Try to envision your disbelief as an elevator. With drama, action, and other “earthly” genres, your disbelief can suspend a fair amount of weight. With science-fiction, the plausibility of the premise will test the strength of your cables and counterweights. With science-fantasy, however, your disbelief’s just been boarded by a middle-aged, morbidly obese woman on a mobile scooter, post-‘all you can eat buffet hour’ at Applebee’s. Can you suspend her? With Guardians of the Galaxy, the only thing deciding whether she falls to a horrible death or makes her way to that handicapped parking space is your personal sense of humor.
Adapted from a 1969 Marvel comic (believe it or not), Guardians of the Galaxy is an ‘origins story’ about a band of less-than-reputable misfits—a thief, two thugs, an assassin and a maniac—who find themselves, somehow, as the galaxy’s last bulwark against total annihilation.
Don’t worry, Guardians is fully aware of how utterly ridiculous its plot and narrative are. But do you know it knows that? Guardian’s reflexive risk to play fast and loose with the already loose-as-hell guidelines of its genre (sci-fantasy) works on your ability to not just suspend your disbelief, but strap a rocket to it, along with yourself, and break orbit, cackling maniacally the entire way. If you can’t do this, you may not be able to appreciate the value of Guardians: a joke of a film (perhaps a gross understatement) that laughs at itself.
Now, the problem with this approach is that it’s an all-or-nothing deal. In other words, if a tonal incongruity occurs—just one little crack in the vase—the entire contents spill. Well, it does, and they do…to a degree. This tonal incongruity is attributable largely to the film’s “bad guys”, who are just that: one-dimensional black-hats. And unfortunately the narrative expects us to take them seriously, contrasted against the shenanigans taking place on our protagonists’ side. Broken diegetic-ceramic results, and unless you possess the glue, you’ll find a movie pretty much in tonal shambles. In this case, there’s only one adhesive that’ll do the trick: a hearty, daring, and forgiving sense of humor.
If you can brush off the obscenely ridiculous plot and the cringingly cliché-wrought antagonist(s), then the dynamic between our five main misfits is pretty damn funny. Granted, they over-egg a gag or two (“I am Groot!”, for example), but for the most part, suspension of disbelief notwithstanding, they’re hilarious, they’re sympathetic (in a good way), and their respective motives and psychology are fleshed just enough, if not more, than they need to be for the whacky diegesis they reside in. Take these five actors—eh, you can take or leave Bautista [he’s pretty terrible]—put them and their characters in a different story, something more earthly, more plausible perhaps, and cinematic-comedic gold would surely ensue.
However, because of this misfocused attention, duration-wise, action sequences leave a longing for dialogue, back-and-fourths, and quips in a film that should be primarily hinged on and geared towards action, with comedy to complement its affect rather than supplement it. Consequently, not only does this fundamental imbalance end up detracting from the action’s potential for spectacular affect but also robs precious potential screen time from our hilarious five.
Ultimately, if you can suspend your disbelief to an otherwise non-comedic breaking point, it won’t break. If you’re in for a good chuckle, you’ll certainly get it with Guardians. If you’re in for a thematically insightful or even action-packed story, you should certainly look elsewhere. Guardians of the Galaxy should come with the following disclaimer: for light-hearted, able-to-identify-reflexivity-in-films audience members only.