This is part of a series of blog posts, discussing my rewatch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe FOLLOWING my viewing Avengers: Endgame on opening weekend. If you HAVE NOT seen Endgame, I suggest you wait to read these posts as I will be mentioning and referencing plot points from the most recent film(s) including Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
What a bunch of a-holes!
When the MCU launched, they did it by introducing the world (or reintroducing in the case of the Hulk) to a group of superheroes they’d never really known in the mainstream before. They did this INDIVIDUALLY, then the plan was to mash those individuals up into a big team up movie that would not only make more bank than the solo pics, but also retroactively make ALL the solo pics must see films for fans of the team up. And it worked. So well, they put a rush on the team-up sequel with just two years between Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron (even though 4 had passed from Iron Man to Avengers itself.
In that Phase two, Kevin Feige and team decided to see if they could basically do it the other way around. Could they throw a whole team on us at once, NONE of which had any name recognition outside the deep comic fans and then eventually make us care for even the side characters and pseudo-villains? Well, the answer was yes, yes they could. This is especially important to think about when you remember that The Eternals film is currently in pre-production and has a writer and director (Chloe Zao) attached (as well as a handful of actors like Angelina Jolie and Kumail Nanjiani), and is likely up next after Black Widow’s solo outing (and maybe Johansen’s Swan Song for the MCU?). The Eternals is very different than Guardians. It’s (at least at first) Earth-based, the characters are ALL nearly Captain Marvel-level strong, and actually immortal, they’ve even been the inspiration for mythological gods across human history (like Thor) BUT, it is a large group of very diverse characters that each could easily carry their own film or work well in tandem with other characters across the MCU down the line (just as you could imagine an entire film built around JUST Rocket, Thor and Groot now).
This first film still holds up well and is VERY symbolic of the modern direction of the MCU. As much as Favreau and Iron Man put a “look” on the MCU that has hung around, this film has completely centered the MCU’s take on space, as well as the increased humorous tone that accompanies that trip out of the atmosphere. In retrospect, it’s genius. You have to heighten things in one direction or the other when you leave earth behind. These heroes and villains cannot be grounded in the same way that Captain America or Iron Man is. “Real-World” isn’t a thing when we’re floating through an ancient decaying celestial being’s skull full of mining equipment, smugglers and gamblers. The original Thor (under Kenneth Branagh’s hand) amped up the melodrama and the theatricality. Turning MCU’s cosmic side into Shakespeare. That actually works pretty well for Asgard itself (and especially in the royal family) but outside of it, it would drastically limit the opportunity for things like Howard the Duck, or the Grandmaster as we met in Ragnarok.
Guardians and James Gunn said, ‘nah, fam. we ain’t goin’ out like that.’ Gunn amped up the humor, giving even strait-laced beat cops (in the form of the Nova Corps), witty quips and genuine human compassion and because of it, he earns full on dance sequences and a talking raccoon (and a less talkative living tree). ANYTHING is possible in the universe that is painted in this film. That’s the promise of Guardians. To then tie it all so firmly to terra firma using the 70’s AM soundtrack is a stroke of genius. It’s also the only part of the film that has aged at all. It’s hard to tell whether this is because every film since (including even Marvel’s own Captain Marvel) has copied it, OR if it’s just because between me and my kiddos we’ve burned a whole through the soundtrack’s of both Guardians I and II at home, either way the songs don’t hit as hard emotionally for me at all in Vol. 1 as they did once upon a time. The more heavily father-son focused aspects of the music in Vol. 2 might win me over no matter how much we’ve played them, so we’ll see when we get there.
Michael Rooker is probably my single favorite aspect of this film these days, and I think that’s mostly with the foreknowledge of his whole arc (but then again, I’ve always been a Rooker fan, since Tombstone), but Rocket struck me even better in this viewing than I remember. There really isn’t a moment in the entire film that I think about the fact that neither Rocket nor Groot actually exist. They are not their voice actors or a mo-cap stand-in or even a pile of CGI, they are just real characters, that I can’t wait to bump into some day at Disneyworld (does Disney do a walking Groot yet? They should totally!).
It seems likely to me that The Collector is dead after the events in Infinity War, but I LOVE Del Toro in the role and would really like to see him (and his collection) again in the future. In the comics (and I think in some ancillary MCU materials as well) The Collector and the Grandmaster are brothers, and the same “level” of beings as Ego the Living Planet (that we meet in Guardians 2). These characters could ALL come into play as we meet folks like the Eternals, hear more about the Celestials (glimpsed here in the story the Collector lays out about the Infinity Stones, the Celestials are the creators of The Eternals and would figure directly into their story, you’d imagine. They do clearly exist already in the MCU) and set up the possible next “big bad(s)” to follow up Thanos. Knowing the Eternals are coming asap, my money is actually maybe on Celestials being involved in the next giant crossover very directly.