entertaining for an afternoon, but quickly forgotten. I’ll remember Guardians of the Galaxy for a long time to come.