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Marvel Retrospective: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Posted: Posted June 21st, 2019 by Jet Presto
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At this point, it's hard to think of any Marvel movie project as "risky." Every one of these things, regardless of how known the property is in the public consciousness, is practically guaranteed to pull in a minimum of $80 million on their opening weekend. That is to say: the meaning of "risk" for Marvel Studios is very different than for everyone else. Yet at the time, Guardians of the Galaxy was one of the riskier propositions for them.

Still, it was probably always poised for success given that the one thing Marvel is constantly good at is casting. So while many casual movie-goers might not recognize the names Star-Lord, Gamora, or Groot, they did know Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, and Chris Pratt. Pre-Christian zealot Pratt was one of the most loveable goofs on television (and frankly, his role as Andy on Parks & Rec remains his best work to date). Hiring indie director James Gunn certainly helped give the film its own personality, too, most notably by utilizing pop hits of the 1970s in its futuristic-looking sci-fi/fantasy film. 

The ultimate strength of the film is in its characters. On their own, none of them are strong enough to really carry a film. Together, though, they make up a compelling team. Indeed, what works about these films is the way they tell stories of redemption and promote the concept of chosen family. Every single one of these characters is an outcast of some kind. They are alone in the universe and have some chip on their shoulder. Some might still have some form of biological family, but by and large they are on their own. However, this becomes more a point in the sequel than for this initial entry. 

Instead, the first Guardians of the Galaxy tells a story of a bunch of hot-headed outlaws finding their place in the universe with each other and doing positive things. Boiled down, they are individuals who have long been told they are worthless discovering and coming to terms with the fact that they have value and can add something positive. This is such a relatable theme that it's no wonder so many people list it as among the best. 

Structure is solid for the film, but some of the writing gets a tad contrived. Obviously the first act will involve getting all the characters in the same place, but the ways in which that happens feel a bit hollow or disconnected. Gamora is after the same object as Peter Quill. Rocket and Groot are after the bounties on both of them. And Drax is just already at the prison they all wind up at. It takes a while before we figure out why Peter was even after the gem in the first place, so there doesn't necessarily feel like much of a reason for them all to get together. That's not to say that it is poorly written, but it does rely a bit much on coincidence and circumstance. 

There's also the problem of disconnected villains. This is the biggest issue with the film, really. There are two main villains, and neither has anything really to do with the Guardians of the Galaxy whatsoever. Thanos probably should be the main bad guy, given that it is his order to Gamora that ultimately joins the team together. Without his command, Gamora and Peter never run into each other, Rocket and Groot don't see them on Xandar, they don't all get captured and sent to the same prison as Drax, and we don't have a team. And yet, because he has to serve as the biggest villain ever in the third Avengers film, Thanos largely disappears into the background for the remainder of the film. He has no real control over anything, besides the fact that he - weirdly - decides to just kind of let Ronan do whatever he's going to do. 

Ronan is a problem in himself. At no point is he connected to the Guardians of the Galaxy in the slightest. He is literally this outside threat who is a danger to the people of Xandar, people who the Guardians also have no real connection with. Many have criticized Ronan as a villain because his motivation is weak. The motivation is actually fine and clear. Revenge isn't the most interesting concept, but it's pretty clearly spelled out, and it certainly can be interesting if done well. The real problem with Ronan as a villain is that he is completely separate from the protagonists and their own stories. He's a villain-of-the-week type character. He is sort of connected to Thanos, but Thanos has no real bearing on this movie outside the first act. He is connected to Xander, but Xander isn't really connected to the Guardians after the first act, too. 

So if Ronan serves as the obstacle the team needs to overcome by growing closer to each other, it should probably be a scenario in which the Guardians kind of have to involve themselves. It's not really "growth" if the characters are all innately heroic and good in the first place, and that's essentially what happens. At first, they work together to escape the prison by promising money or revenge or something else they each desire. But then it kind of turns into them needing to stop Ronan because, well, they can't just let him get away with it! It's a little bizarre that only Rocket takes a general position of, "This isn't my problem." 

It's not a big secret that Marvel villains tend to be weak and forgettable, but a big part of what makes Ronan among the worst is the complete lack of connection. It's really no coincidence that the most disappointing baddies are the ones that are literally random to the story and characters. Guardians of the Galaxy has two in it, and neither stands out. Thanos just has the benefit of being needed down the pipeline and got his own movie later. 

By and large, though, the experience of seeing these characters bond and grow together is satisfying and feels comparatively real. There's an emotional core to the James Gunn films that really resonates for many, and it's not hard to see why. None of the characters are the same by the end, but - baby Groot the exception - none are unrecognizable either. Rocket is still kind of an asshole. Gamora is still annoyed. Drax is still dumb. Peter is still self-absorbed. Yet they do still feel like slightly better versions of themselves as a direct result of this new team-up. 

Much as been made about the soundtrack, which is indeed excellent, more should be made about the visuals. It's a bit unfortunate that Marvel still isn't into a particularly bright and colorful style for their cinematic universe, Gunn does manage to merge in many of the celestial, cosmic elements of the comics that make it so engaging and intriguing to read. As a fan myself, I can't say I ever expected to see Knowhere on screen before! There is enough here to make it one of the more visually interesting experiences. It would only get better for those bored with Marvel's drab, concrete look, but it arguably started to improve with this entry. 

There is something innately relatable with the Guardians, and it would somehow find a way to resonate even more with many audiences in the sequel. The groundwork for much of the future of Marvel was laid in Guardians of the Galaxy. It would do nearly everything better in the sequel, but the biggest takeaway was that movie-goers would accept a talking raccoon as a major character, so they could afford to get a little weird with it. I'm not personally of the mindset that the first Guardians is among the best Marvel movies, but it is pretty fun, visually engaging, and sneakily really relatable. 


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I realized that I don't really have that many thoughts about the first Guardians of the Galaxy. I actually much prefer the sequel and have a lot more to say about that one.

I think a bit of it for me with the first is just the way that it feels kinda simple. Like, for as weird as many concepts in the film are (walking tree, talking raccoon, magic stones), it plays a lot of things pretty safe. And there is a little bit more contrivances in the writing than in the sequel, in my opinion. Like it isn't really trying to be anything more than about a group of outcast outlaws finding a place in the universe through their team-work, but they're not quite "chosen family" in this one. That plays more in the sequel. And some of their motivations get a little under-played here. They get more in the sequel. And for as random as both Xandar and Ronan are in connection to the central protagonists, that gets a fair amount of attention in the film. And yeah, I didn't really get into Peter's mother, because I'm not really sure *that* gets a lot of attention here, either. Like it bookends the film, totally. And the regret of not taking her hand at the beginning clearly motivates Star-Lord, but I think even that gets more fleshed out in the sequel.

And now that I really think about it, I feel a bit more than ever like these two films need to be viewed together rather than individually. That both films are made better by including the other. But in a way that isn't really true of the other franchises. Like the Captain America trilogy is sort of three separate films. There are some overlying themes and plot points. Same thing with Iron Man. And Thor. But they all ultimately function as their own. The more I really think about it, the more I think that Guardians functions a bit differently in that Vol. 2 is more of an actual continuation and expansion of the first, and so both are improved when viewed in tandem rather than as separate.

Posted June 21st, 2019 by Jet Presto
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The intro scene with his mom in the hospital really screwed me up.

Posted June 21st, 2019 by S.O.H.
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I still think when the four guardians held the burden of the infinity stone it was one of the best moments in the MCU.

Posted June 21st, 2019 by Fox Forever
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I think for me, part of the problem with the dying mother is just that we've seen so many dead or dying parents at this point (it's one of the stranger tropes of the genre). It's definitely emotional and more powerful than most we've seen, but I think I'm "dead parent" fatigued, personally. But it is definitely a well handled scene.

As for the finale, I think it was conceptually great. Definitely understand why people like it. To me, it just felt a bit disappointing that the way they defeat the villain is by a dance/joke, then hand-holding. I felt that at the time, and I think part of me still feels that. On the other hand, I do appreciate that they tried to find a new way to conclude a battle that wasn't just more CGI light shows (even though there was plenty of that just prior - but we don't really see the Guardians ever really directly take on Ronan). I like it thematically. I appreciate it conceptually. I'm just not sure it works - for me - the way it seemed to work for a lot of others.

(Admittedly, some of my lack of much insight here is also just general fatigue. It's been really difficult to find time to watch any movie lately. Then to try and take something away - because there are things to take away from them - and man, I'm just tired. So my quality will probably dip for a bit.)

Posted June 21st, 2019 by Jet Presto
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I'm one of those that saw the trailers for this one and reacted like, "nah." The whole talking tree/raccoon thing felt like a bridge too far, like it was going to be a movie more for kids than anything else, so I gave it a pass when it was out in theaters. It didn't help that this was during the 2014-2017 post-college years for me when I wasn't really around anyone who was all that interested in seeing the films in theaters, so my own interest waned--post-Iron Man 3, I don't think I saw any of the films in theaters outside of the big crossover ones until Black Panther, and I only started catching up when I started going to movie nights with a new group of people a few years after this one came out. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised when I finally got to this one.

Ironically, I think Rocket wound up as the MVP of the franchise thus far--he had some really solid beats in this one and some even better ones in the second. That's probably because he had the farthest to go; after all, Drax and Quill were selfish, but not nearly as bad as Rocket, and Gamora was already pretty much committed to good when this film started. Drax's storyline (and introduction) are arguably the weakest outside of Groot, which is largely a consequence of him being used primarily as comic relief. That being said, his quiet agreement when Rocket calls him out on his stupidity is a highlight for him. Gamora already being a "good guy" at the start of this could have given her the smallest margin for growth, but instead she grows in a different way than the rest of the team by overcoming her imperious, judgmental nature. It makes a lot of sense that she would be a bit too much of a perfectionist for this particular group of screwups, but I like how gradually she warms to them. They make a few comments about her past as an assassin, but they don't really seem to lean into it much...which makes sense, given that they already had hit similar beats with Black Widow in previous movies (and in the upcoming Age of Ultron).

I'm not sure Thanos really can be counted as a "main villain" in this particular film. His orders set the plot in motion, but he really doesn't do much other than that--he has about as much influence on this film as he does in, say, the first Avengers, and his screentime is barely above cameo level. I think Nebula and Yondu are both more relevant as villains as far as this particular film goes, and they're far more interesting than either Thanos or Ronan up until this point. They'll really shine in the sequel, but their connections to Gamora and Quill as well as some fantastic acting elevates them above most Marvel villains to date. Nebula in particular was clearly being set up for a multi-film arc that plays out brilliantly in Guardians 2 and Endgame.

Ronan is a problem in himself. At no point is he connected to the Guardians of the Galaxy in the slightest. He is literally this outside threat who is a danger to the people of Xandar, people who the Guardians also have no real connection with. Many have criticized Ronan as a villain because his motivation is weak. The motivation is actually fine and clear. Revenge isn't the most interesting concept, but it's pretty clearly spelled out, and it certainly can be interesting if done well. The real problem with Ronan as a villain is that he is completely separate from the protagonists and their own stories. He's a villain-of-the-week type character. He is sort of connected to Thanos, but Thanos has no real bearing on this movie outside the first act. He is connected to Xander, but Xander isn't really connected to the Guardians after the first act, too.

Is Ronan's revenge clearly spelled out, though? Like, I think they make some handwavey remarks to that effect when he's initially introduced, but I never really got the sense that he was motivated much by revenge. He'll babble on about "1000 years of Kree justice," but I never got a clear sense of what that justice was supposed to be for. Like, even when he's attacking Xandar at the end, he shouts out, "you stand accused!" and I'm left thinking, "wait, of what?" I think revenge, though it's not a particularly novel motivating factor, can still be a fantastic motivation because it's one of the best way to give a villain some pathos--even if they're horrible monsters, you can still have sympathy for them if they became the way they are because of something horrible that happened to them. But here, it's just sort of glossed over and could easily be an excuse for Ronan's warmongering ways. At least, that's always how I saw Ronan--any sort of "revenge" was too nebulous for me to think anything other than that it was subservient to his warmongering and xenophobia. In the end, this is splitting hairs, because we agree that Ronan's one of the worst villains in the MCU, and I agree with your reasons for disliking him as well--just explaining why I personally have him dead last. Hell, even boring old Malekith's revenge arc is arguably more fleshed out. Ronan for me is a black hole in this film and is the sole reason I can't really consider putting this film in my personal Top 5.

I never really found the mother scene all that affecting, to be honest. After my first viewing, I kinda forgot that it was even in the film and was under the impression that the movie started with that iconic "Come And Get Your Love" scene. Like Jet said, she's not even a real character in this one, and there are plenty of other characters in the MCU that have lost parents. As for the final confrontation, I think the "dance-off" moment was just a bit too goofy for my tastes--these films often approach the line of being too absurd but only rarely cross it, but that's one of those moments that goes just a tad too far for me. At the same time, I think the "screwball distraction into show of united strength" angle fits these characters far better than a generic showdown with the Big Bad would. Unlike most of the MCU's heroes, these characters tend to win through guile and sheer guts/determination rather than simply overpowering their foes.

The music in this film is obviously a standout--a lot of the MCU films, particularly recently, have memorable soundtracks, but few feel as essential to the movie as it does in this one. Every once in a while, we'll get an iconic melding of the music and action like Ragnarok's "Immigrant Song" scenes, but both Guardians films have several. And yeah, the visuals are fantastic and probably unrivaled at this point in the MCU.

I have a hard time comparing this one to the sequel, and maybe that's because of what you mentioned--the two films really shine when viewed as a unit. Typically, I've seen this one as having better writing while the second one had stronger character beats, a much better villain, and better individual moments. But ultimately, those character beats wouldn't work quite as well if this film hadn't come before. To a certain extent, that's true of all sequels, though, so I'm not sure it's fair to dock Guardians 2 for that.

Posted June 25th, 2019 by white lancer
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It's funny to think that it ever seemed like Guardians might be geared more for kids, because in the grand scheme of things, I kinda feel like the two of them are among the *least* geared towards children. They're pretty heavy, on a thematic level (as much as a Marvel film gets, anyway).

I think Ronan's motivation was clearly laid out in that it was clearly about revenge. I've already forgotten, but he does have some lines that clearly spell out he is angry about some agreement made between Xander and the Kree. I think he even has a line about how they will "pay for that" or something along those lines. That isn't to say it is *good* motivation. Ronan isn't a real character in the film. He's just the obstacle for the Guardians to overcome. (He's kinda just a singular encapsulation of Iceland in D2: The Mighty Ducks - they don't get any real attention or fleshing out, but we are made to dislike them because they're the obstacle to overcome). Revenge *can* be an interesting motivation (see: half of Shakespearean dramas), but it's literally paper thin here. Because Ronan isn't really connected to anything, all we really get are some passing lines that hint at history that literally doesn't matter to the central characters. I mention Thanos as a possible villain because he's more prominently featured here than ever. And because he is directly responsible for Gamora's involvement, Ronan's power, and Nebula's involvement. He kind of is the villain for a little while, as he gets almost as much screen time as Ronan does. (Also because on Knowhere, the big fight between Drax and Ronan happens because Drax knows he's a puppet for Thanos, so Thanos is ultimately motivating Drax, too.) In the end, there just isn't really anyone that fulfills the role of a true "villain." There's just "obstacles."

Posted June 25th, 2019 by Jet Presto
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I mean, the agreement that Ronan is angry about is a peace treaty. He's literally just pissed that he's not supposed to wage war against Xandar anymore, which is why I've always seen him as more of a warmonger and a xenophobe (AKA a generic evil guy). I suppose there's supposed to be some sort of grievance that he has against Xandar, which is why he opposes the treaty, but I don't recall the reasons being particularly well-defined. The reasons are not mentioned at all in the second half of the movie (from Knowhere to the end--I caught the second half on FX recently), at least, so it's hard for me to really see revenge as a big part of his story. Either way, though, even if it is about revenge, it's incredibly thin, so we're not really disagreeing about much here.

As far as Thanos goes, I think he's in all of two scenes in this one? Not hard to outdo his previous appearances since that was just the postcredits scene of Avengers at this point. He's much more of a greater-scope villain in this one, set up as less of an antagonist to overcome in his own right here than as a teaser for things to come. Which...it could definitely be argued that we should have gotten a greater taste of him here! Especially given how Endgame shaped up, getting some sense of 2014 Thanos in this film could have been a boon. His character seems to have changed a lot between his 2014/Guardians incarnation and his 2018/Infinity War one, which is an interesting concept for a character that has probably lived for centuries, and having him more fleshed out here could have helped. That said, Thanos as he was presented was far too powerful for the Guardians to handle. And Nebula is a much better secondary villain in that she fulfills a much different (and far more dynamic) role than Ronan does, while Thanos would probably have hit similar beats at this point.

As for Guardians being for kids, that was just my impression based off the trailers. I'd agree that they're deeper than most MCU films and movies like Ant-Man and Homecoming are probably more kid-friendly. Although the often goofy humor probably means this is a kid favorite anyway.

I'm really looking forward to Guardians 3, especially with the implications that Endgame brought. Wish it were coming sooner, though of course the whole James Gunn controversy was an understandable complication. It's interesting to think about this particular group within the wider MCU, given that the second installment was supposed to happen mere months after the first, meaning that the Guardians we see in Infinity War are four or so years removed from their previous appearance...and it's likely to be a similar gap in-universe and real-time between Endgame and the next Guardians film. I wonder how the next year is going to be for the MCU, particularly if the two films are Black Widow and The Eternals, one of which seems kinda irrelevant and one of which is an introduction of characters that seem to have no bearing on the ones we already know, at least immediately. Guardians 3 would have felt like a more natural bridge of the cosmic side of the MCU in the year after Endgame. Although, my initial reticence toward the original Guardians and eventual adoration gives me hope that the MCU can make me feel the same toward The Eternals

Posted June 25th, 2019 by white lancer
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I'm glad they re-hired James Gunn, but I do feel like Endgame fundamentally ruined his work a bit. Like he was clearly building something with Peter Quill, and with Gamora, and with the two of them really. But not Gamora is gone and it's back to square one. And Quill did some character regression in the Avengers flicks, too, so he's kinda back at square one. This is also kinda true of the Gamora/Nebula story, too. Endgame sort of paid it off, and then reset it. So I'm a bit disappointed at what the Russo Brothers did in that regard. I trust Gunn to handle it well, but it's hard not to see the crossover - as they are wont to do in comics, too - as being disruptive.

Posted June 25th, 2019 by Jet Presto
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I wonder how much Gunn was aware of Marvel's plans for Infinity War/Endgame when he was writing his original script for #3. Like, it seemed like they originally wanted the third film to be one of the first ones afterward, and given Gamora and Nebula's connection to Thanos it's no surprise that they're the ones most affected by the events of the films outside of the original six. He had to at least know that the crew would be impacted, but did he know specifics? It's not entirely out of the realm of possibility since we already know Far From Home's writers were aware of the whole Tony Stark thing when they were writing their film. So did he always have the searching for Gamora angle as a part of the script? Did he always have Thor's potential involvement in mind?

I wouldn't expect Quill's "regression" to stick, really. If past films are any indication, Marvel doesn't have any problems handwaving away certain developments in crossover films for the sake of keeping the solo films in line with one another. Nebula has a new storyline to play to now with the whole Gamora situation, now sorta switching roles with Gamora as far as being the one trying to reach the other. I expect there's also plenty of room to show her opening up and bonding with the rest of the Guardians. Really, it's just the Gamora situation that might be problematic. I wouldn't have wanted her death in Infinity War just to be undone without a hitch, as that would have just felt cheap, but it's definitely unfortunate to lose the development she had in the first two films.

Posted June 26th, 2019 by white lancer
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I wouldn't be surprised if he knew next to nothing about the major developments. He was involved in writing character dialogue for Infinity War, evidently (which - as it pertained to Quill - was disappointing and makes me feel like the regression will stick in GotG 3, so he definitely knew at that point what was going on. But as to whether he had any idea that was what they were thinking back when he was writing the scripts for Guardians 1 and 2? I dunno. I'd be a little surprised if they had all that mapped out. It's pretty clear going through all the movies sequentially that Marvel has been kinda making it up as they go this whole time, and have just been really good about planning major events a couple years at a time. So I doubt even the Russo brothers knew they were killing Gamora in Infinity War and having it stick in Endgame when Guardians 2 was being written. (I can't even remember if they were even attached to direct the Avengers films when Vol. 2 came out.)

I'd actually really love a Guardians movie that doesn't focus as much on Quill. One cool thing is the addition of Thor to the team, hopefully (pending Hemsworth's contract). But then, the Thor/Quill stuff was some of the worst elements (to me at least) of Infinity War. (I really just don't find the unhealthy, cliched machismo of buff dudes measuring their dick sizes to be all that fun or compelling to watch.) But I'd love for them to take some focus off of Quill.

Posted June 26th, 2019 by Jet Presto
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