By Meaghan Clohessy
With the release of Blade almost 15 years ago, Marvel Studios understands the power of nostalgia. The studio can look back on its steady domination of the superhero genre in film. DC Comics struggles to keep up, but barring Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, the film studio cannot keep up with Marvel’s massive output. For the latest film to fill our absence before Avengers: Age of Voltron, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy calls attention to the delight and torment of nostalgia. The film stars Chris Pratt as the outlaw Starlord, kidnapped at a young age by space ravagers following the death of his mother. After retrieving a mysterious orb from the clutches of Ronan (Lee Pace), Starlord finds himself in a galactic prison with an assortment of criminals, including a genetically altered raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and the assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana). These misfits must work together to keep the orb safe and stop Ronan from destroying the galaxy. Played to the soundtrack of seventies pop, Guardians of the Galaxy is a playful romp through the peripheral characters of the Marvel universe. It does not stand out much in terms of plot structure and character development, but the film brings in darker elements to make for an interesting next chapter of Marvel franchise.
Nostalgia encompasses Guardians of the Galaxy as its principle motif. Peter Quill, AKA Starlord, maintains his few connections to Earth through memories of music, television, and fads. His spaceship, named the Milano, becomes a shrine to Starlord’s past, complete with a cassette player in the dashboard. Starlord himself, with his long trench coat and playful arrogance, bears resemblance to the character of Lonestar from Mel Brook’s Spaceballs. A soundtrack of seventies favorites, from Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” to the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” completes the throwback vibe.
Nostalgic connections create a sense of campiness that brings hilarity to the film. These allusions balance out the darker moments of the film. The underground nature of the original comic series provides potential for more serious plot points, such as Rocket’s drunken lament over the tortuous genetic experiments that lead to his creation. The combination of camp and adult undertones highlight the seductive force of nostalgia, strengthened through the wonderful chemistry displayed between the characters. The actors understand that each of their individual characters is hampered by their past, whether it’s Gamora’s manipulated upbringing or Drax’s (Dave Bautista) dangerous desire for revenge. When characters like Starlord cling so desperately to their past, the often-tragic fragments of reality start to seep through. The only way to break from this illusion of nostalgia then lies in finding the courage to grow with those friends who surround us.
The critical flaw of most Marvel films lies in their inability of any larger follow-through. Films like the recent Captain America: Winter Soldier break into these larger themes of society, but never commit to full exploration. No Marvel film demonstrates this more fully than Guardians. The poignant balance of camp and reality quickly fades in favor of an Avengers-like plotline, where the misfits only come together after tragic circumstances circumstances. While the film leans toward the camp, the pop culture references are never consistent, save for the musical interlude. The often-poisonous nostalgia gives way to the stylized action sequences audiences have grown to recognize in Marvel films. Not only repeating the Avengers formula ruin the film’s analytical angle, but it draws away from the uniqueness of these new characters. In the years of sequels and spin-offs to come, Guardians will not receive the luxury of nostalgia given to Cap, Iron Man, and Thor, which is a shame.
Guardians will keep any Marvel fan satisfied until 2015. Once that release date draws closer however, the entertainment of this film will evaporate– it does not yet contain the substance to break away from Voltron.