Film #10 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Guardians of the Galaxy
“The end is near.” Avengers: Infinity War is set to hit theaters at the end of the month. Each weekday FilmExodus will be spotlighting a film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the buildup to Infinity War. Don’t expect a Stan Lee cameo though. This is… The Road to Infinity.
I want to say first and foremost that I am not a comic book person. Sure, I have read some here and there, mainly the staples and iconic books, so no, I am not familiar with a lot of the source material. Calm down; before you start shaking your good World of Warcraft clicking hand at me, I think even the most hardcore comic book reader would be forgiven for not knowing who the Guardians of the Galaxy were. Saying that they were a D-list superhero team is stretching the very definition of the term, and whenever you do that, you know Danny Bonnaducci is gonna be nearby. Marvel Studios themselves almost appear to be making fun of this fact when in the opening scene, Korath (Djimon Hounsou) asks “Who?” as our main protagonist over confidently states his self-given nickname, expecting immediate recognition.
Guardians of the Galaxy is one of my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. The idea of a ragtag group of misfits who start as enemies and slowly grow to become family is certainly nothing new, but there is nothing wrong with falling back on tropes, especially in the superhero genre. Despite this fact, I feel that Guardians moves beyond the clichés, and uses it as a backdrop for a charming and fun space adventure. Sure, it still relies on the rigid structure that often befalls the typical superhero origin story, but the story is about the characters, and because we like these characters, the movie works.
The characters are really what makes the film. Usually, in movies where a large team of previously unseen protagonists are gathered, the film tends to get overstuffed with backstory and setup instead of just being an entertaining movie (See, Suicide Squad). Luckily, writer and director James Gunn was able to balance the need to introduce and develop this team of characters by actually telling an engaging narrative, accomplishing this by weaving subtle bits of backstory organically into the story, although at other times, it hits you with exposition dumps where people in weird outfits say a bunch of space bullshit as if you are listening to any conversation at a Star Trek convention.
The characters are all perfectly cast as well. Chris Pratt (AKA, the 3rd hunky Chris in the MCU) is perfect for the cocky, but lovably goofy and charming Star Lord; Zoe Saldana as sexy, space Fiona (read, Gamora), who, between Star Trek, Avatar, and now this, is probably the subject of more nerd fantasies than the entire female cast of Overwatch; Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket, the genetically modified and wise cracking racoon tech savant, Tony Stark sub-type B; Dave Bautista as the powerful, but ignorant of social conventions Drax; and Vin Diesel as the giant tree Groot, who literally got paid more money than I will probably ever make in my life to say the same three f*cking words over and over again in different tones of voice. Each of these characters is given their fair chance to shine, and it is the main reason this movie is a success.
The majority of the story revolves around a mysterious orb that Star Lord is tasked with retrieving to sell. Eventually, it leads to the entire cast being imprisoned and subsequently escaping said prison and agreeing to sell the orb to a collector, split the profits and part ways. Once they take the orb to blonde Benicio del Toro’s weird museum,it is revealed that the enigmatic sphere holds an item of great power in the purple (Power) infinity stone. An example of its power is shown soon after as one of del Toro’s red slave ladies grabs the stone and is destroyed, showing its destructive power. Eventually the stone falls into the hands of the film’s main villain, Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), as Peter Quill/Star Lord is captured by his adopted father figure/enemy Yondu (Michael Rooker).
Now, you will notice that this is the first time I have mentioned the main villain of the movie, Ronan, and that is because he is not a character. I do not ask much of a villain, just to have a clear motivation and some sort of personality and development. Ronan is devoid of any of this though, in fact, the only character trait that even gets explained is that he is a radical; yet, that is never shown, they just have space Dr. Steve Brule say that he is in an exposition dump. Did you know that Ronan the Accuser is the highest ranking judge of the Cree council and that is why he has a hammer? I didn’t, until I googled his name to make sure that I was spelling it right and saw the first sentence of his Wikipedia entry. My biggest complaint about the film is that a movie carried by its characters has such an utterly forgettable villain.
In the big picture, it makes sense to use Guardians of the Galaxy alongside Thor to introduce the intergalactic elements of the Marvel Universe, especially considering the fact Marvel does not have the rights to use the Fantastic Four. In addition to this, there are very little expectations placed on a movie about an obscure comic from the ’70s that barely got any widespread publicity and given that Phase 2 was used mostly as a Road to Infinity War (name drop), it makes sense that they would introduce Thanos and an infinity stone here.
In terms of the larger MCU, Guardians is sort of an anomaly. Besides the bulk of the plot revolving around an infinity stone and obviously Thanos showing up for his obligatory 10 second tease, the movie really exists in its own bubble. There are no in-your-face Easter eggs until the end credits scene, and there are no cameos from other Marvel heroes or anything you would come to expect in the form of crossover; and the movie is better for it. I like that they did not unnecessarily add in ham-fisted appearances from other characters and things to distract from the main movie. That is not to say that these references and nods cannot be well implemented or exciting fan service, but I think in a film that is trying to show the breadth of the Marvel Universe outside of what we have seen on Earth, it was nice that it (for the moment anyway) decided to remain relatively isolated.
Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the best films in the current universe. I remember sitting in the theater as the credits rolled and thinking to myself “Marvel’s actually going to pull this off.” Obviously, we have had years of good movies up to this point, and even a resoundingly successful Avengers movie, but for some reason it was this movie, one where a Racoon and a talking tree team up to fight the blue man group that I just knew they were acing this shared universe. In the climactic final battle of the film, right before delivering the final blow to the villain, Star Lord boldly and proudly proclaims “You said it yourself bitch, we’re the Guardians of the Galaxy!” as if it was in fact some iconic comic book moment to send the longtime fans of the source material into fits of nerdy delirium, and not Marvel themselves declaring they have the ability to make even their most irrelevant superheroes into massive critical and commercial successes. I mean, trolling your entire audience who is expecting a sneak peak at Age of Ultron in your post-credits scene by having Howard the Duck show up is something only a movie studio on a massive winning streak would have the confidence to pull off.