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How Does 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Compare to 'The Avengers'?

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Aug 01, 2014 | 2:37pm EDT

Guardians of the GalaxyWalt Disney Studios/Marvel

Almost immediately upon exiting my screening of Guardians of the Galaxy, I was hit by a friend and fellow movies writer with the inevitable question: "Better than The Avengers?" Even though Guardians is less a superhero movie than a space adventure, the new release is bound to win (or suffer) comparison to the 2012 hit that broke box office records and redefined the possibility of the already prosperous comic book feature.

But it's no easy question to tackle — is Guardians of the Galaxy (which is great) better than The Avengers (which is great)? I'm still not sure. But when you allocate the debate toward specific elements braved by the films, you close in on something resembling an answer. So here we go. Which movie is better in terms of...

Action?
The Avengers. James Gunn is still new to the blockbuster game, and needs to work out a few bugs in his action sequence methodology. Joss Whedon, though generally more of a small-scale player himself, showcased some pretty stellar sequences in '12.

Characters?
Guardians of the Galaxy. Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket, and Groot are not simply snappy vehicles driving us toward exciting set pieces. They and their pangs (and quirks) are the sincere core and draw of this story. You'll be surprised at how much empathy a misanthropic raccoon can command.

Villain?
The Avengers, in a big way. Loki was the virtual highlight of his movie, while Guardians' Ronan the Accuser is a moreover anonymous figure that simply spouts colorless threats of tyranny.

Performances?
Kind of a toss-up. In GuardiansChris Pratt is a standout as hero Star-Lord, Dave Bautista is a surprisingly charismatic Drax, and Bradley Cooper and (especially) Vin Diesel managed some pretty impressive vocal charms as Rocket and Groot, respectively. But we'd be remiss to forget how inviting the snarky Robert Downey Jr., caustic Scarlett Johansson, brooding Mark Ruffalo, and flamboyantly wicked Tom Hiddleston all were.

Humor?
Guardians of the Galaxy. Yes, The Avengers had terrific moments of comic relief, but these were peppered delicately throughout a tense (albeit joyful) action-adventure movie. Guardians is as much a comedy as it is a genre picture, and its material is sharp and wry.

Coherency?
The Avengers. Whedon's flick is astoundingly neat and well-packaged for how grand (and kooky) it is. Guardians' biggest mis-step is probably is clumsy construction.

Special Effects?
The Avengers, thanks once again to experience... and an extra $50 million in budget.

Thrills?
Probably, again, The Avengers, though not by a wide margin. Something about Whedon's sleek design, meticulous plotting, and an everpresent severity made the whole thing seem a little more gasp-worthy.

Je ne sais quoi?
Guardians of the Galaxy. The real victory of Gunn's new film is its spirit, its warm and inviting personal touch. It might have its bugs, but the tidy perfection of The Avengers wouldn't have been appropriate for a film of its theme and motives. Overall, we'd champion Guardians as our preferred Marvel adventure for this reason alone: it's got that special heart that doesn't come around to big budget blockbusters all too often.

But don't just take our word for it. Sound off below!

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