So, Guardians of the Galaxy is the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe release. It's the last of the current Phase of films prior to Avengers 2: Age of Ultron. It's done well, both critically and commercially. Surprisingly well, in fact. You see, Guardians of the Galaxy is a pretty minor comic franchise (rather more successful since the announcement of the movie). As a superhero team it includes no “big names”. Compare to the cinematic Avengers – Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America. Absolute A Listers.
Hence the surprise at the film's success. Perhaps there shouldn't be much surprise – it's a film attached to a successful and well-loved franchise and it was well advertised. Even the utterly left-field selection of heroes may have fed into its success. But if it utterly stank it wouldn't have held up at the box office as well as it has – and it certainly wouldn't have received the sort of critical plaudits it has. Rotten Tomatoes has it at 92% Fresh. Metacritic gives it a very respectable weighted average of 76/100. Richard Roper liked it.
So what went right? Chris Pratt went right, largely. The male lead (playing Peter Quill/Star Lord, leader of the Guardians) has stridden into the Official Male Jennifer Lawrence Equivalent Slot. He's pure dynamite on screen – his comedic energy is nearly overwhelming (though he's no Lord Flashheart) and his voice and face are marvellously expressive in the more emotional stretches of the film. He also seems just lovely offscreen too – witty, charitable, self-aware. (Now – to steal cells from Lawrence and Pratt, splice them, and breed them.)
Pratt and the fantastically chosen and integrated 80s music soundtrack take a fun script with little real depth and make it arguably the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. The keen use of nostalgia as a thematic device – especially appropriate within the Superhero genre, with all its implied atmosphere of innocence lost after the Silver Age – creates a baseline of poignancy the film can rely upon throughout. This is all filled out by some pretty solid all-round support performances and some cheap but undeniably effective moments (Groot has some of the best abovementioned emotionally manipulative moments).
So I highly recommend it. But let me complain vociferously about one thing. We must now confess that the 12A certificate – permitting children under 12 to watch the film if accompanied – is a laughable idea. Remember – this has entirely replaced the old 12 certificate, so far as cinematic releases go. The modern rating system runs as follows: 18 / 15 / 12A / PG / U. The first solid age barrier is at the 15 certificate. What did Guardians of the Galaxy include that you might want to be careful about, say, an 8 year old seeing? Implied head crushing by giant hammer, implied crushing to death of fighter pilots, ubiquitous “distanced” violence, multiple uses of the word “shit”, implied use of the word “fuck”, multiple surprisingly explicit conversations about sex.
I am almost tempted to sardonically joke about what step we'll next take to rob children of their childhood by exposing them to robust content too early, except I fear it'll come true.