Remember that wild-ass trailer for a Russian superhero movie with a werebear? The good news is that you can stream a dubbed version for free with Amazon Prime. The bad news is that it isn’t a good movie. The other good news is that it is still a fun movie, and does in fact have a werebear in it. A werebear wielding a minigun.
The basic setup is that the mad scientist, Kuratov, has resurfaced. The last attempt to capture him left him with super strength. His reemergence reveals that he has succeeded in his attempts to develop a device that can control all tech around it. Since conventional weapons are useless, the Russian government must find four supermen (well, two supermen, one werebear, and a superwoman) from the now defunct Patriot program, a program Kuratov had a hand in. The easily found four are Ler, who can manipulate rocks (and apparently only rocks) using telekinesis, Khan, who has super speed and the ability to teleport locally, Arsus, who can transform himself into a man-bear creature and into a straight-up bear, and Kseniya, who can become invisible. But only when she’s wet.
It’s a perfectly acceptable setup.
Guardians bombed in Russia and, country-specific particulars notwithstanding, it’s easy to point out any number of issues. The Guardians are almost comically easy to find (Kseniya is performing in a high-end circus in Moscow where she uses her powers openly). Rather than have Ler just walk up and talk to them, Khan and Arsus are attacked the first time we see them for no apparent reason other than to give them an excuse to show off their powers (admittedly, this is a pretty good reason). I don’t even know who the people who attacked Khan were. The voice acting in the dubbed version is terrible and the face acting by the Russian actors isn’t much better.
Other than Kuratov, who looks absolutely ridiculous, and not in a good way, the effects are actually quite good. The biggest other sticking point for me with the effects is some of the interactions between Arsus and the soldiers he’s fighting.
So there is some clunky acting and CGI, but mostly it is a problem of clunky storytelling and directing. The entire thing feels kind of tacked together. It still works because my brain can easily do the work of properly stitching everything up, but it would be more effective, especially for a less forgiving audience, with better attention to craft. The contrast with the MCU movies (I rewatched nine last week) is stark—the makers of the MCU movies are really good at presenting their stories logically and seamlessly.
Unlike the MCU movies, Guardians doesn’t bother with attempts at humor (unless they were erased by the dubbing and the culture gap). The attempts at hitting emotional beats suffer badly for the clunky storytelling, but they can still be quite effective anyway.
Guardians will go down easier if you think of it as a B-movie—with B-movie sensibilities—but with serious production values. If, like me, you like good clean fun but have a real problem with movies that look bad, you will enjoy watching Guardians.
Guardians’ poor reception probably means no boom of country-specific superhero movies. Which is a shame as a globalized film market increasingly limits what filmmakers can do. Apparently, though, there will be a sequel to Guardians, but the company making it is a Chinese company, not a Russian company. Which invites a comparison to another attempt at a non-US blockbuster that had government financial support but flopped at home and abroad—The Great Wall. But where The Great Wall is ra-ra Chinese nationalism and brings in Matt Damon to make it accessible to the gringos, Guardians is carefully apolitical and the world outside Russia may as well not exist (The Great Wall is also a much better movie).
3 of 5 Stars.