Friday, 15 August 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy: The Community of the Marvel Universe

With its off-beat tone, self-referential humour and quirky cast of characters, Guardians of the Galaxy sticks out from the rest of the Marvel cannon as a bit of an oddity. In fact, whereas most films from the popular comic book studio feel like natural cousins of one another – and even merged to form The Avengers - Guardians of the Galaxy has a wider frame of reference and seems to be influenced from sources outside of the insular world of Marvel.

In particular, the added humour suggest an influence of sit-coms. Sure, all recent Marvel films have used humour to take the edge of their sometimes overblown premises, but to date none have been as self-effacing as Guardians. Take the Drax the Destroyer revenge plot line, which in other Marvel films might have been played straight, but here is mocked for its over-seriousness.

The presence of Chris Pratt as the protagonist reinforces this comedic tone - but rather than his show Parks and Recreation, it is Community that Guardians brings to mind the most. The recently resurrected show has become renowned for its knowing humour and elaborate pop culture jokes, and often operates at a meta-level to both use and comment on six-com tropes.

Guardians may not quite so audacious, but it does share a similar tone and love of pop culture. From the mix-tape of classic songs that Peter Quill (Pratt) carries around to mentions of other films like Footloose, there’s plenty here to suggest that director James Gunn may be a fan of Community, and it’s easy to envision Abed from Community saying Gamora’s line, ‘We’re just like Kevin Bacon’.

But what really underscores the familiarity between show and film are the characters. Like the study group in Community, the so-called ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ are a mismatched bunch of outsiders brought together through chance. The film is at its most enjoyable when they’re all together and jokes are flying back and forth, much like Community gets the biggest laughs when the characters are all gathered round the study room table. And although The Avengers also excelled in similar ensemble scenes, the Guardians are, as Quill says proclaims in one particularly Jeff Winger-esque motivational speech – ‘losers’. It’s hard to imagine Tony Stark ever saying as much.

Then there’s the underpinning theme of absent families. Quill is burdened by the sadness of losing his mother as a toddler, Gamora was used as a weapon by her father, Drax’s wife and daughter were murdered and Rocket the Racoon has a few existential moments berating his own genetically-modified creation; just as, in Community, Jeff, Abed and Pierce all suffer from strained relationships with their fathers, and Shirley struggles to adapt after divorcing her husband.  
Again, this is hardly a novelty in the superhero genre, but what sets the characters of Guardians apart, and evokes the damaged individuals in Community, is that they form their own family as a group. Whereas Batman responds to his orphaning by becoming an isolated vigilante, and the egos of The Avengers never allow them to work seamlessly together, the characters in Guardians flourish and become whole again in each other’s company.
 With a sequel coming up, it might be too much to ask for such a mega-studio money spinner to take the same audacious risks that made the second season of Community such a classic. But as far as Marvel films go, this band of weirdos have great potential, and it will be fascinating to see where they go next. 

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