Guardians of the Galaxy is an unexpectedly awesome space romp. As the tenth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy turned one of Marvel’s most obscure titles into a massive success. I may be a huge comic book fan who knows more than most, but even I don’t claim to know everything. With the rights to X-Men and the Fantastic Four belonging to Fox, the MCU had no choice but to adapt a team that mainstream audiences never heard of. It seemed like a joke when producer Kevin Feige hinted at the possibility, but I was in utter disbelief when I read the full Phase Two slate. I was more shocked that hard R superhero movie director James Gunn was the one helming the project.
The cast was just as weird, but I had to admire the poster’s tagline that simply said “You’re welcome.” It wasn’t till I saw the trailer that I actually started to think it looked cool. I sort of had to convince my parents to see it, but by the time we left, Guardians of the Galaxy became a household name. It was hilarious, action-packed, surprisingly heartfelt, and full of nostalgic songs. That’s not exactly how the comic started out. The original 1969 team created by Arnold Drake, Roy Thomas, and Stan Lee was completely different than the 2008 team that the movie is based on. Even they weren’t the same as the Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot we ended up with. I’m so glad Guardians of the Galaxy took a chance on a bunch of a-holes…
Guardians of the Galaxy was the furthest Marvel had ever gotten into the cosmic side of its universe. Thor hinted at the possibilities, but he was still a superhero with a strong link to Earth. Despite feeling like space Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy was almost completely separate from anything else in the MCU. Its largest contribution was setting up another Infinity Stone and giving Thanos his first full appearance. You might think Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would have nothing to work with, but they were the first ones to introduce the infamous Kree race. James Gunn was surprisingly perfect for such an obscure title. He’s a true fan that remained faithful to the greater Marvel universe, yet made the characters as original as possible. It’s an impressive balancing act that makes Guardians of the Galaxy one of my personal favorites. Even though my knowledge of the team was limited to light research and a rare pre-movie cartoon appearance on Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
The original 1969 team never had much lasting success. It wasn’t until the 2008 Annihilation: Conquest storyline that Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning assembled a team of existing Marvel space heroes and/or villains. The 2008 roster consisted of Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Phyla-Vell, and Adam Warlock. The latter two would’ve been too tricky to pull off, and that’s acknowledging the fact that there’s a talking raccoon and tree on the team. Peter Quill was originally a half human/half Spartoi astronaut turned interplanetary space cop named Star-Lord. His first appearance was in the 1976 Marvel Preview #4. Guardians of the Galaxy is the first MCU film to begin before the Marvel Studios logo. Gunn’s greatest contribution was the use of an Awesome Mix Vol. 1 soundtrack. The mixtape seems like an excuse to listen to hits from the 60’s and 70’s, but it ended up being the heart of Quill’s journey. In 1988 Missouri, young Peter Quill is first seen listening to “I’m Not in Love” by 10cc. His mother Meredith Quill dies of cancer before giving him one final gift. A disrought Quill runs away, only to be abducted by aliens.
Thus begins an adventure that’s about 95% outer space. The furthest reaches of the galaxy are explored with more aliens, advanced technology, and planets than we’ve ever seen before. Each set was specially designed and multiple colorful alien races were so impressive that Marvel got their first Best Makeup and Hairstyling nomination. Plus a nod for Best Visual Effects since there was more CGI needed than usual. Star-Lord is at least partially brought to life with a very comic accurate breathing mask. The rest of his outfit is a much cooler red trench coat instead of a stuffy blue uniform. Guardians of the Galaxy was the first MCU property to cast an unlikely comedic actor as a superhero. Chris Pratt of Parks and Recreation fame, went from pudgy comedian to ripped leading man like it was nothing. 2014 was a perfect showcase of Pratt’s likable sense of humor and raw sincerity. Quill dancing to “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone on planet Morag was enough to establish the tone of the movie. Most jokes are similar to The Avengers with a more adult edge that works surprisingly well.
Star-Lord steals a shiny orb and the character’s obscurity is hilariously lampshaded by no one recognizing his name. Quill is pursued by a very different non-blue Korath the Pursuer played by Djimon Hounsou in one of his many comic book movie roles. Quill’s personality is humorously frozen in the 80’s. It shows in his awesome ship the Milano, his walkman tape deck, and troll dolls. Like the rest of his eventual teammates, Star-Lord is a criminal thief who sleeps around with alien babes. A major change is Quill being abducted by an original crew of rough smugglers. I was never crazy about the Ravagers, but they do have their moments. They’re led by 1969 Guardians team leader Yondu Udonta. Gunn’s frequent collaborator Michael Rooker is a lot more southern, but very comic accurate with his blue skin, red mohawk, and whistle activated arrow. Gunn’s younger brother Sean Gunn plays second-in-command Kraglin and does some awkward stand-in work. Yondu has a soft spot for Quill, but he puts a bounty on him when he double-crosses them.
The Dark Aster is also in pursuit with Ronan the Accuser at the helm. The Guardians of the Galaxy don’t have a whole lot of strongly associated villains, but they do borrow existing cosmic antagonists. Lee Pace is perfectly intimidating, but his straightforward motivations are about as deep as Malekith. Ronan is a blue Kree zealot hellbent on destroying Xandar. He retains his war hammer, but Ronan’s outfit is black instead of green. If that doesn’t make him a Darth Vader clone, than his subservience to a higher power does. Thanos continues to sit and grin as he makes his presence known after Ronan kills the Other. His purple skin looks kinda blue with motion capture used instead of makeup. Josh Brolin has only a few lines to hint at the Mad Titan he would become. The orb contains the third Infinity Stone known as the Power Stone. The purple energy is enough to devastate entire planets. The children of Thanos accurately consist of Gamora and Nebula.
Gamora was originally an orphaned green alien trained as an assassin by her ruthless adoptive father. Her first appearance was in the 1975 Strange Tales #180. Princess of sci-fi Zoe Saldana was an absolutely perfect choice to play Gamora. She went from blue skinned mocap to green skinned makeup in a slightly less revealing sexy blue leather outfit. Gamora is an expert fighter and voice of reason when she betrays Thanos, but she can still get laughs. Nebula is her opposite with a heated sibling rivalry and need to please her resentful father. Her appearance closely resembles a later iteration with cybernetic body replacement. Scottish redhead Karen Gillan shaved her head and synthesized her voice to play the deadly blue cyborg. Although Nebula doesn’t always have time to shine. Star-Lord and Gamora’s meet cute sees them fighting for the orb on Xandar. It’s there that Rocket and Groot are hunting for potential bounty. Their scanning device even picks up Stan Lee’s cameo as a Xandarian ladies man.
Rocket Raccoon was originally an anthropomorphic raccoon from an all animal world called Halfworld. His first appearance was in the 1976 Marvel Preview #7. Although they dropped the animal part of his name, a talking raccoon was still a bizarre thing to see in a live-action superhero movie. Real raccoons were studied to make sure Rocket’s CGI appearance didn’t seem cartoony. Bradley Cooper was an unexpected choice, but thankfully his smartass Brooklyn accent was perfect for Rocket. Better than a comic accurate cockney accent. Rocket is genetically-engineered, doesn’t know he’s a raccoon, provides weapons, and is very funny with his comments. Groot was originally a totally different alien monster accidentally created by Stan Lee. His first appearance was in the 1960 Tales to Astonish #13. A talking tree was just as weird, but Groot ended up being a true breakout star. He’s an innocent with realistic CGI plant features that can regrow and produce magical spores. Gamora chops off Groot’s arms for the fourth time in Phase Two. Franchise action star Vin Diesel was cast, but all he had to say was “I am Groot” a hundred times. A big reason for Groot’s unexpected fame. Rocket and Groot have a believable partnership that gets them roped into the story.
All four are arrested by the Nova Corps. An intergalactic police force from the comics with accurate helmets and blue & yellow uniforms. John C. Reilly and Glenn Close play high ranking Nova members who have their moments with the team. A prison line up (different from the trailer) runs through each team member. The movie’s signature song “Hooked On a Feeling” by Blue Swede plays as Quill’s walkman is confiscated. Drax the Destroyer was originally a saxaphone player named Arthur Douglas placed in a strong alien body. Instead of Thanos, Ronan is the villain who killed Drax’s wife and daughter. The human thing is also dropped to make Drax an alien who doesn’t understand metaphors. Pro-wrestler Dave Batista can be both vengeful and unintentionally hilarious. Muddy green makeup and heavily detailed red tattoos were used to cover his already jacked shirtless physique. Drax is the final teammate introduced in the high tech alien prison the Klyn. Nathan Fillion makes things uncomfortable as an alien inmate who pushes the movie’s edgy humor.
Drax goes after Gamora, but Quill convinces him to save it for Ronan. Rocket comes up with a plan of escape that Groot humorously messes up. At least it starts a badass prison break with Rocket firing a big gun on top of Groot. The team of criminals, a-holes, and petty thieves successfully come together to escape on the Milano. But not before Star-Lord retrieves his walkman to the tune of “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes. Guardians of the Galaxy had 2 hours & 5 minutes to believably bring together this group of misfits. Their banter is just as entertaining as their fight scenes. Their main goal is getting the orb to a buyer on the severed head of a celestial called Knowhere. While they wait, Quill tells Gamora about the legend of Footloose and they get closer by listening to “Fooled Around and Fell in Love Song” by Elvin Bishop. Meanwhile, Drax clashes with Rocket and Groot during an alien death match. The buyer is Benicio del Toro as the very flamboyant Collector, first seen at the end of Thor: The Dark World. He’s a classic comic villain with a vast collection full of easter eggs. Including a Dark Elf, Chitari, and Cosmo the Spacedog. The Collector explains the origin of the Infinity Stones for the first time in the MCU. Can’t say I ever expected to see a Celestial on the big screen, but such is the power of the Power Stone. It’s enough to kill the Collector’s slave girl Carina.
Things take a turn when Drax foolishly calls Ronan and it leads to a battle in space pods. Nebula blows up Gamora’s pod, Ronan beats Drax, and the team is at their lowest point when the Dark Aster obtains the orb. A very unconventional heartfelt moment comes when Quill gives Gamora oxygen in deep space. The Ravagers pick them up, but they strike a deal as Drax, Rocket, and Groot decide to “save” them. They come up with 12% of a plan that really comes together when Quill decides to do what’s right. The climax is awesome with the Guardians, Ravagers, and Nova Corps coming together to face the Power Stone infused Ronan and his Sakaaran army. It’s not comic accurate, but it is badass to see the team dressed in matching red uniforms set to “Cherry Bomb” by The Runaways. Infiltrating the Dark Aster gives everyone time to shine as Gamora has a heated confrontation with Nebula, Drax rips out Korath’s robotic implant, Groot takes out several Sakaaran with a smile, Yondu takes out several Sakaaran by whistling, and Star-Lord fires on Ronan.
Rocket crashes the Milano as many Nova ships are lost, but it sends the Dark Aster hurtling towards Xandar. Groot’s tearful sacrifice protects them long enough for him to say “We are Groot.” Ronan mockingly calls the team the Guardians of the Galaxy in an evil monologue that’s interrupted in the most cringy way imaginable. Quill proposing a dance off using “O-o-h Child Song” by Five Stairsteps never worked for me. It does succeed in destroying Ronan using the team’s united power over the Power Stone. Yondu and Kraglin allude to Quill’s father, but it’s Nova Prime who confirms Star-Lord is half alien. Rhomann Dey thanks them with a rebuilt Milano and Peter finally opens his mother’s gift. Awesome Mix Vol. 2 closes the adventure with the Guardians together listening to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye. A pre-credits scene really steals the show with an adorable baby Groot dancing to “I Want You Back” by Jackson 5. You’d think the after-credits scene would set up Avengers: Age of Ultron, but the audience is trolled big time with a clever cameo by none other than Howard the Duck. Seth Green voices the CGI duck 28 years after his first big screen disaster. It’s that level of Marvel appreciation that made Guardians of the Galaxy so out of this world.
Followed by: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2