In terms of established continuity, this one frolics about the fringes, but it sets up the far-distant Infinity War so it makes sense in the long run. But this was a huge crowd favorite, so let’s see how it fits into the lineup!
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Overview: While completing a seemingly ordinary fetch quest for the McGuffin-est of orbs, Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord), a human who was kidnapped from Earth as a child by a band of outlaws, gets tangled up with the weirdest team of rogues every to accidentally end up together, and together they try to stop the Kree fanatic Ronan from destroying the capital of the Nova Empire.
The thing that really makes this film work is the sense of humor. In terms of the plot, it’s a pretty tried-and-true format, but the wacky one-liners and off-beat characters elevate it beyond what could easily have been a pretty humdrum film.
The plot is super predictable and it doesn’t really throw any weird curveballs at the audience (if one ignores the post-credits scene, of course). Ultimately, this film has a lot of heavy lifting to do and I think that’s what hurts the originality of the plot. It has to introduce a bunch of new characters that haven’t been set up by any previous MCU films, it has to connect the dots between Avengers, Age of Ultron, and Infinity War all while leaving things open for its own sequel.
Not only is the character and world design amazing, but the music really stitches it all together. The film is literally a mixtape…just like the team of characters. The whole thing has this great cobbled-together feel that works really well.
And this isn’t just a matter of “pelt the audience with lots of color to keep them entertained,” either. The worlds look plausible and they have a lived-in feel to them. Xandar is shiny and green and white while the Kyln is yellowish, industrial, and grimy. And there’s no “planet where everyone looks the same except for a bar here and there.” It’s a diverse galaxy and the film does a great job of showing just how organically everyone would mix after eons of contact with other races.
Also the soundtrack. We can’t forget that. Previous films, especially the Iron Man ones, have used popular music, but this is the first one where the soundtrack itself is not only important to the film, but literally appears in the film.
The Villain: 7/10
Ronan is kind of meh. He has a bit more personality than Malekith in The Dark World, but because the plot is doing so much, it sacrifices establishing Ronan as an interesting character in his own right. He’s certainly dangerous, but his motivation is just so bland. He’s a religious fanatic who likes destroying his enemies? Yeah, OK. Sure.
Nebula is much more interesting, and I like how there’s this inexplicable part of your brain that wants to see her redeemed somewhere down the road. And it’s not just because she’s the un-favorite child. It’s because she’s so cool. If she were an ally, she’d be amazing. And not only that, but she’d be the bad/good guy and she’d help…but like you’d never really know if she was fully on your side. It’s that murkiness to the character that makes her so cool. I’m excited to see her again.
Count: in the 20’s somewhere
This one doesn’t really use explosions to further the story much. They happen and they’re cool, but they’re not really used to poetic effect the way Iron Man 3 or The Winter Soldier used them.
Favorite explosion: it’s not even the biggest one, but I love when Yondu takes out that whole squad of baddies with his whistly arrow thingy, and then there’s that pull back shot where everyone falls to the ground dead and the ship that was hovering just behind them falls and blows up. It’s a marvelous scene (though I do find myself wondering why nobody tried to shoot Yondu while he was whistling his way through the crowd).
The Hero’s Journey: 8/10
What, you say? This movie was amazing? The cast was amazing! Why not a ten!!? Well, I think the biggest thing is that there’s so many characters to introduce, and so everyone gets little more than the standard grab bag of angsty motivations. BUT despite all this, I think they still do a pretty good job of making at least most of the characters interesting.
Star-Lord: He’s Indiana Jones and Han Solo and he makes it work. The most interesting question about his past (who is his father?) will be addressed in Volume 2, but we care enough about him to want to know the answer to this question.
Gamora: Sure she’s strong and capable of handling herself in hand-to-hand combat, but she’s also written as a mansplainer’s dream, which irks me. She’s all business and no warmth, so NATURALLY, she needs a man to show up and teach her how to relax and appreciate life the way he does (UGH). Gamora could have been so much cooler, but unfortunately, she’s not written with a whole lot of depth.
Rocket: I love how the CGI raccoon ends up being the most complex character in the whole bunch. He covers up his angst at being the result of painful and invasive experiments with sarcasm, bursts of explosive rage, and his friendship with Groot who stabilizes him when he goes too off the rails. He’s angry at the galaxy, and is paired up with one of the gentlest creatures ever. Basically, Rocket is my favorite character. Amid all the other characters getting backstories and character development, his feels the most genuine and complex. They don’t need to spell out his whole history to the audience because we can extrapolate a lot of it on our own. If only all the characters had been given the same sophistication of writing.
Groot: He’s loveable, probably the most powerful member of the group, and can only say “I am Groot.” He’s wonderful. His whole character is conveyed through his facial expressions and body language. He’s like a Miyazaki forest spirit who ended up in a Marvel movie and he’s not sure what’s going on, but he’ll do what needs to be done. If you don’t like Groot, you’re a soulless barbarian.
Drax: I love Drax. His backstory isn’t the most original, but his absolute literalness and inability to understand nuance or sarcasm of any kind gives him a loveable innocence that you can’t help but like. There are a lot of characters out there whose family was killed and they have devoted their lives to revenge, but with Drax, you feel like he isn’t being led by emotion as much as he’s being led to his sense of honor and duty and he’s keeping all his emotions bottled up because he doesn’t find them productive or useful to his task. That’s why he always seems so joyous when he’s able to fight enemies.
Overall, the characters work really well as a team, but I wish we’d gotten a bit more of Peter Quill and Gamora apart from expected tropes.
Score and Rank
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (46/50)
2. The Avengers (45/50)
3. Iron Man (43/50)
4. Iron Man 3 (42/50)
5. Guardians of the Galaxy (41/50) Not bad! Still in the top 50%
6. Captain America: The First Avenger (40/50)
7. Thor (39/50)
8. Thor: The Dark World (36/50)
9. The Incredible Hulk (34/50)
10. Iron Man 2 (33/50)