To call the Guardians of the Galaxy an obscure Marvel Comics property is unfair to the number of obscure characters that have become superstars in the last few years. Before Iron Man (2008), Tony Stark was a B-level character to all but hardcore comics fans, standing far behind Spiderman, Captain America, Wolverine, and The Fantastic Four. In 2010 when Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios, mentioned that they were considering a Guardians movie most fans believed he was speculating. Seriously, a movie about space in this somewhat “grounded” Marvel Universe?
In 2012 they announced it was happening at San Diego Comic Con and then they hired James Gunn (Slither, Super) to write the script and direct. At that point the film moved forward and it became more and more apparent that this would be Marvel’s biggest gamble. That feeling did not abate. In fact it continued so much that Marvel held an event early in July about a month before the film’s release to test one of its major sequences on audiences. The hardcore fans showed up and got excited about the film but some critics and non-comics fans were still skeptical. That skepticism was on display well into the first reel of the flick with the audience I saw it with. None of them had attended the sneak peek event. None of them knew who any of these characters were and many wondered audibly how this film fit into the Marvel Universe at all.
The film opens in 1988, a young man sits listening to his Sony Walkman in the hospital outside the room where his mother is dying of cancer. The tape he’s listening to is “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” and his grandfather comes out and takes him into the room to say goodbye to his mother. His mother gives him a present and tells him to open it once she’s gone. Then she asks him to take her hand but he is too afraid until she passes and then he grabs for her but his grandfather takes him out of the room. The young man cries and runs from the hospital where he is summarily abducted by a space craft.
26 years later a space suited man flying in a similar ship lands on an abandoned planet. Using a specialized tracking tool he locates an object and starts out for where it is held. Once inside he takes off his helmet and puts on the headphones. This is the young man all grown up and once he presses play you know this is a totally different Marvel Studios film. Peter Quill/Star Lord is not you typical Marvel hero. He is skilled, resourceful and quick witted but not in the same way as Tony Stark or Steve Rogers. Once he takes possession of the sphere his life is upended as he becomes hunted by his friends, The Ravagers, led by Yondu (Michael Rooker) and agents of the fanatical Kree warrior Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace).
The Ravagers and Quill want the sphere for monetary reasons, but Ronan wants the orb to cement his truce with mad titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) one of the most powerful beings in the universe. After his men fail to capture Quill, Ronan sends Gamora (Zoe Saldana) one of Thanos’ two adopted daughters to track him down and capture the orb for the Titan. She finds Quill on the planet Nova Corps trying to sell the sphere to a middleman who balks when he hears that Ronan is involved. She attempts to steal the item from him but is interrupted by Rocket (Bradley Cooper), an anthropomorphic raccoon, and his partner Groot (Vin Diesel) a tree man who are looking for Star Lord to collect a bounty placed on him by The Ravagers.
The four are captured by the Nova Corps Police and sent to The Kyln a maximum security prison floating in space. There they meet Drax The Destroyer (Dave Bautista) who seems to be the prisoner most intent on killing Gamora although there are many who would like the opportunity due to her connection to Thanos and Ronan. Gamora swears she was betraying Ronan because she had her own buyer for the orb and after Quill hears the astronomical price she was going to get he convinces Drax to spare her life in the hopes that Ronan will follow them and give Drax the fight he’s been dreaming of since Ronan killed his family. The group decides to join together and they plan their escape.
The film’s plot would be unremarkable if it didn’t manage to make old fashioned sci-fi tropes feel new and fresh. Everything writers James Gunn and Nicole Perlman have included works. The jokes work. The drama works. The action works. But most of all… THE MUSIC WORKS. As the film goes on you revel every time someone presses play on the Walkman. The Music is one of the film’s characters. It speaks not only to the characters who hear it but also to the audience and even if the scene doesn’t match the sound it all still flows incredibly well. All of these elements combined with the presence of Thanos and Ronan keep this from falling too far outside of the elements that make this a Marvel Studios film. It does manage to feel like a brand new IP which doesn’t make a ton of sense until you watch the film for yourself.
The Winter Soldier has been placed up with The Avengers as the best films made by Marvel Studios. Some have gone so far as to say its better than The Avengers. Somehow, I think Guardians of The Galaxy may be Marvel’s best film to date. Taking a ragtag group of misfits and placing them on a spaceship together is a story that has been done a million times. The trick is that it manages to feel like its the first time you’ve ever seen this happen and it still fits into the Marvel Studios Film Universe.
Disney took an incredible gamble when it reached into the back catalog for a franchise that expands their film universe but does so with characters nearly no one had ever heard of. They hoped that the Marvel Studios logo would be enough to make this film profitable. They took a chance on a great writer/director who is not known for broad reaching action films. They pulled together an incredible cast that somehow managed to gel even though two were computer generated and one is a former WWE wrestler not named The Rock. There is nothing negative to say about Guardians of The Galaxy. Go see it. Take the kids. Take your friends. Take your parents. Take anyone with a love for the movies.