Where to begin with Guardians of the Galaxy? We all thought it was doomed at first - a bizarre and maybe arrogant ploy from the Marvel/Disney conglomerate amidst the dizzying success of its other franchises, "Let's pull something out of the vault that will almost certainly not work and really test the limits of comic book adaptations and the audience's tolerance of the odd and zany." And then there was that first trailer - woof! I will admit that the one thing I didn't put enough credit towards was James Gunn, director of the amusing Slither, a film admirable for its ability to stand astride two different tones.
Then better trailers came, and a hype that was nothing short of alarming started to mount. I couldn't understand it - first we were laughing at the talking tree and talking raccoon, and then it was fast-becoming the most anticipated movie of late Summer. Geeks wouldn't shut up about it. Then it came out, and cashed in on all that geek-lust: critics hailed it a triumph, geeks waxed lyrical in ways I haven't seen since...I don't know. They said it was Star Wars again, that a "piece of their soul was back" (for fuck's sake!). This is positively euphoric, but why?
Guardians is a success because of balance. James Gunn balanced the movie with light humor, light pathos, light action, light everything - for maximum appeal, but above all, the marketing, casting, and branding are all slyly mainstream, and the camerawork, title-fonts, and music deploy the postmodern pastiche to great effect - the film's real premise actually revolves around a mixtape, which is good metonymy for this whole enterprise. The film is affable; it takes no risks that might alienate anyone.
But what is the film outside of this hyperreal cultural agitation - this hype and posturing (even the amount of money this film made is being hyped)? It's a movie. An ordinary movie. A few funny lines, a few cringing overplays at humor, but mostly affability and action sequences, some of whom can drag a bit. A mixtape that blends Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, and the extant Marvel canon....how could it not sucker everyone in? Unfortunately this hype is, as always, subjective, and can hurt as much as it could help, although the financial battle is already won. But if those are really your stakes, Guardians still lost to fucking Transformers, and how cynical is that?