When people think about the Russian Avengers, they’re likely thinking about Black Widow and that's it. While there’s nothing wrong with exploring the career of Natasha Romanoff, North American audiences might be surprised to learn of a Russian superhero movie known as The Guardians¸ or Zashchitniki, as its known in its actual language. Known to those who saw its semi-hyped trailer as “that Russian movie with a man-bear,” Guardians arrived with as much internet hype as a Russian blockbuster could get, but it managed to under-deliver in a suitably over-the-top fashion. The Guardians was a copycat of The Avengers in many ways, but unfortunately not in the profit department.
Despite the less-than-successful attempt at giving Russia its own iconic superhero team, the story of The Guardians and its production still makes for an entertaining read. The adventures of Landman, Wildman, Windman, and Waterwoman against the evil Professor Kuratov is a tale worth knowing, if only to be amazed at the sheer bizarreness of this attempted knockoff.
Guardians is clearly an effects-driven film, like all superhero blockbusters before it. Despite featuring a team that includes a shapeshifter and his three teammates with elemental superpowers, the movie was only budgeted for about 320 million rubles, or the equivalent of $5.4 million American dollars. That’s a big budget for a Russian film, but it isn’t the sort of budget that can compete with Marvel Studios, and it definitely shows in the finished product. The costuming is adequate at best, the sets are lazily designed, and the CGI wouldn’t look out of place on the average Playstation 3 game.
The Guardians are meant to represent the ethnic diversity of Russia, with four distinct nationalities present on the four person team. Landman is an Armenian, Wildman is Siberian, Windman is a Kazakh, and Waterwoman is ethnic Russian. This is a lot more than can be said about the all-white Avengers, and Guardians also places a woman in charge via Major Elena Larina. Who could have expected a Russian blockbuster to have a more progressive roster than a film directed by Joss Whedon?
Internet hype for The Guardians began building when trailers for it began dropping in 2016. The first versions that appeared were in Russian, but North American fans didn’t need to understand what was going on to know that what they were witnessing was awesome. A man-bear with a machine gun sort of speaks for itself. As far as people could see in the trailer, the production value wasn’t going to be all that bad. Unfortunately, that didn’t end up being true. The early promise of being “Russia’s answer to The Avengers” proved to be woefully off the mark.
While The Avengers received legendary writer/director Joss Whedon, their Russian counterparts got Sarik Andreasyan, a director with a questionable background for such an ambitious project. Andreasyan was mostly known for his low-budget comedies, a sort of Russian Judd Apatow. While Marvel Studios has had success with formerly comedic creators, like the Russo brothers, Andreasyan also had a history of taking on big budget productions and having them bomb miserably. What could go wrong?