Asked for my reaction to "Guardians of the Galaxy" shortly after seeing it, I said it was "very 'Firefly.'" I didn't get to that point right away; at first it felt like a movie about the life of Han Solo outside of the "Star Wars" saga, and then like a Han Solo movie as if written by Joss Whedon and then to the idea that it was "Firefly," only in a somewhat weirder part of the universe than "Firefly" and its big-screen companion "Serenity" occupy.
This is not a surprise. Whedon, after all, is the maestro of "The Avengers." a consultant to Marvel and, according to many reports, a good friend of "Guardians" director and co-writer James Gunn.
In fact, if you look closely at the credits of "Guardians," you will see the names of Whedon stock company members Nathan Fillion (the "Castle" star who was also the lead in "Firefly/Serenity") and Alexis Denisof. "Guardians" has the wit and the cultural cross-references Whedon fans have come to expect -- and in a safely commercial context which Marvel and Whedon have so successfully occupied. Indeed, where Whedon has said in interviews that he wanted "Guardians" to have Gunn's voice, a look at Gunn's revisionist costumed-hero movie "Super" shows humor in a far grimmer, even uglier framework than the let's-pack-the-multiplex Marvel movies have tried.
Because of that, as often as "Guardians" could seem fresh, it still had an air of a project where punches were pulled and old Marvel tropes favored over something really bold.*
This is not to say I disliked the movie, which involves Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a Han/Mal Reynolds kind of rogue whose pursuit of bounty puts him in the middle of a multiplanet conflict and creates a team of unlikely creatures with a common purpose.
I enjoyed large parts of it, never more than in an early scene where Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is dancing across an outer-space landscape to vintage music; the tone in that scene lets you know that what's coming is going to be different from your usual Marvel epic -- and Quill's love of dancing is a recurring element in the rest of the movie.
Moreover, "Guardians" is very funny in spots, and the talking raccoon Rocket** (voiced by Bradley Cooper) is a breakout character -- although there will doubtless be fans for the tree-of-few-words Groot (Vin Diesel) and the very literal-minded Drax (Dave Bautista).*** And how can you not like a movie where an ongoing issue is understanding metaphors.
Still, as the movie goes along, it becomes less bold and more Marvel-eseque, especially when it tries to make the audience care more about the characters and it reaches the inevitable big action piece near the end. That action piece goes on very long, although part of the payoff is a bit with Quill that made me smile. So I am looking forward to the next "Guardians" adventure onscreen. I just would like it to be a self-contained tale instead of another thread in the gigantic narrative blanket Marvel has been spreading across its movies.
*"Guardians" is also part of the massive movie-crossing arc in Marvel right now. Although the main characters are new, Thanos. the Collector and infinity stones -- all referenced in previous Marvels -- are part of this one, too. Thanos is expected back in "Avengers: Age of Ultron."
**I could at this point ramble about "Guardians'" homages to "The Rocketeer," not only in Rocket's name but in the costuming for Quill and the hair styles on Nova Prime (Glenn Close), but I have already fallen deep into the ramble patch.
***Unfortunately, all too much in keeping with other Marvel movies, the women are not nearly as interesting.