Last night, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel's latest outing for its Phase 2 of films that has so far included:
Iron Man 3 (which was incredibly polarizing)
Thor: The Dark World (which was underwhelming to many) and of course,
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (which is widely regarded as one of, if not THE best of the Marvel films).
And now we have Guardians of the Galaxy. A film that is proving to be a massive hit with both critics and audiences. The conversation at this point isn't even about whether or not it's good. People are talking about whether or not it's the best.
I'm obviously one of them. So even if you haven't seen the film yet and aren't able to make a decision for yourself, I hope I can shed light on what the hype is about and what you can honestly expect when you do go see this film.
Star Wars meets_____
My best guess concerning the rabid success of this film comes down to how the film breaks Marvel's established formula. It's truly different from any Marvel film you've seen. Folks on Twitter have laughed about how the film is less "Avengers meets Star Wars" and more "Big Trouble in Little China meets Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back."
And it's not as simple of a distinction as, "Well, GOTG takes place in space. Other Marvel movies happen to be on Earth."
No, the real distinction is that you have a significantly different type of narrative with GOTG.
Back to formula
In Iron Man, you had a protagonist who is incredibly smart and successful. He has two huge advantages and one big disadvantage (his ego). He loses one advantage (success, temporarily) and gains and even bigger advantage (power). This new, big advantage helps him overcome his disadvantage and elevate the advantages he had in the beginning (his brilliance and success).
This type of formula is mixed and matched throughout the rest of the films. Captain America has incredible bravery (advantage), but he's weak (disadvantage). He gains a huge power, however, and loses his bravery by being removed to symbol status. But he transcends his role and becomes even braver and stronger in the process, captured beautifully by his self-sacrifice in the end.
Thor has the same ego problem as Tony Stark (disadvantage), but he starts off with a lot of power (advantage), which he loses (reversal of the Captain America structure). We liked Thor because it was a deeper redemption story than Iron Man, basically.
Oh, and the Hulk is just a wildcard. It's about how your biggest advantage (power) comes at a huge price (destruction).
But then Marvel brought in an entirely new set of rules with GOTG. You have various "losers" who form a misfit team. They have nothing but disadvantages, and none of them gain any real "power." They just become, as Emmett from Lego Movie put it, "buddies."
If you've seen the very end of GOTG, which I won't spoil, they are not subtle about this idea during the climax of the film.
This is why comparing GOTG to any of the other Marvel films is problematic. It's not just because the film is a different trope. It's told in a completely different fashion.
It's like comparing The Dark Knight to Bridesmaids. Sure, you may prefer one to the other, but you may also like both for completely different reasons. You would never walk out of Bridesmaids and say "Well, it was no Dark Knight." (that's what Man of Steel was for).
GOTG has fantastic characters, character moments, action set pieces, and an amazing blend of comedy and action. If I had to pick a Marvel film that I enjoy the most from start to finish, then that's a debate I can put more thought in and feel good about.
But in the end, I consider GOTG more of a Marvel standalone film to treasure, not a story that sits alongside the overarching story we've been watching unfold on Earth.
After all, the stakes of GOTG happen to center around one planet by the end. Sure, the rest of the galaxy is in danger, but they really only focus on "saving this one planet, first." That planet's not Earth, which makes the Marvel comparison that much more jarring.
You may disagree and consider this film to be objectively better than the other Marvel outings, and I wouldn't blame you. But as someone who has found a reason to love every single Marvel film to date, I can't find a way to rank Guardians of the Galaxy among the rest of the Marvel films. At least not in a way that feels honest.
That said, I do happen to have a ranking of the Marvel films you can find here to check out and maybe chime in on.