So, we have yet another group of Marvel superheroes. And this movie, like all other recent Marvel movies since Robert Downey Jr.’s incredible first appearance as the engineering genius under the metal suit, shows how much Marvel is dominating this genre. While DC struggles to shove as many superheroes into its “dark and gritty” superbat clown car as it can, Marvel is raking in the profits with a series of movies that are actually fun. With Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel takes full advantage of the comic series’ sci-fi genre by drop kicking the audience into its expansive comic book universe. And despite how frantically the movie throws you from place to place and from race to race, most audience members will leave the theater knowing exactly what they need to know and thirsting for more. Funny enough, this movie seems to cater exactly to the aesthetic that I wanted for this site. I definitely think you should see it, if anything as a palate cleanser after the last 5 years of darkly realist movies that take themselves way too seriously.
Meet the Star Lord
The Guardians of the Galaxy is a comic book series by Marvel about another Avenger’s-type team, expect not quite as high profile. The comic series in name is quite old, going back to 1969, but the incarnation of the Guardians of the Galaxy that the movie represents is actually one of the most recent Marvel IPs that exist. The Guardians of the Galaxy that’s headed by Star-Lord was actually created in 2008 with Star-Lord only showing up in the mythos around 2006.
However, Marvel is actually re-writing the mythos surrounding these characters within this movie, probably because the comic book version of Star-Lord is rather convoluted. You see, the original creator of Star-Lord, Steve Englehart, had a vision of a Star-Lord who was an introverted jerk who would become a powerful cosmic after learning stereotypical lessons from a romp across the solar system. When Steve left Marvel, Chris Claremont revamped the character, using juvenile sci-fi adventure stories as inspiration. This revamp created a backstory in which Peter Quill (his real name) became the bastard son of an alien father and a human mother. When his father left, he gave his gun, a pistol able to replicate one of the four elements within each blast, to Peter’s mother to gift to him once he is old enough. When his mother is killed by another alien species, Peter fights the aliens with a shotgun, manages to get out of the house before it explodes, and is later given his father’s weapon. At this point, Peter decides to don the name Star-Lord, and inevitably becomes an intergalactic police man, seeking to fight injustice throughout the galaxy.
All of that backstory is retconned for the most part. Partially because it creates a rather boring character. An intergalactic policeman? What is he? Space Batman? For this movie, Marvel decided to recreate the Guardians’ leader, and rightfully so. Interestingly, Marvel appeared to look towards Star Wars’ Han Solo for inspiration. Or at least that’s what Chris Pratt said, as he describes him as a cross between Han Solo and Marty McFly. Which I can totally see and totally not fault them for. The Peter Quill that exists within Guardians of the Galaxy is far more interesting than the one in the comics. While we keep the half-alien origin story, the father remains mysterious (for now), and the inheritance of his father’s laser gun is replaced by an 80’s mix tape crafted by his mother. This gives him quite a bit more depth, as his tie to Earth is much more powerful and much more emotional than before. It also makes him quite a bit more human, because he’s not seeking vengeance or justice or any of that crud. He’s just trying to make a buck, live another day, and not go nuts. That’s very Han Solo. And very Marty McFly.
For the visual learners
Oh and how does he get into space? Well he gets abducted. By a band of intergalactic pirates. And he joins the band and does jobs for them, apparently. I say apparently because although he’s technically under the employ of Yondu the pirate leader throughout the movie, their relationship is a bit of a minor story, with Star-Lord preferring to work alone. There is a 26-year gap between when he gets abducted and when the next scene begins. As Yondu (played by the Woody Harrelson lookalike, Michael Rooker) becomes involved in the story, a few details of these early years emerge, but this is one of the pieces of backstory that the film strays away from. To be honest, though, I didn’t really miss it. While the whole abduction thing seems a bit odd and rather convenient, it doesn’t seem to detract from the story. For that matter, there are a few bits within the movie that seem to say that Marvel will eventually explain it. I have a feeling that Star-Lord’s mysterious alien dad will factor into the reason why he was abducted.
Oh yeah, Guardians is plural
Drax’s too hip to care about pictures
So there are other characters too. This movie focuses on Star-Lord’s redesign, which is understandable because he’s the leader and also because we need a frame of reference for why Marvel is going out into deep space. Having a human from Earth to focus the story on allows us to emphasize much more easily. But there are other characters that all seem to be interesting on their own, to degrees. But since the movie is so fast paced and so dedicated towards immersing the audience in this universe, there isn’t much time for in-depth character development. Gamorra is a green alien who used to be an assassin for Ronan, a fanatic Kree who happens to be the villain of the story, before she decided to defect. Grax the Destroyer is a blue alien with red tattoos whose family was killed by Ronan, and seeks vengeance. Groot is a humanoid tree “voiced” by Vin Diesel who can only say “I am Groot” in response to anything it’s asked and serves as Rocket Raccoon’s personal body guard.
Rocket Raccoon has most potentially deep story line as he is an unknown alien who was tortured subjected to terrifying genetic experiments with “small mammals.” This experience has left him very seriously psychologically scarred, something that is briefly evidenced in a drunk fight scene within Knowhere, the movie’s only real serious turn. But even then, this moment is more pitifully sad then actually dark, lending well to the film’s overall theme.
What Is This Movie?
Simply? It’s a space opera a la Star Wars. You remember how fast paced the Star Wars movies were? So much so that you didn’t even notice the glaring holes in lore, logic, or plot? That’s pretty much what this movie is. Except that it’s a bit more modern in that it’s slightly more grounded in logic and a bit better written. There is a very good reason that I say Han Solo is an influence for Star-Lord. It’s because this movie harkens back to the simple adventure movies of the 80’s, which is interesting considering Star-Lord’s mix tape and consequently the soundtrack continually remind you about how much this movie looks back at the 80’s.
But many of you might be thinking, “Why the heck would I forgive gaps in logic and plot holes?” Well, maybe if you weren’t such a troll… Okay fine, let me give you a rundown of the first few minutes of the story. It opens up with a moving scene with a young Peter Quinn with his mother in the hospital. Then he runs from the hospital crying when his mother dies. Then a space ship appears out of nowhere and abducts him while he’s crying for his mommy. Already, this movie has told you to expect the absurd. While you’re forming the words “What the f-” in your head, the movie treats you to a scene of a mature Star-Lord romping through a volcanic moon kicking space rats to the tune of 80’s pop music playing from a Sony Walkman. You’ll be so confused by those first few moments that you’ll have given up trying to dissect the movie before he gets chased out of the crumbling temple by natives.
Chris Pratt’s got a damn good Harrison Ford impression
But the real reason why you won’t start thinking up ways to dissect the movie and its obvious plot holes is because it doesn’t even try to explain anything. It’s a perfect example of a writer showing and not telling. Could they have explained that Star-Lord’s mask allows him to live in free floating space travel? Sure, but they’d rather just have him take a spacewalk and not die. Could Yondu have explained that his magical arrow moves on its own and follows his whistling commands? Sure, but they’d rather have Yondu just whistle as the arrow flew from his coat and stopped just short of someone’s neck. It’s this special blend of action an absurdity that made the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies so wonderful, and it works here too.
While I haven’t and won’t talk much about the plot of the movie, don’t expect that anything I could say will give any spoilers. There’s no plot twists or this guy dies or doesn’t die or whatever. It’s a simple plot involving a powerful artifact, a villain that wants for power, and a team of misfits that needs to stop him. But simple is fine. James Gunn, the writer and director of this movie, doesn’t want you to think while watching this movie. He wants you to sit back and be blown away by amazing sci-fi. And he does a great job. From Star-Lord’s first scene, where a simple artifact grab turns into an Indiana Jones-esque escape from the natives to the next scene, when an attempt to pawn off the artifact leads to a brawl in the streets, this movie keeps you on your toes. Every scene is filled with new and amazing discoveries. And for this movie, while the plot is interesting, the focus of this experience is to see it unfold.
For most audiences, this movie will be their first introduction into the depth that encompasses the greater Marvel Comics Universe. You’ll encounter the Nova controlled world of Xandar and its beautifully architectured capital city. You’ll briefly see the incredible space station of Knowhere, which is built into the skull of an Ancient. You’ll see aliens galore like the enigmatic Kree, the rather human looking Nova Corps, the green skinned assassin Gamora, Ronin’s subordinate Korath the Pursuer, Yondu and his mercenary band, and a whole bunch of space ships and fancy weapons.
I am quite pleased to see so much of the Marvel Universe revealed so early on. The Iron Man, Captain America, and Avenger’s movies were wonderful but definitely grounded in an Earth-centric mythos. Even the Thor movies, while introducing Asgard, were still highly grounded in Earth-centric battles, with Asgard seeming like nothing but an over world looking down on the privileged Earth. I was starting to worry that they would follow a safe path towards a realist interpretation of Marvel. And if any of you have ever read a Marvel comic, then you’d know how terribly inaccurate that is.
Guardians of the Galaxy betrays the truth of how fantasy-based their mythos really is, but it doesn’t seem jarring. Just exciting. I haven’t been inundated by straight sci-fi so much since the first time I watched Star Wars. You’ll notice I keep referencing Star Wars. It’s because Marvel’s lore is just as vast as Star Wars, if not more so, and to see Marvel finally embracing it is relieving. And perhaps maybe that’s why I loved this movie so much. It’s basically Marvel’s version of Star Wars. You’ve got flawed but lovable heroes. You’ve got terrifying villains. You’ve got galaxy wide drama. You’ve got aliens and fantastic locations galore. And you’ve got a quick-paced adventure plot that never gets boring and never sits still for even a second.
And yes there will be ramifications for the greater Marvel universe. Marvel does have to bring the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Avengers together eventually. Unfortunately, I don’t expect that to happen for a few more years. Avengers 2: The Age of Ultron promises to be a very Earth-centric storyline. Captain America 3 probably will involve the Winter Soldier more than it’ll involve some cosmic bad guy. But with a Guardians of the Galaxy 2 currently slated for 2017 and an Avengers 3 slated for 2018, who knows? Maybe we’ll see a team-up to take down Ronan’s boss, Thanos. Maybe we’ll see more of Thanos’ influence coming to Earth since his previous attempt to have Loki take over Earth had failed. Heck, maybe we’ll even see a proper Galactus for once.
Regardless, I just hope that Guardians of the Galaxy 2 doesn’t suffer from the same fate that befell Captain America 2: the Winter Soldier. While the movie was great, it was really quite dark and it killed the innocent fun that the original Captain America movie presented. Let’s just hope that this movie sells enough tickets for Marvel to convince them that people actually do want witty adventure movies again.