‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and the rise of post-plot cinema

We’ll tell you straight out: All the TVWriter™ minions loved GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. We aren’t saying it’s a great film, but it certainly was the most enjoyable film all of us saw so far this year. Reminded the old-timers (sorry, LB) of the first time they saw STAR WARS.

But when you think about it, there just may be a tad off about the writing, in terms of traditional story structure, we mean. Or maybe more than a tad. (Or maybe less…cuz so much fun that who cares, you know?) Read on:

cavil-with-guardians-of-the-galaxyby Steven Zeitchik

Like many people this past weekend, I went to see “Guardians of the Galaxy” at a nearby multiplex. I bought some concession snacks, donned a pair of 3-D glasses and sat through the half-hour of previews that preceded the James Gunn romp with a fair bit of anticipation, stoked by my returning to the U.S.  after three weeks of work abroad to a stack of effusive reviews, as well as email bulletins that the Marvel movie was killing it at the box office.

In many ways, my high expectations were met. Chris Pratt brought the right amount of swashbuckler to his prototypical boyish dolt, the wisecracks and meta references landed with some frequency, and the action set pieces looked cool and seemed like they’d be fun to live through.

But about 30 minutes in, and for nearly every minute after, something else became increasingly clear: The movie had no clear or compelling plot.

Hard-core Marvel enthusiasts, versed in the 1960s comic where it all began, may disagree. And maybe even some fellow Marvel newcomers might feel differently. For me, from the first moment a Yondu was dropped and a Ronan was feared and a Thanos was intoned — all of them playing Very Important Roles to the people in the movie but, it seemed, amounting to little more than a mythic mishmash to those of us outside it — I was turning up my hands.

I don’t mean to suggest there aren’t discernible narrative developments in the film. Yes, there’s an important orb whose owner controls the fate of the universe. And there are various factions trying to get their hands on it, each with varying degrees of financial, psychological and megalomaniacal motivation. Characters even have, in a few cases, a semi-coherent or moving back story. But it is not easy to explain, crisply and without descending into a certain kind of obfuscatory mumbo-jumbo, what is actually happening. In fact, it’s far from clear that the characters can explain, crisply and without descending into a certain kind of obfuscatory mumbo-jumbo, what is actually happening.

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