Until the Summer of 2014, Marvel movies had barely ventured outside of Earth. They did, but it was only to further the saga of Thor, which was largely from two forgettable MCU Films. But with the premiere of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), that all changed. Guardians spent so little time on Earth that it’s easy to forget that the aforementioned galaxy isn’t one from a long time ago and far far away.
Guardians of the Galaxy tells us the story of five unlikely heroes in space. Peter “Star-Lord” Quill finds himself embroiled in something greater than himself when he steals an orb belonging to Ronan the Accuser. In short order, he forms unlikely alliance with other misfits and outlaws, including Drax “the Destroyer”, the large plant warrior Groot, the science experiment gone wrong, Rocket Raccoon, and the”adopted daughter” of Thanos, Gamora. Though the originally only band together to acquire the bounty on this particular item, they soon find themselves part of a much larger operation, and decide to use their talents for the betterment of the galaxy, thereby “guarding” it. Their bond is solidified as they unite over a common enemy, and become a heroic (and strangely comedic) force.
The connection to the larger MCU created by Guardians is extremely obvious when looking back, because of the direct connection between Gamora, Nebula, Ronan, and Thanos. Thanos is mentioned by name constantly in Guardians, and even appears in the film, but it took four years for him to become a highly publicized villain. Thanks to Gamora and Nebula, the Guardians will provide an extremely valuable angle to the Avengers when Infinity War comes around.
Aside from the Thanos connection, Guardians of the Galaxy set up a larger thematic element for the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Space. Thor and Thor: The Dark World both took place (at least partially) in space, but until Guardians, Marvel seemed to have trouble telling space related stories. Afterward, though, every Marvel film that’s even tangentially related to space (i.e. Doctor Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, etc.) has been handled with far more ease and creative prowess. One of the primary impacts GotG has had on the larger cinematic universe is simply that it expanded it beyond the confines of Earth and Asgard. Looking back, it’s easy to see Guardians of the Galaxy as a building block to the modern era in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Guardians as a whole doesn’t feel like a unique film. A ragtag group of friends and creatures forming an alliance to save the universe isn’t all that original as a concept, as we’ve seen countless times in Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, etc. But, James Gunn’s take on this lesser known comic book property establishes a few identifiers that causes it to stand out from the crowd of ragtag-unlikely-heroes-in-space films. A few highlights:
- Guardians of the Galaxy easily has one of the best soundtracks of the last 10 years, and never has one been more masterfully used to round out a character. Star-Lord’s character becomes richer with his walkman and cassette tapes in tow, and it adds an extra layer of fun to the film
- GotG takes diversity to a whole new level. Sure, films have had alien characters before, but how many have given such depth to a tree who only said one phrase? How about a racoon created in a lab? Of course, what I really want to illustrate here is that Drax the Destroyer is a hero, warrior, and also clearly on the autism spectrum. Guardians carries a message that says “we’re all different, but we can work toward common goals and find common ground”
I would have to agree with the 91% of critics who gave Guardians of the Galaxy a positive review. It’s fun, the characters are rich and have depth, and it represents a monumental shift in the reach of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.