The MCU Ranked: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’
Note: We’ve got slightly out of chronological order here because…I got mixed up. ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ will be next.
Movie: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Director: James Gunn
Heroes: Peter ‘Star-Lord’ Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn) and Groot (Vin Diesel)
Villains: Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Korath (Djimon Hounsou), Thanos (Josh Brolin), Kraglin (Sean Gunn)
Support Cast: Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker), Rhomann Dey (John C. Reilly), Irani Rael (Glenn Close), ‘The Collector’ (Benicio del Toro), Carina (Ophelia Lovibond), Denarian Garthan Saal (Peter Serafinoqicz), Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock)
Cameos: Stan Lee plays a ‘pre-vert’, as Rocket describes him. Director James Gunn plays a Sakaaran. Cult film-maker Lloyd Kaufman and Nathan Fillion both play inmates in the Kiln. A Ravager Navigator is voiced by Rob Zombie while composer Tyler Bates is a Ravager pilot. See also: End Credits.
Plot: A human who grew up as an outlaw in space, Peter Quill, locates a glowing orb which proves popular among power figures around the galaxy. When the orb is revealed to be an Infinity Stone and claimed by the religious fanatic Ronan, Quill teams up with a mis-matched crew of criminals and killers to become heroes.
Review: At some point the MCU was going to break the mould.
We had Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, all based on Earth or derived from Earth mythology. While they are key parts of the The Avengers they only represent a small segment of the Marvel comic world. It doesn’t factor in Mutants, Inhumans, magic and the vast collection of intergalactic cosmic titles and characters. There’s a number of ways they could’ve brought this into the MCU and made it a grounded, realistic addition but…this wasn’t it.
Guardians of the Galaxy came out of left field. The first teaser trailer did nothing more than introduce the characters, which makes sense. Once you accept that this is a movie about a space outlaw who wants people to call him ‘Star-Lord’, a bright green assassin, a hulking mass called ‘The Destroyer’, an angry talking raccoon and a living tree you’re halfway there.
We do start on Earth, where a young Peter Quill sees his mother succumb to cancer immediately followed by him being abducted by a UFO. Skipping ahead we rejoin Quill as a rather immature adult, carving out an identity stealing artefacts and listening to 70s rock hits. After finding a powerful orb he puts himself in the sights of the mad titan Thanos and zealot Ronan the accuser, but dangerous villains who want the orb for their own malicious ends and send Gamora to retrieve it. A couple of bounty hunters – Rocket and Groot – get caught up they try to capture Quill and, along with Gamora, the four end up in prison. Here they also encounter Drax, who wants to kill Gamora as a way of getting to Ronan, but Quill talks him into joining them. Although they initially seek to sell the orb to The Collector for a hefty pay-check they instead wind up facing off against Ronan and his ambition for genocide.
The plot is complex on paper, but in execution it’s a smooth ride from set-piece to set-piece. Marvel’s wider universe gets laid out with Kree, Nova Corps and Thanos all getting introduced and established. Much of this is due to the design work, with the bright blue uniforms of the Corp in their clean, high-tech world of the Nova in heavy contrast to the slums of Knowhere, with their rabbles of different creatures, and the bleak crafts of the Kree ships. The film looks amazing and is packed with imaginative details.
Director James Gunn has broken free of the Marvel model to inject some weird and occasionally subversive humour. Some of this derives from Groot only being able to communicate with ‘I am Groot’ and Rocket being a small, furry animal who loves making bombs and weapons. Some of it is more Gunn’s own style, with Star-Lord’s juvenile insults and his crew’s miscommunications with his funicular. Gamora asking “who put the sticks up their butts?” is pure brilliance. Dave Bautista’s straight faced delivery of “nothing goes over my head” and “why would I put my finger on his throat?” is a brilliant take on a character who could have just been a standard tough guy.
Most importantly, the movie has a tonne of heart. Star-Lord is hilariously childish, but this comes from losing his mother and being abducted at a young age. He got to be a space pirate, he never had to grow up. When he does stand against Ronan with an Infinity Stone at the end and sees his mother it carries a strong emotional weight and somehow gets away without being cheesy. Even Rocket gets a few powerful moments when he drops his facade and we see how lost he is being the result of a horrific experiment. There’s a small moment I particularly like when Star-Lord notices the mechanical parts implanted in Rocket’s back and realises what he’s been through. This kind of dialogue free, coming out of Gunn’s experience as an auteur, elevates the film above it’s peers.
Guardians of the Galaxy came out of nowhere and became an immediate hit. Watching it back years later and with many films in between it still holds up. This is an instant classic of the genre. It’s going to be difficult finding it a spot in the Master List.
Credits Scene: We have two after the Guardians fly off into space. First we get Baby Groot, still in his pot, grooving to the Jackson 5 while Drax sharpens his knives. Later we cut back to The Collector in the ruined remains of his…collection, nursing some wounds and a drink. He’s licked on the face by a dog wearing a spacesuit and criticised for his lack of hygiene by cult classic Howard the Duck, voiced by Seth Green in a cameo.
Most Notable Easter Egg: That dog? He’s my favourite unused member of the Guardians from the comics. His name is Cosmo, and he was the first dog blasted into space by the Russians. Somehow he survived and, later, developed telepathic powers. As a member of the team he’s sort of a co-ordinator of their jobs from Knowhere. Rocket growling at him is a reference to their deep hatred and distrust of each other (Rocket can’t shake the feeling Cosmo is going to chase him up a tree).
Phase 2 Hand Loss: When these Easter Eggs are listed or compiled in videos they often go with Gamora hacking off Groot’s arms. I feel that this is missing the more obvious moment of Nebula ripping off her own mechanical hand and dropping out of a spaceship. That’s closer to Empire, isn’t it?
Coolest Moment: Oof, this is a tough one. So, so many awesome scenes in the movie. We’ve settled on one of the coolest gearing up montages in recent memory, backed excellently by ‘Cherry Bomb’.
THE MCU MASTER LIST
Ok. This is a tough one. It’s in the top 3, but placing it against Thor: Ragnarok and The Avengers is challenging. Ultimately we’re putting it ahead of Thor simply because it does such a great job of creating its world and filling it with heart.
Click those numbers if you want to see what we said about the others entries.
1. THE AVENGERS
2. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
3. THOR: RAGNAROK
4. IRON MAN
7. IRON MAN 3
8. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
9. IRON MAN 2
10. AGENTS OF SHIELD (SEASON 1)
11. THOR: THE DARK WORLD
12. THE INCREDIBLE HULK
Next, we have to backtrack a touch to visit The Winter Soldier.