In a lot of ways, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is today’s answer to “The Maltese Falcon” and that’s a very good thing. Both films have a quirky energy about them and both have won over critics and the box office. Arguably, the Bogart classic ushered in film noir. For “Guardian,” it ushers in a greater acceptance of the weird and offbeat by mainstream audiences.
It doesn’t always work and we’re left with cult classics like “Howard the Duck,” but it works in this case. Taking a page out of the comic industry playbook, this movie takes an old and obscure property and dares to do something interesting with it. This relaunching of characters has worked many times over in comics with great success, with everything from Swamp Thing (Alan Moore) to the X-Men (Chris Claremont).
What you can expect here is a very well-orchestrated fun ride. What director/writer James Gunn and writer Nicole Perlman do is to keep playing with the irreverent and ironic nature of comics. Even with the most serious of comics, it seems, there is a certain strangeness common to all comics. The same can be said of film.
“Guardian” juggles some serious scenes at the outset that anchor the main character of Peter Quill (played by Chris Pratt). His anchor, to deal with the death of his mom as a child is his Walkman (circa 1988) that he had with him at her deathbed, with a mix tape she had made for him. We hear that mix tape in all its glory, and to great effect, throughout the movie. Yeah, it does work. Nothing else will do for certain scenes but to have songs in the background like “Hooked on a Feeling” or “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
Marvel Comics has a long tradition of being the house of cool with a distinctive ironic swagger. This movie is very much in tune with that. We have characters here that we believe in, that we laugh with, and that we will follow to wherever they go. In one interesting moment, Quill looks up, takes a pause, and asks what it is they’re exactly doing with a most mysterious orb. “I get that this orb has a Maltese Falcon thing going on.” And, indeed, it does. Except, the Maltese Falcon never threatened an entire galaxy, at least I don’t think it did.