Last Act Fatigue: A Review of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (Gunn, 2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy has certainly earned its spot as the most overrated of the ten-film Marvel Studios run–which is not to say that the movie’s a failure. It isn’t. The world-building is extraordinary. The jokes and gags bring the characters alive (although the nostalgia bit is neither as funny nor as touching as the filmmakers hoped it would be–and that includes Howard the Duck). The f/x people make space interesting–you wanted to get out there and take more of it in. I could go on.

But all this talk about this movie being the one where Marvel “finally” arrives–its zaniness and heartfelt characters will just win over even the deepest skeptic–it’s all hyperbole.

There is a certain Marvel fatigue setting in for yours truly and it has to do with where these plots inevitably wind up. Someone at Marvel got someone to draw up a program that can handle a massive airship crashing into the ground below, so we get that yet again. (I must admit: I did look up from my watch and think, geez, in that extreme long zoom shot of the crash, they really have figured out how to do clouds–no small thing!) But the real fatigue is in how the climax is conceived as a whole–let’s call it the Marvel Last Act Fatigue. Guardians gives us yet another “destroy x civilization” scheme for the villain and “stop the annihilation of said” goal for the heroes, and about a quarter of the way through the carnage I thought, good grief, if I were one of the Marvel good guys I’da retired long ago outta boredom.

So what does this movie do to the amazing storyworld and the strong characters–where does it all end up? In a paint-by-numbers stop-the-cataclysm plot. Honestly. Marvel. It’s time to try something else.

But that seems unlikely, because now the Infinity Stone plot is “rolling,” and it seems like it’s all about planetary destruction. At this point fatigue gives way to full-on boredom. I ask you: if you knew (and Marvel doesn’t appear to have) that these stones were going to form the “core” of the entire narrative universe, would you not have spent more time thinking about them and using some of movies 1 through 5 (let’s say) to make them seem mysterious and intriguing in the “I want to learn more” kinda way? Guardians takes a shot and gives us a brief reprieve from the comic stylings of Chris Pratt (the cause of yet more lethargy by act 3, at least) to show us how the stones were used, whereupon we see this supposedly imposing titan that looks like a bad design for The Iron Giant or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow destroy a few people. This is supposed to do the work of generating interest in the stones?

Marvel’s improving. But Guardians is neither (star) lord, nor savior.