NEARLY 10 years and what sometimes seems like a hundred movies into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) grand project, and some trends and tendencies have begun to make themselves clear.
Captain America movies are for pushing the major plot of the Avengers and the MCU forward in between specific Avengers movies. Iron Man movies are there to examine the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of one man trying to save the world on his own. Thor movies are sparkly space operas that fans are embarrassed to admit how much they enjoyed. Ant-Man was the movie Edgar Wright never made. Black Panther is going to freaking rule.
Along with these accepted truths generally comes the notion that the Guardians Of The Galaxy movies are the most fun entries in the Marvel franchise. Focused as they are on a ragtag band of space pirates - including handsomely quippy Earthling Star Lord (Chris Pratt), rudely quippy raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), loudly quippy Drax (Dave Bautista), repetitively quippy Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), and decidedly un-quippy Gamora (Zoe Saldana) - these movies are the only movies in the MCU that are overtly comedic. Broad in tone, packed to the gills with smart-alecky retorts, the Guardians movies have every intention of being class clown in the MCU yearbook. Both the 2014 original and its 2017 sequel were huge hits commercially and critically (91 per cent and 83 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes, respectively).
So why have both Guardians Of The Galaxy movies been my least favourite of the Marvel franchise? I'm not trying to be a contrarian. I have had an enjoyable time sitting with these movies upon initial viewing. But the experiences almost always dull with even a little bit of hindsight, and I'm left baffled when people mention that the Guardians movies are their favourites and a breath of fresh air among the Marvel Universe.
The Guardians are the Marvel movies for people who don't like Marvel movies. They're wacky, they're defiantly un-serious, and they do the bare minimum to move the greater MCU plot along. The first Guardians movie handled its infinity stone central plot as an afterthought, while Guardians 2 eschewed all greater MCU concerns altogether.
The work of connecting the Marvel movies together - Hawkeye and Agent Coulson showing up in Thor; Tony Stark presiding over young Peter Parker's development as a superhero in Spider-Man: Homecoming; the dissolution of SHIELD into HYDRA in Captain America: The Winter Soldier - has never been overly favoured by critics, but it became public enemy number one when Joss Whedon spoke publicly about his frustrations while filming Age Of Ultron and having to find time to shoehorn in scenes about the infinity stones to set up the later Infinity War film.
Never mind that this all amounted to two scenes involving Thor - one a vague dream, the other where Thor says he's skipping town to go figure out what's up with that dream - but the fact that a filmmaker as beloved by the franchise as Whedon talked about chafing under the thumb of Marvel's Kevin Feige and his grand unified vision suddenly meant that grand unified vision was anti-filmmaker. When Edgar Wright left the Ant-Man movie over creative differences, that was enough to seal the deal for many on Marvel's reputation.
James Gunn's Guardians movies were lauded because they flew in the face of that unified vision. Or at least seemed to. They weren't workmanlike Captain America movies where the MCU plot was advanced forward. They were dumb fun that went out of their way to reject any kind of Marvel seriousness. But that's where I end up getting shoved off the train. Because Marvel movies aren't all that serious. Sure, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark will end up in a fistfight and Black Widow and Hulk will make mooneyes at each other, but the overall tone of the Marvel movies is already a lighter rebuke to the Batman/DC universe's black hole of moodiness. The sense of humour that runs through even the most staid Marvel movie is a consistent feature.
Guardians Of The Galaxy always feels like the guy in a room full of funny people trying way too hard to prove that he's the funniest. And the coolest. As much as all superhero movies need you to think they're cool, no films on the planet want you to think they're cool more than the Guardians Of The Galaxy movies do. Nerd cool. Which at this point in the culture is the one true cool anyway.
The comedy feels so strenuous. The irreverence feels so aggressive. There is no chill to Rocket's rude posturing or Drax's loud obliviousness. The universe of the film seems petrified I'm going to stop being delighted for one solitary second so they're throwing as much attitude at me as possible at all times. It ends up sabotaging the film's more genuine moments of character interaction. Rocket's emotional epiphanies always seem like the setups to jokes. Star Lord and Gamora's romance could not feel like more of an afterthought. Even the stuff with Peter and his dad in Guardians 2 felt far more concerned with Kurt Russell's '70s cool than in establishing emotional stakes. The only emotional beats that truly work in Guardians 2 are Gamora and her sister, the villainous Nebula (Karen Gillan), whose constant interjections of hatred towards the Guardians make her my true spirit guide through these films. She's the only one who seems as worn out by them as I am.
This story originally appeared on Decider and is republished here with permission.