The Guardians (2017)

Though a few notable films have bucked the trend, it’s still comparatively rare, at least in Western cinema, that we see so much of a mention of Stalin or the Soviets whilst Nazi bad guys are ten a penny in all manner of horror, sci-fi and exploitation cinema. So, when I saw the promo material for Guardians – a modest budget Russian sci-fi – it seemed that here we’d have a film to buck the trend, what with all the mentions of Stalin taking action in response to the Nazis developing ‘super soldiers’ and what-have-you. It turns out that this context is mainly for the press information and doesn’t really feature in the film at all, however, so aside from some black and white images relative to the Cold War in the opening credits, the film is set squarely in modern-day Russia.

Still, we do find out early on that there’s a super-secret Russian military project called Patriot, which, during the early part of the Cold War, used Bad Science in an attempt to one-up the enemy by creating a select few shapeshifting soldiers called – you’ve guessed it – the Guardians. But after the head honcho scientist August Kuratov goes power-mad, tweaking himself (if you’ll excuse the expression) into some sort of super-mutant whilst rigging up his laboratory to explode whenever anyone tries to thwart him, then the by-now disparate Guardians have to be reunited. Yes, we’re in the modern day by now, but time does not affect either creator or Guardian in a normal way. Their aim? To stop Dr. Kuratov doing something faintly confusing which involves taking control of all the machines in ze vorld! (See! I’m used to this being the Germans…)

The Guardians themselves, once back together, need to use their slightly odd array of skills to defeat their erstwhile engineer. So we have: Ksenia, a woman who becomes transparent in water, and is impervious to extremes of temperature; Khan, a guy who can move very fast and has some equally speedy swords; Ler, who can make stones move, and (my obvious personal favourite) Arsus, who can turn into a half man, half bear (the top half) or if he’s really up against it, an ENTIRE BEAR, replete with Incredible Hulk style magic reappearing trousers when he becomes a man again. The rest of the film prioritises a number of what look like reasonably budgeted fight/action scenes, with a fair few head-scratching moments regarding the plot: it feels rather as if things are being raced through here, simply in order to introduce some action heroes who are clearly being set up for a sequel by the end credits – which is okay, but if you’re expecting a detailed story, best forget it. In fact, you’re probably already thinking of a certain other franchise at this point, and yes, the similarities to X-Men are manifest, albeit the latter takes more time (or more time makes it to screen) to establish character and motivation. It’s as if director Sarik Andreasyan has looked at all the X-Men movies and got a little ahead of himself, wondering how he could propel his own characters to those heights. This is clearly a film made by a team cognisant of the rage for superheroes ongoing in cinema. Guardians goes at a run throughout, where perhaps it would have established itself better by taking a breath.

Still, given these similarities, it’s interesting to see where it does differ from that other film about a taskforce with superhuman mutations, and I think it’s interesting that Guardians has a Russian threatening Russia – at least as his first port of call – whilst the Guardians are from/have been scattered to the far corners of what once was the USSR. It is, I suppose, an idealised spin on history, where an evil globalist marches on Moscow and has to be suppressed by the Old Guard. Or, of course, I’m reading far too much into a film which revels in its cartoon strip, sci-fi lite substance, because I will say this: I rather enjoyed it, even though Marvel et al tends to leave me cold. It’s aesthetically pleasing, blends well-choreographed action with suitable cartoony CGI sequences, and plumps for the more family-friendly route through things, so – if watching the slightly jarring broad American dubbed version, of course, which is also fun – everyone gets to play. If you’re prepared to park your brain at the door, and you know you’re going to be getting something akin to a video game with fight sequences and cutscenes, then yeah, Guardians feels oddly tried-and-tested, but there’s enough here for simple entertainment. Ultimately, any film which uses the phrase “FULL BEAR MODE” has done enough. Frankenstein’s Army this ain’t, but it does what you’d expect, on its own terms.

The Guardians is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.