The Russian superhero team movie “Guardians” (not to be confused with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy) unfortunately spends too much of its time replicating the tone and style of other popular superhero movies to ever find its own unique voice.
The film centers on a group of soldiers who, at the height of the cold war, underwent scientific and biological experiments, giving them various superhuman abilities, not to mention amnesia and immortality. Jump ahead to present day Moscow, when a villain from their past resurfaces and threatens all of Russia, the “Guardians” must be reunited to confront the threat with a checklist of stock superhuman abilities such as invisibility, telekinesis, super-speed, and super strength (courtesy of a pretty cool werebear...yes...you read that right, a werebear).
Right from the get-go, it’s apparent that this movie is trying really hard to replicate the success of American superhero films by essentially repeating the exact same flat aesthetics and visual style of so many of them. Not to mention using the same generic, unremarkable musical score which, unfortunately, is constantly present throughout the entirety of the film to truly tiresome effect. The film’s humor repeats the same comedic style and beats of other superhero films, particularly those from Marvel Studios, only not terribly well executed.
Not only is the look and sound of this movie ripping off its American counterparts, but in terms of the narrative, we’ve all seen this story play out before. When the villain makes his presence known, an attractive female agent (Black Widow by any other name) working for a secret government organization (S.H.I.E.L.D. by any other name) is tasked with traveling the globe to recruit the heroes one by one and return them to Moscow. Hell, when all was said and done there was even a post-credits scene teasing that there are more “Guardians” out there (because shared cinematic universes).
Most of the film’s action sequences are executed well and are entertaining to watch, but again, offer nothing new or unique. Credit where it’s due, at times the film’s visual effects are surprisingly impressive considering its lower production budget (about $5.5 million USD), but at other times that lower budget is glaringly obvious, providing some moments of unintentional humor. For instance, the film’s main villain is created with prosthetics that are…well…laughable. There’s no gentler way to put it. In general, I’m a fan of practical visual and make-up effects and wish it was used more in modern cinema…but it has to look good. This character's whole design is just downright goofy.
The less than stellar visual effects and cloning of past superhero films would have knocked points off regardless, but this movie may have still been salvageable if it was at least good in its own right, but it’s not. Ham-fisted exposition plagues almost every key moment of the film, whether it be the flashback to the villain’s origin, or the moment when our heroes (a quartet of bland, uninteresting characters who lack any real discernable personality traits) all meet up for the first time, a sequence which could have been used to establish something resembling chemistry between these characters, but is instead used to describe their powers to one another (and to us) in the driest possible manner. More exposition is forced down our throats and thinly masked as various emotional beats that are so cliché they ultimately fall flat.
To top it off, the dialogue throughout the entirety of the film is extremely hokey and melodramatic. Although to be fair, since I was watching this with subtitles, some of that could be attributed to something being lost in translation. Being a bilingual French-Canadian myself, I can attest that some phrases which flow naturally in their native tongue can fall flat when translated to English subtitles.
Which isn’t to say there isn’t something to take away from this movie depending on your age and the kind of experience you’re looking for. I’d be lying if I said that my 13-year-old self didn’t poke his acne-ridden face out of the dark recesses of my brain just long enough to squeal in joy at the imagery of a giant man with the head of a grizzly bear, screaming his head off as he fires off seemingly endless rounds from an equally massive minigun. And as I stated earlier, for the most part, the action sequences featuring the super-heroics of this team are well executed, albeit unoriginal.
When all is said and done though, Guardians is a disappointingly unremarkable superhero movie. Despite all its other flaws, it might have still been able to stand on its own as something that at the very least was unique from other superhero films had it only embraced its own national identity and given us a truly Russian superhero movie, instead of just trying to make a carbon copy American superhero movie with subtitles. The result is a film that doesn't stand on its own and drowns in a proverbial sea of identical superhero movies, a lot of which are better than this one.
Then again, let's play devil's advocate for a second, maybe I'm missing the whole point of this movie. Maybe "Guardians" isn't an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the superhero genre by lazily repeating what came before, but is actually a clever spoof of the genre and director Sarik Andreasyan's statement on how bad he thinks American superhero movies are. And maybe I'm simply being too generous.
3.5 / 10