Written by David Holland
Well, we’re leaving Earth again. After spending last week in an Earth-focused spy thriller, this week we head to the stars with the Guardians of the Galaxy. This movie has it all: A pro wrestler, Bradley Cooper, A Parks and Rec veteran, Vin Diesel saying the same line over and over again, and Uhura – sorry, wrong sci-fi movie, I mean Neytiri – nope, that’s the wrong sci-fi movie again. Forget it, you know who I’m talking about. Let’s just get into it before this intro goes further off the rails.
I actually remember watching the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time. I remember finishing it and thinking “This movie is either going to be amazing or a disaster.” I had never really heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy, but if they are anything like most comic book intellectual properties I assume they have a long, tortured, contradictory history. In preparation for the film, I didn’t read any of their arcs and simply went in as a blank slate and it was the best possible decision. It turns out sometimes the best way to do the homework is to not to it at all and then wing it during the discussion.
I talk a lot in these “Background” sections about casting and wow, does this film hit the nail right on the head. Apparently James Gunn was hesitant to give Chris Pratt an audition, but knew after thirty seconds that he was right for the role. Bradley Cooper made audiences feel empathy for a rough-mannered raccoon, and Vin Diesel credits the role of Groot with helping him reenter society after the death of his friend Paul Walker. Dave Bautista is one of the few professional wrestlers to make the transition to acting well and Zoe Saldana is top-notch as always. Perhaps the best performance is delivered by Karen Gillen as the tortured Nebula, daughter of Thanos. In an ensemble cast, one weak link can botch the whole film but fortunately this film has no weak links. It balances the funny with the heartfelt with plenty of sci-fi goodness to go along with it.
How Does It Hold Up?
Awesome Mix Vol 1 alone is worth the price of admission. It’s the first film soundtrack to reach number 1 on the US Billboard Top 200 without any original songs. It serves to help introduce us to Star Lord while he carries out an Indiana Jones style raid to retrieve an artifact. The music is used to punctuate emotionally charged scenes – “Come and Get Your Love” in the intro, “Hooked on a Feeling” in the prison, “Pina Colada” during the escape scene, and more. It’s really a lesson in how to use recognizable music in film to get an emotional response from your audience.
The Collector, who is creeptacular by the way, introduces us to the concept of the six Infinity Stones for the first time in MCU canon, which is a remarkable step in the Infinity story arc. Of course, those familiar with Thanos’s most infamous comic book story line already know about the Infinity Stones, but for most viewers this is their first indication that the Tesseract, the Aether, Loki’s staff, and whatever Star Lord carries are connected in some way. The Guardians’ failure to defeat Ronan during the fight on Knowhere, during which Ronan recovers the Infinity Stone, in some ways serves to bring them together. Ronan’s possession of the Stone adds desperation to the final fight but it also gives Star Lord the opportunity to prove his celestial heritage by holding the stone without dying. All in all, Guardians is fairly unique among the MCU. It starts as an ensemble rather than solo film, and it’s galaxy-wide scope makes the universe feel bigger than any of the Earthbound movies. The film is funny but the humor is always organic, and it can bring an emotional punch when it needs to.
Theme: Chaotic Good
In the Avengers rewatch, the theme was family, and I could easily have repeated that theme for this movie. Much like the Avengers, the Guardians are thrown together by circumstance and rise to the challenge to become heroes. Sort of. They are more like mercenaries who sometimes break the law but generally try to do good in the lawlessness of space. To be fair, that’s a set up that has worked well in the past.
While watching Rocket lay out a plan for their escape from prison which immediately goes sideways, I was reminded of many a Dungeon’s & Dragons game in which the players plan meticulously, only to watch everything fall apart almost immediately. That’s what made me think of the theme Chaotic Good. With a moral compass like Captain America at their helm, there’s only so much chaos the Avengers will ever be allowed. But the Guardians are mercenaries and criminals. They earn the goodwill of the Nova Corps AND the Ravagers. They betray when necessary, or sometimes just when convenient, but they see the mission of defeating Ronan through to the end.
The exchange that most encapsulated this for me was one in which Rocket says to Star Lord, “What are you, some saint or something? What has the galaxy ever done for you?” Star Lord replies, “Nothing, I just happen to be one of the idiots who live in it.” The Guardians of the Galaxy will do what they have to, but they will do so reluctantly, bickering all the way, and hopefully while getting paid. Oh and good news, despite a bit of a kerfuffle with Disney, Director James Gunn will return for Guardians Vol 3 next year.