Guardians of the Galaxy
Christian Movie Review!
The Marvel Universe is exporting its winsome sense of humor, riveting plot lines, and mega-awesome special effects into outer space. Chris Pratt (Parks and Rec, Zero Dark Thirty) plays Peter Quill, an American pilot on the run in a Han Solo-style bounty hunt that takes him to the far reaches of the galaxy. The bad guy chasing him is up-and-coming shining star Lee Pace (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Lincoln, Pushing Daisies). Fans of Marvel have been trembling with excitement over this movie. But, apparently, general audiences everywhere — if the critics are to be trusted — will also gobble up this comical thrill ride with utter delight, whether or not they’re comic book fans. After the parental guidance section, I’ll give my take on whether the critics are right, and I’ll examine the worldviews of the film to see what content resides beneath the surface of the story.
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content/Nudity: No sex scenes. No nudity other than a side-view of a character during some kind of strange alien bath — though no nudity is seen. There are several references in the dialogue to a character having one night stands and sleeping with a female from a less-than-desirable alien species. A couple crude, juvenile references to anatomy. One scene has a male character lying atop a female character after a crash, and it is meant to look somewhat suggestive, but they are fully clothed and it does not lead anywhere. There’s not even a kiss in this movie.
Violence/Gore: Although not very graphic in a human sense (with human gore), the movie is an intense action movie with plenty of alien/humanoid carnage. There is a large amount of tasing in this movie for some reason. What’s up with that? Apparently, tasers and their variants are the weapons of choice in this galaxy. A tree creature shoves his roots and branches of his fingers up the nostrils of another character. A character uses his immense strength to claw the side of another character’s skull off. There is no blood and brains in this violent scene because the victim is an alien humanoid, so they can get away with it by showing blood and gore that isn’t human. Another character has her face melted away when she grabs a dangerous object. It borders on R-rated gore, but with certain visual tricks it keeps it just within PG-13 limits. Lots of electrocutions and fists and blunt objects hitting and crushing characters. A dozen or so aliens are impaled by a flying object. A female alien with a humanoid form is shot with a cannon, and then her body regenerates, and it’s a bit gross because we see her snapped limbs and mangled face twist and contort back into her normal form. After a character drowns in goo, another alien character uses a technique to somehow pierce his lungs and drain the fluid out, all of which is shown in detail. A human female is seen dying of cancer on a hospital bed: probably the least gory and bloody death in the movie and yet the most emotionally heavy hitting.
In general, this movie is not for the kiddies. No one under 13, please. Just because there’s a talking raccoon does not mean you should haul your grade schoolers to this.
Language: Mild profanity (s-word, b-word, a-word, h-word, d-word, etc.). No f-words.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: Characters drink some kind of alien alcohol and get in a drunken bar fight.
Frightening/Intense/Emotionally Heavy Content: Besides all the combat and alien carnage, the scene with the woman with cancer is very emotionally intense and hard-hitting. They show no mercy in reaching for your heart strings and yanking as hard as possible. And this is not aliens we’re talking about; it’s a scene with a dying mother on earth. If you’re in the midst of any fresh grief or loss in your life, this might be a painful scene to watch. Just a heads up.
(review continues below)
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“Marvel is better at doing comedy in their action movies than most comedies that feature professional funny people.”
Entertainment Value and Film Craft
What makes Marvel movies so great is their comedy. They have successfully maintained a high standard of hilarity and real LOL moments in 95% of the Avengers universe. Going by that measure, Guardians of the Galaxies is the cream of the crop. The audience in the theater laughed through 80-90% of the film. In fact, the audience laughed more than many movies that bill themselves as comedies. Marvel is better at doing comedy in their action movies than most comedies that feature professional funny people. Every cast member had their scene-stealing moments of hilarity, but my personal favorite was probably Vin Diesel’s tree creature character Groot. It’s amazing how many shades of meaning you can get out of three words. I. Am. (Fan of) Groot!
Another notable achievement is how — and I was genuinely impressed by this feat — they managed to work in more Top 40 hits from the ’70s and ’80s into the actual plot (not just the soundtrack) than the original Karate Kid and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off combined. The dialogue also featured some serious love for Kevin Bacon. See my blog post here for more details about that. But, wow, this movie was made for children of the ’80s. I am a child of the ’80s, ergo this movie was made for me. Thank you, Marvel. Besides the ’80s (and ’70s) music, this movie channels Stars Wars: Episode IV A New Hope in so many ways that I lost count. I can’t say too much without giving things away, but this movie feels like one giant nod of tribute to George Lucas.
Oh, and did I mention that it has a better-than-usual-even-for-Marvel-standards AWESOME visual design? I’m not just talking about the visual effects, but the set-pieces, the props, the CGI backgrounds: all of it was a delight to watch. And it was tasteful. The filmmakers knew when to make things look pretty and when not to. I loved how most of the space ships looked junky and beat up, much like the original Star Wars trilogy. Smart move, James Gunn.
Worldviews and Themes of Redemption
Considering that the Marvel universe is a dizzying mash-up of Norse mythology, alien civilizations, sci-fi wonderment, and Western pop culture, it was interesting to hear the character called The Collector (Benicio del Toro) refer to the origin of the universe as Creation. I won’t go so far as to say that Marvel is trying to peddle any kind of Judeo-Christian worldview, but in an age where very aggressive secularists and naturalists treat the term “Creation” like a cuss word, I found the film’s usage of it refreshing.
What this movie has in spades is a wonderful portrayal of self-sacrifice among people who realize that there’s more to life than living for themselves. It’s the classic selfish-rogues-see-the-light-and-become-heroes theme, but this film takes that oft-used theme and gets under your skin with it. They make it surprisingly heartwarming and emotional, and this adds powerful contrast to the loads of jokes and silliness. Oddly enough, it’s the kind of movie that makes you examine your life and ask questions like, “Am I living my life for myself? Am I too selfish? Should I be doing more for others?”
It’s basically impossible not to love this movie, especially if you are an American or a Westerner who grew up anywhere in the vicinity of the ’80’s. You will laugh at this movie — a lot. You’ll sit on the edge of your seat during the thrilling scenes, and you may even shed a tear or two. Just don’t take kids under 13. The alien carnage and intensity is a bit too much for kiddies. Also be aware that the movie focuses on the grief of losing a family member in an emotionally intense way.
But overall, wow, Marvel. Nicely done.