When Guardians of the Galaxy came out last summer, I didn’t see it. Man of Steel pushed me over the edge. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with Marvel, DC, capes, comic books, superpowers, or superheroes of any kind. Every person in the galaxy saw that movie except me. And every person in the galaxy that I knew said it was soooooooo good and I should sooooooo go see it. Six months later, I finally saw Guardians of the Galaxy. Everyone was right. It was SOOOO good. Like, Lego Movie good. Movie of the Year good. I- actually- want- them- to- make- a- sequel good. Plus, it spawned a bunch of riteous fan art.
But despite its Marvel stamp, I wouldn’t call Guardians of the Galaxy a superhero movie. After seeing Guardians, I finally realized that this whole time, I’d assumed movies based on comic books were automatically superhero movies. I’m sure any comic book aficionado would shoot me for such a brash assumption. I’m not going to pretend to know anything about comic books. But most bestselling comic books feature superheroes, right? So I asked myself: What makes a superhero movie, exactly? I identified the following criteria, based on a careful study of recent superhero movies including, but not limited to, Spider- Man, Superman, Batman, and The Avengers, respectively*:
- Superpowers and/ or super gadgets
- Super uniform or identifiable insignia that can later be made into pajamas
- A desire to protect the world from evil
- A super villain
- Superhero mythology (tragic event, freak accident, banishment from planet)
- A scene where New York City gets destroyed (shhh, you know Gotham is really New York City).
*(see end of article for notes on X-Men) I won’t call Guardians of the Galaxy a superhero movie. Although the main character, Peter Quill, calls himself Starlord and wears a mask, most people don’t buy it. Peter Quill has an unorthodox way of conducting his business. And his business, mind you, doesn’t initially involve saving the galaxy. Peter Quill is a money- motivated treasure hunter. And yes, over the course of the movie, he goes on a journey that leads him to save the world, and yes, he eventually adopts superhero- eqsue qualities. But still, the movie’s called Guardians of the Galaxy, not Starlord. Probably because “Starlord” sounds like the title of a rock opera performed on roller skates. So let’s take a look at the other guardians of the galaxy. There’s Gamora. She’s blue. She’s an assassin from a planet of bad guys and her master wants to rule the world. Drax is a really strong dude with no sense of humor. Groot is a tree person. And Rocket is a mutated raccoon with more handicaps than superpowers.
These characters have exceptional abilities, but not compared to everyone else in their galaxy. Gamora battles a fellow assassin from her home world. The movie takes us to a prison full of characters like Drax. Groot comes from a whole planet of tree people. And Rocket is a raccoon, which isn’t even that creative. As for Starlord? Peter Quill’s just your normal average guy who was abducted into space the night his mom died. To me, Guardians of the Galaxy seemed like a science fiction movie that had more in common with Firefly than The Avengers. It takes place in space, which I love. Superheroes occasionally come from other worlds (Superman, Thor), but then they get dumped on Earth and deal with Earth problems because Earth audiences relate to shit going down on Earth. Guardians of the Galaxy treated Earth like any other planet. The characters had crippling character flaws and selfish goals, which they overcame to help each other. They felt like real, relatable creatures off on a space adventure where we saw things we’ve never seen before. So I just want to take a minute to praise Guardians of the Galaxy for being fun, original, and not a superhero movie. Sure, the Guardians might become superheroes now that they have a taste for saving the world. But for at least one movie, they were cool. *Q: Is X- Men a superhero movie? A: Yes. The characters in X-Men call themselves mutants, not superheroes. Many of them achieve goals by working together, their supervillian Magneto eventually joins their cause, and they fight against the extermination of mutants, not the fate of the free world. But: They all have superpowers, tragic backstories, Xavier has a super-wheelchair, and all the movies involve multiple destroyings of major cities. They all find a way to wrangle the free world into their mutant causes. And Wolverine has three movies about just him. X-Men is totally a superhero movie.