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It’s meant to be the Russian answer to ‘The Avengers,’ but it’s more ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ than actually good.
Russia’s first superhero blockbuster is like Sharknado meets The Avengers. It takes the basic formula of Marvel movies, strips away all the characterization and wit, and delivers an entertaining but deeply stupid cheesefest.
To give you an idea of where we’re at with Guardians, one of the main characters is a werebear who carries a gigantic machine gun on his furry back. And he’s the romantic lead.
Guardians makes no attempt at subtlety, launching in with reams of exposition about a Soviet-era mad scientist. August Kuratov created four superheroes during the Cold War, representing different regions of the USSR: Ursus the Siberian werebear (who is a hunky scientist when he isn’t being a bear), Ler the Armenian mountain man (telekinetic rock powers), Khan the super-fast Kazakhstani martial artist, and Xenia from Moscow, who has three powers. She can regulate her body temperature (meaning she doesn’t need to wear many clothes), move seamlessly through water (meaning she gets to do swimming scenes), and turn invisible (which translates to “invisible” CGI nudity.)
In the world of Guardians, men are gruff and tough while women are glamorous to the point of absurdity. The other female lead, Major Elena Larina, has the Samuel L. Jackson role of assembling the Guardians team, and she looks like she originated in a military-themed porn parody.
Kuratov the scientist also experimented on himself, transforming into a perpetually shirtless hulk who wields the ability to control “machinery.” When he re-emerges in the present day, he decides to attack Moscow because that’s what supervillains do. Major Larina tracks down each of the Guardians (who are apparently immortal), so they can kick Kuratov’s butt in a series of action sequences that tread the line between superhero cliché and professional wrestling.
Guardians feels like a straight-to-DVD movie that inexplicably got a cinema release. With the exception of Khan (who is automatically cool because he wears a sleek black outfit and wields two massive scimitars), the heroes and their powers are unabashedly silly. When they recount their threadbare backstories, the soundtrack clocks you over the head with overwrought string music. The romantic subplot between Ursus and Xenia is laughable, although Ursus is probably destined for cult popularity among the werebear erotica crowd.
That being said, it definitely fulfills expectations for “so bad it’s good” viewing. I can imagine Guardians doing well with fans of Birdemic, Sharknado, and Godfrey Ho movies. It’s just unfortunate that it’s being sold as Russia’s answer to The Avengers. For some U.S. viewers, this will give the impression that mainstream Russian cinema is trashy and low-budget, which really isn’t the case. Recent years have seen a few overseas breakthroughs (Night Watch being the most famous), and this summer’s alien invasion movie Attraction is both smart and entertaining, undoubtedly deserving a wider audience than Guardians. But Guardians is the one that got U.S. distribution, and as long as you have a drinking game and a few friends on hand, it’s a lot of (very stupid) fun.
This review was filed from the Edinburgh Film Festival, where Guardians premieres this week.
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested.