“The Guardians”: the Ruskies make a better superhero film

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.

The Guardians - poster
Available at Amazon.

 

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.

The Guardians

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.

Valeriya Shkirando
Valeriya Shkirando.

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.

Alina Lanina
Alina Lanina, who plays the heroine Kseniya.

Reception.

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.

Update from the comments: Box Office Mojo shows films revenue by nation. It shows that the Russians do like superhero films. See the numbers for the Avengers and Avengers 2 – Age of Ultron.

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

 

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The other two great films in this genre

Here are the two top films about super-groups, both well worth watching: The Avengers and Justice League.

The Avengers
Available at Amazon.
Justice League
Available at Amazon.

13 thoughts on ““The Guardians”: the Ruskies make a better superhero film

    1. The Tin Foil Hat,

      This is quite similar to Hollywood superhero flicks, just a bit different — and imo a bit better.

      My guess (guess!) is that Russian audiences see this genre as entertainment for teens. They’re not wrong.

    2. This film bombed in Russia and is only able to do a sequel through Chinese funding. Having seen it myself it’s clearly a wannabe avengers with card board characters. Even regular russians bashed this film on YouTube. So if you think Hollywood hero films are tasteless then I wouldn’t bother with this.

  1. The shear amount of bs coming out of this reveiwers mouth makes me wonder if he is genuine or a bought and payed for propagandist. They’re was absolutely nothing in this film that made it stand out. Was a darker version of avengers and if your into that then I guess it’s one advantage. But considering there have been plenty of dark superhero movies already made and done better then this it doesnt make it innovative. Ironically the fact that such a B grade film took itself as seriously as it did actually made it more comedic then anything I’ve seen from Hollywood’s superhero films. As for the excuse of russians not wanting to see superhero films that you claim is why this film bombed over there. Well there is a little site called box office mojo and it literally shows by country which movies are most watched based on numbers. I’ve already seen it which is why I already know your full of crap when you claim russians aren’t into superhero films. Even if they weren’t most of the world and not just Americans clearly are into this genre as can be seen with the Chinese market and it’s growing demand for marvel films. I suggest you deal with it.

    1. CHristopher,

      It’s always nice to hear from God, or someone with equivalent self-esteem.

      For the rest of us, these things are subjective.

      Good point about Box Office Mojo. I didn’t know that they showed that data.

  2. Seems it got a 4/10 from IMDb, 22% rotten tomatoes, and 3 stars in Amazon video. I think I will wait till it is free to view and save the 4 bucks right now. Thanks for the intro Larry. I will eventually check it out.

    1. Ossqss,

      Those low critics’ scores are like those of other movies I like. IMO, critics are contrary indicators.

      • Red Sparrow: 48% at RT.
      • Drive Angry: 46% at RT.
      • Justice League: 40% at RT.
      • The Great Wall: 35% at RT.
      • Passengers: 31% at RT.
      • Leap Year: 22% at RT.
      • Gods of Egypt: 15% at RT.

      On the other hand, many many films were loved by the critics — after watching I wanted a refund not just of my money, but those two wasted hours of my life. Here are a few from a very long list.

      • Black Panther: 98% (it says central Africans are stupid).
      • Skyfall: 92%
      • Thor: Ragnarok: 92%.
      • The Last Jedi: 90%.
      • Blade Runner 2047: 87%.
    2. Understood Larry. Would you spend 4 bucks on it? I feared possible subtitles the most, then dubbing. I guess I probably should just do it and validate. Heck, I paid for the last Godzilla movie! I blame the kids for that one, even though I was the only one to make it through the whole thing! ;-)

    3. ossqss,

      “Would you spend 4 bucks on it?”

      Now that’s going to the heart of the question. I’ve spent much more (tickets are $11.50 in the San Francisco Bay Area) to see horrible films — like those listed above (and esp Knowing with Nicholas Cage, which my son took us too).

      I enjoyed it. But taste in these things is, as you know, subjective. Which is why I try to focus film reviews on more big picture question, such as what they reveal about us. This review is unusual for me, more of a traditional review.

    4. Just curious, did you like either of Guardians of the Galaxy?

      BTW, Keep up the good work here. We often neglect to tell people how much we appreciate their efforts far too often in todays digital world.

      Thank you for doing what you do here at FM!

      “No static at all”

      Forgive me……

    5. ossqss,

      I watched the first Guardians of the Galaxy at home, and gave up about 20 minutes in. I got more out of watching static on the TV with my friends at college. Tastes vary, and that kind of humor is our time’s version of slapstick — not my thing.

      Thanks for the thanks. This isn’t a mass market website, so I appreciate the audience. We’re here for the truth, no matter how hot the fire needed to uncover it. It is a goal shared only by a few.

  3. “Truth” is a goal shared by anyone who desires to know it Larry. I happen to be one of those afflicted.

    Make it a great week!

  4. Larry,
    Have you seen “Salyut 7”?

    I’ts a Russian film about the Salyut mission to recover and repair the Russian space station that went dark in 1985.

    If you dont know the real story id say wait to look it up as not knowing the outcome makes for a much more thrilling viewing.

    The actual story is, of course, dramatized quite a bit in the film, but no worse than our typical hollywood historical dramas.

    I picked it randomly, not knowing anything about it. It is visually stunning at times and quite exciting. If you liked apollo 13 and/or Gravity, you will enjoy this one. I liked it much more than gravity, actually.

    Some quirky, funny, and interesting bits relating to the cold war and the Russian perspective on the US. Couple of interestig translations in the captions too, if you catch them.

    Definitely a ra ra Russian feel good piece, but also an interesting view into the incredible accomplishments of men and women serving their nation without the consant drumming of SJW narratives that are so common these days.

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