Summary: The Russians made a rip-off of Avengers and Justice League. It is better than the originals. This is the fifth film in Film Week at the FM website.
“They’re the four Russian elements – earth, air, water, and bear.”
— The four superheroes in The Guardians. Source.
Review of The Guardians (2017).
The Russians’ film about superheroes defending the motherland.
“During the Cold War, an organization called Patriot’ created a super-hero squad, which includes members of multiple soviet republics. For years, they had to hide their identities, but in hard times they must show themselves again – and become heroes.”
The Guardians was produced by Russian production companies for only five million dollars, pocket change compared to the 9-digit budgets of Hollywood superhero spectacles, shows that spirit and talent are more important than money when making films. After the boring sameness of American superhero films, it was good to see a new and well-executed perspective on the genre.
In Guardians characters showed self-sacrifice for the nation as a natural choice (very Russian), without the high-flown rhetoric and rug-chewing typical of America’s tent-pole blockbusters. They were sentimental without being maudlin (very Russian). The film had intense violence that was integral to the plot, not gratuitously tacked on.
Like most superhero films, the plot is ramshackle. That is inherent to the genre. These are, after all, world-building based on comic books. Still, the plot of The Guardians is rock-solid compared to films like Black Panther.
The dialog and personalities show exceptional depth for a superhero film. It does not enlighten, like Shakespeare. It does not spark existential despair, like Dostoyevsky. It entertains and, at its best moments, it inspires.
Guardians is better than most American superhero films in almost every way. The special effects are adequate, which is extraordinary given the tiny budget. Some are better than adequate. The transformations of Arsus into a bear (e.g., like the Hulk) were very well done.
Also unlike modern American films, the women are feminine (even as leaders and warriors), far superior to the standard shallow fashion plates in our Marvel and DC films. The project leader of “Patriot”, appointed to save Russia, is Major Elena Larina (Valeriya Shkirando). She is sizzling hot and convincingly portrays courage, strength, and wisdom. Her recruitment and management of the team are brilliant. Intelligence is something frequently implied in films, but seldom convincingly shown.
The men are deeply masculine. Some of the men have tragic backstories, but they neither whine about it or are “conflicted” (it does not affect their actions). The men are not the usual drama queens, reluctant heroes, or “conflicted” neurotics. The are not publicity whores or seeking wealth. Men and women both just get the job done.
The villain is the most refreshing part of The Guardians. So many action films have abandoned villains with realistic plans and motivations. Too many villains are cardboard versions of the Joker, with plans that are just plot magic (Skyfall is the extreme example of this). Guardian’s villain, Avgust Kuratov (Stanislav Shirin), is an old-fashioned bad guy: a super scientist with superpowers. He wants to rule the world, a reasonable goal given his resources. His plan is meticulously thought out.
The ending, though, suffers from the endemic weakness of this genre. Although there is no stale mano a mano fight scene at the end, victory comes via deus ex machina. And the post-credit teaser scene is too brief to have meaning.
Guardians did poorly in Russia. Perhaps they did not like what is essentially an American fable. Superheroes, individuals or small groups that save the nation, probably appear alien to people raised to seek victory through collective action – standing together to face a foe. That is a more mature perspective than the dream of super-empowered individuals, which is at root a childish dream of becoming a flying Jesus figure.
US critics panned it, as they dislike anything that breaks from the cookie-cutter plot formula described by Blake Snyder in Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need (2005). They whined that it did not have jokes, since simple heroism is too jejune for their post-modern minds. They said it was not creative (true), although that is equally true about 95% of Hollywood’s output.
A sequel is coming, financed by Chinese money, with some Chinese characters added.
The bottom line
The Guardians is a good popcorn film. I enjoyed it. If you like this genre, I recommend it.
Trailer for The Guardians
For More Information
See a review by Scott Gladstein. He says “6/10 but go watch it.” I’d be interested to see his reviews of the junk that is recent US superhero films.
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