I read Julian Darius’ essay on Guardians of the Galaxy with great interest, just as I read Stephanie Zacharek’s review of the same film. Both of them have come under fire on social media (Julian’s facebook responses are the usual fare accusations of idiocy, etc, but Zacharek brought out the ugly fanboy sexism). The message, as was the message directed to me when I had my little outburst about Zack Snyder: don’t challenge conventional fanboy wisdom. Or else.
Fanboy wisdom, it seems, holds two unquestionable truths: 1) “Dark” Superman stories are awesome, no matter how they’re told. Did you see the awesome costume? and 2) Guardians of the Galaxy is the BEST movie ever made. Ever. EVER. EVER!!!
Like Hamlet’s mother (oops, here come the “snobbery” accusations), they protest a bit too much, and that’s telling. I’m a geek, too, folks. I’ve spent my entire conscious life being attacked for liking the things I like and disliking the things I’m “supposed” to like. We all got cut from the hockey team (or the baseball team: whatever). We all struck out with girls at a certain point in our lives. We were all teased and many of us were bullied. Let’s just admit that, have a group hug and get over it. I thought that was what Comic Cons were for: reminding us what we’re all in the same “fandom” boat. In fact, there are many more of us than you know. There were over 120 000 people at Comic Con. The President is a nerd. We sort of “won”, didn’t we?
So, why are we still attacking anyone who challenges our precious texts? It would be understandable if there were only a dozen of us who liked comics or comic book-based films and we were constantly being undermined and teased by the popular kids and the powers that be. But Guardians was the biggest movie of the summer, so far. Just like The Avengers or Captain America: The Winter Soldier. By “biggest”, I’m going to remind you: most popular. Next year it will be a toss-up between the new Star Wars and the next Avengers. So, why are we acting like any moment now someone is going to come and take all our toys away?
Part of having an open, intelligent, critical and analytical culture is to invite those with whom we disagree to explain themselves, and listen to their points. At Comic Con recently (Desmond White can confirm this), a guy stopped by the Sequart table and said that he didn’t like Watchmen. Actually, he said he “hated” Watchmen. Rather than be offended, I guess I’ve been in teaching and academics for so long that my instinct was to immediately ask “Why?” Not out of challenging his views (if he “hates” the book already, nothing I can say in five minutes will change his mind), but out of honest curiosity. Why on earth would someone “hate” Watchmen? It’s like someone telling me they don’t like The Beatles. I’m just surprised and I’m curious.
Eventually the gentleman in question gave me an answer about how he didn’t want to read about “messed up people” in superhero comics because there were enough of those in his own life. It was a funny line and I couldn’t argue with that. But it did seem like that was the first time he had actually been challenged to produce a reason for his views. The fact that he was able to come up with something other than “I just don’t like it” was encouraging.
This brings us to Guardians of the Galaxy. Like everyone else, I saw it this past weekend and I actually enjoyed it for what it was. But as the days go by I’m constantly wondering just what exactly it was trying to be. This is a film that is ostensibly marketed to young teenagers and children, and yet it’s so ultra-violent that even the blood-crazy MPAA gave it a PG-13 rating. It’s meant to appeal to youths in 2014 and yet features wall-to-wall Late Boomer/Early Gen-X nostalgia music such as “Hooked on a Feeling”. You would think that it would feature someone like Justin Bieber if they were really aiming for today’s kids. It provides no compelling villain, unless you’ve already read all the Marvel comics (I haven’t, and I don’t think most of the audience has, either). Its best moments come from a talking CG Raccoon and Tree Man, yet it’s supposedly a star vehicle for Chris Pratt, playing a role any number of others could have played. So, the film confuses me at every turn.
Structurally, it spends way too much time on its silly MacGuffin plot (this is a movie for kids, I guess), shoves villains onto the screen to scowl for a minute and give longtime comics readers enough time to poke their friends and giggle and then gets back to pointless action. The whole action sequence at the end…. is just dull and most unoriginal, although I appreciated the apparent nod to Flash Gordon. The movie has heart, that’s for sure, and has moments that actually work, but it seems like a film pieced together in the corporate boardroom, designed to hit as many different demographic focus groups as possible, evoke pointless nostalgia and make a bucket of money. A big bucket.
All that is speaking as a sentimental geek who really does fall for these kinds of movies. Let me say before the flames start licking at my heels that this movie is much better than much recent fare such as Star Trek Into Darkness and did affect me emotionally at certain moments. Chris Pratt deserves whatever stardom he’s going to earn and I did think that the CG characters were extremely well-done and well-acted.
I think where I, and perhaps Julian, differ from the mainstream viewer is that we know they could do better. The source material is rich, the filmmaking talent is there: if only they had picked a tone and stuck with it, or focused on story rather than product-testing every moment to death. In short: get the corporate out of the filmmaking and just trust the artist they hire, like the best creative talent mangers always did in the comics. That approach would undoubtedly produce some clunkers, or films that don’t appeal to a wide audience and draw criticism, like Superman Returns. But at least they would be real films, and not carefully lathed products designed to sell toys and dole out experiences in carefully measured chunks.
It’s not that we aren’t fans: we’re such fans that we have high expectations for films that come out of our favourite medium. We’re like Othello, and since I’ve already used Shakespeare once, and I’m going to be accused of snobbery anyway, I’ll whip out another quote: “Think of me as one who loved, not wisely, but too well.”