I just can't get over the amount of swearing in "Guardians of the Galaxy." I was looking forward to the movie for months, was ecstatic when the good reviews started rolling in, and hyped by the high box office totals and "I am Groot" becoming a catchphrase. And there's so much in the movie I did enjoy, from Chris Pratt's star-making performance as Star Lord to the grungy lived-in cosmic setting to the nostalgic '70s soundtrack. I thought director James Gunn did a fantastic job setting up stakes and juggling a cast of very strange characters in a very, very difficult genre. If this had been an original property with an R-rating, I would have adored the movie wholeheartedly.
Unfortunately "Guardians of the Galaxy" is a Marvel film and part of the massive Marvel cinematic universe. And the rule up until this point has been that Marvel movies are kid-friendly even though they're not aimed at them directly. I know four-year olds who dressed up as Captain America and Iron Man for Halloween this year. "Guardians of the Galaxy" will be inevitably watched by lots of kids, because it's associated with the Marvel universe. Disney is counting on it, and in the process of readying a "Guardians of the Galaxy" cartoon for their Disney XD channel, and lots of action figures for Christmas shoppers as I type this. And I can't help feeling queasy about it because Star Lord casually curses like he's in a Judd Apatow flick, and at one point Drax calls Gamora a whore - and it's played for laughs.
Part of me knows that this is a generational thing, that language has slowly been getting stronger in movies over the years, and it's now perfectly acceptable to have PG-13 action films throw out a couple of s-words and occasionally an f-bomb. A lot of kids have grown up with Michael Bay's cheesecake shots in the "Transformers" films and violence several orders of magnitude greater than the stuff that used to prompt rants from Siskel and Ebert in the '80s. Bad language has lost a lot of the sting it once did to the younger segments of the U.S. population. However, I still associate it with being rude, lewd, crude, and a surefire way to get written up or sent to the principal's office, dude. And because there is still a good chunk of the older population that will react badly to a casually dropped expletive, warning for this kind of thing is still a very legitimate concern.
Parents of young kids who want to avoid media with strong language already have their work cut out for them, and "Galaxy" must have felt like being ambushed. None of the previous Marvel films had this amount of harsh language in them, and from the marketing, "Galaxy" looks perfectly safe for an eight-year-old. It's got a talking raccoon! Goofy, colorful aliens! Crossover characters who showed up in the last "Thor" and "Avengers" movies! With G and PG movies becoming scarce, "Guardians of the Galaxy" and other big PG-13 action films are inevitably some of the most popular summer viewing with the anklebiters, but the amount of potentially awkward conversations you'd have to have with a kid in order to get through this one is daunting. The movie starts with a parental death scene, for pete's sake.
And that's why I can't embrace "Guardians of the Galaxy" the way I really wish that I could. It's nice to see the Marvel films branching out, into space opera and broader comedy. This almost felt like a spoof on other recent blockbusters, before the predictable third act "save the world with explosions" business. if the villains had been a little better, this would have been the year's best genre comedy (a title currently still held by the glorious "Lego Movie.") It's a fantastically fun film - for adults. And I'm afraid that makes it a poor Marvel movie.
And now the success of "Galaxy" worries me. What does this mean for the next Phase of Marvel movies? The "Galaxy" gang are inevitably going to cross over with "Avengers" gang at some point - does that mean they're no longer going to be safe viewing either? Summer movies are turning into a mindful parent's minefield.