For the first time since Avengers Assemble (or Marvel’s The Avengers in the US) we had a Marvel Studios film that both Hollywood and the fandom were anxious about, because it was something different. Most people had never heard of The Guardians of the Galaxy (I sure as hell hadn’t) and this lingering thought made people generally believe that the film would be a massive flop. Well, we were all dead wrong.
Guardians of the Galaxy went on to be one of the most successful films (and aspects) within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A lot of this was down to perfect casting and James Gunn‘s vision of the Cosmic side of this expansive universe. The film certainly holds a lot of uniqueness for being something extremely different to what we’d seen before in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which is something I really love and appreciate). In many ways it’s like a second Avengers movie. We have a bunch of different characters, with different abilities, forced to come together to fight a seemingly shared conflict, but the way it’s constructed makes it very stylistic and ambitious, perhaps even surpassing Avengers Assemble.
What is massively clever about this instalment is the introduction of the Cosmic side of the Marvel universe, making Guardians of the Galaxy the most expansive film thus far within the franchise. It’s extremely ballsy what both Marvel Studios and Gunn set out to do, which could’ve easily backfired because of the lack of knowledge about this corner of the comics, and the fact that this instalment would be so radically different from what we’d seen and got used to prior. I mean, sure, the Thor films featured some elements of mythology and science-fiction, but this had been neatly merged with the realistic and grittier version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe set on Earth with all the other characters (thus maintaining some form of familiarity).
This time we’d be straying completely away from established events and starting from scratch, creating a brand-new side to this expansive universe in order to connect the dots further from the elements on Earth and the elements in the far reaches of space. In many ways this film shouldn’t have been feared and more blessed because we’d already been introduced to this side of the universe through Thor, and more prominently in Avengers Assemble, with this latest instalment pushing the boat to finally have a narrative completely set in the Cosmic realm. How exciting is that?
The film starts off by introducing our main character Peter Quill, aka Star Lord, who is just a young lad in 1988 where he has to witness the traumatic death of his mother after battling cancer (the seed of all evil in the world), made even more devastating by the fact that in his moment of utter sadness he’s unable to bring himself the courage to grab his mother’s hand one last time (something that becomes a harsh regret for the remainder of his life). After her passing, Quill rushes out of the hospital, frightened at what the future holds, before randomly being abducted by aliens (well, this shit just got fucking real!)
Fast forward 20 years and you have Chris Pratt (and all his glory) enter the scene to give us one of the most gloriously crafted spectacle. It’s certainly one my favourite beginnings to a Marvel Studios film. What starts off as a (sort of) Raiders of the Lost Arc vibe introduction as Peter searches a mysterious ancient ruin on an alien world, it quickly turns into a bouncy (and enjoyable) dance number as Peter boogies around the ruins whilst the credits role. One thing that I enjoy (which helps to define both Peter’s character and the film) is the soundtrack. This is down to the fact that the songs featured are all classic tunes picked by Peter’s mother, to whom placed them on a cassette tape (how many of you remember those things?) for Peter to listen to (serving as the last connection he has with her).
I guess along with you could say this fun introduction is a clear example of what kind of film you’re walking into. Guardians of the Galaxy has this great charm about it, in which it can freely transition itself from a really dark, serious scene, to the most outrageously hilarious moment in a matter of seconds, and it blends seamlessly. A lot of films just don’t get that blend right, with the two elements usually contradicting one another, but I guess that’s the further brilliance of Marvel Studios who understand balance (considering they work with multiple characters [each with their own dynamic and personality] and genres).
Things kick-up a notch when the Orb that Peter is ravaging for turns out to be an Infinity Stone (to which Marvel Studios has no shame in giving us further teases to the grand-events that are swiftly approaching in Phase Three). It is soon made apparent that Ronan the Accuser, a fanatical Kree, is also after the Orb. This neatly reintroduces us to Thanos, the most powerful and feared creature within the Cosmic universe. I liked how we finally got to see him properly (even though it was a clear teaser for his greater role within the Marvel Cinematic Universe) as we began to understand his cruelty and destructive nature.
Thanos is keen to get his hands on all the Infinity Stones in order to gain a higher power, using Ronan as his lackey to bring him the latest one to surface, in return for destroying Xandar for him. But you can see the clear fear in Ronan’s eyes as he is made to appear as a prattling child beneath the gaze of The Mad Titan. We also have Thanos expanded upon through his daughter Nebula, and his adoptive daughter Gamora, whom both have their shared feelings towards The Mad Titan.
In many ways, we more see the terrifying nature of Thanos through cleverly included dialogue (showcasing that sometimes “the power of words” works more efficiently), and honestly, the mother-fucker just sounds utterly ruthless and unstoppable (making me seriously wonder how the hell The Avengers can even put a stop to him).
Gamora has the tragic backstory of being forced by Thanos to witness the death of her parents before being forced into his family, sickly converted into being the perfect weapon for his chaotic cause of death and destruction across the universe. And then you have the equally interesting story of Nebula, who has had her organic form stripped away from her piece by piece, replaced by cybernetic components. Her rage stems from her jealousy of Gamora, whom is sighted as Thanos‘ favourite despite not even being his blood, forcing Nebula into the shadows of her father’s gaze, unable to impress the psychotic desires of The Mad Titan.
For the time being she aids Ronan (through The Mad Titan’s instructions) in trying to destroy Xandar, forcefully pushed around by the insane Kree’s desperate desires to eradicate his enemy. It’s rather interesting how you’d assume at first her loyalty lies with Thanos, but it’s subtly made clear (and even more apparent in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2) that she shares a similar hatred towards her father as Gamora, even willingly declaring her allegiance to Ronan (after he says “fuck you” to Thanos and uses the Infinity Stone for himself) in exchange for a stab at killing The Mad Titan.
Unfortunately, Ronan (as a villain) lacks at being an in-depth character within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (but then again, most of the villains are underdeveloped compared to the heroes of their respective flicks) but is still entertaining enough to watch through his clear obsessive hatred of Xandar, following in his people’s old traditions of bloodshed and conquering.
Like Thanos, Ronan is a murdering psychopath (but with smaller ambitions [and clearly more petty]) and this shows through the constant dialogue declaring how he (and his army) have laid waste to multiple planets, slaughtering women and children all for the sake of spreading his vision of the universe. Ronan even ends-up having a fun rivalry with The Guardians of the Galaxy (particularly Peter – I really love the look of confusion on Ronan’s face when Peter’s distracting him with his dance moves).
Speaking of which, I’ve been that caught-up with the villains I’ve forgot to talk about the rest of our heroes. Peter is certainly the heart of the team (almost the driving force) as his actions ultimately brings everyone together (through the most hilarious of circumstances). Gamora tries stealing the Orb off him (in an attempt to make sure Ronan never gets his hands on it) whilst Rocket the Raccoon and Groot attempt to capture Peter in order to collect the bounty placed on his head.
Rocket and Groot are certainly the most interesting specimens in the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I mean, for fuck-sake, Rocket’s a talking Raccoon with an attitude problem, and Groot’s a talking tree (who’s vocabulary only consists of “I am Groot”), and yet, they’re so damn likeable. It’s just utterly clever how the superb CGI brings them to life, combined with the incredible voice-acting of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, to which these characters have been cemented into the hearts of the fandom as the stars of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise.
After they’ve all been sent to prison they come across Drax the Destroyer, who is without a doubt the funniest character in this series (next to Rocket) because he’s totally oblivious to his own stupidity. The things he comes out with is just golden, helped by the impeccable timing of both the script and the performance of Dave Bautista.
You automatically assume that this guy is just here to be the muscles of the group (nope!) he’s the fucking comedy relief, and his character just grows in hilarity as he becomes more and more comfortable around the rest of the team. Although he does have some great action moments, and even some flaws along the way, particularly with his desire to kill Ronan for killing his family (thus filling him with this thirst for vengeance), but gradually comes to deal with this pain through his connection to his new friends.
Peter is enlisted with preventing the team from killing one another, formulating one big happy family, creating some of the greatest laugh-out-loud moments imaginable (particularly the banter between Peter and Drax [along with Peter and Gamora’s diastorous love-story]). After escaping prison in the most spectacular fashion they try selling the Orb to The Collector (whom we’d first seen in the post-credit scene in Thor: The Dark World) where he gives us some needed exposition on the Infinity Stones and their greater design within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But it’s quickly made apparent that the Orb is extremely powerful and needs to be given to the Nova Corps on Xandar for safe-keeping.
However, things become massively complicated when Ronan obtains the Orb, and Peter is captured by his old Ravaging crew, led by Yondu. Yondu is certainly a compelling character in that he was the one that kidnapped Peter as a child, ultimately raising him as a Ravager (sharing a complicated father-son relationship with Peter, to which is made even funnier by the fact he constantly uses the excuse “he saved Peter from being eaten by his crew”, to which Peter finds unreasonable as an argument as “people don’t normally want to eat other people!”)
Also, I think his ability to control his arrow through sound-waves (to which Yondu whistles) is fucking awesome, especially when he takes an entire platoon of Ronan’s men out single-handily. And his fetish for buying cute things to sit on his control panel is also rather amusing (to which even the guy selling them to Yondu didn’t know whether to take him seriously).
Peter manages to come up with a heroic speech in order to rally up his team, forging The Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s fascinating by this point that they’ve all come a long way as characters, and through their interactions with one another, have managed to find themselves. Peter is no longer a selfish money-grabbing arse, Gamora is no longer a psychopathic assassin, Rocket is less of a dick, Drax isn’t a vengeance seeking nut-job, and Groot is… Well, Groot.
Together they manage to strike-up a deal with Yondu (to which he gets the Orb as originally intended [after Peter dicked him over and took it for himself]) and the Nova Corps in order to make an assault on Ronan, thus stopping him from destroying Xandar.
It’s an explosive third act that rivals both Avengers Assemble and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but what I like the most is how different it’s style and imagery compares to the other instalments we’d seen thus far. It makes Guardians of the Galaxy completely unique, holding a special place within the Marvel Cinematic Universe for pushing the direction of the franchise into a new ambitious trajectory.
After a space-fight that blows Star Wars out of the water you then have a genuine tear-jerking moment in which Groot sacrifices himself to save his friends, to which Rocket even sheds a tear (that’s how you know this is fucking sad), made even more poetic by Groot saying, “We are Groot”.
In a climatic moment (to which Ronan plays the game of, “I’ll make you think I’m dead when I’m really just going to keep fucking reappearing until the script states I need to die”) The Guardians of the Galaxy come together in the most glorious moment of friendship, whilst establishing their position as being the protectors of the universe, by taking the Orb from Ronan and using it against him.
What makes this moment even more powerful is how they use each other to share the destructive power of the Infinity Stone to prevent it from killing Peter (who first grabs the stone), along with Peter hallucinating Gamora as his mother, thus finally fulfilling her wish of grabbing her hand.
And upon the credits rolling you’re thinking to yourself, “Damn, what an explosive journey I’ve just been on (and Baby Groot is so FUCKING CUTE!!),” to which you’re already pumped for the sequel (which wouldn’t arrive until 2017) and of course The Guardians of the Galaxy’s greater role within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Guardians of the Galaxy is just a marvel to look at (you see what I did there?) because of its scale, great storytelling, clear character journey, expansive universe, perfect casting, outstanding direction, accommodating soundtrack, and just… It’s just fucking awesome alright!
Plus, this film is extra special to me as it was the first Marvel Studios film that peeked my partner’s interest, and upon her walking away from the cinema completely sold I quickly turned around and said, “Okay, let’s go back to the beginning [Iron Man] and get you caught up.” And the rest is history.