Two years ago, I called Marvel’s The Avengers “the greatest comic book movie so far”. While I stood by that statement even after I saw the excellent Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I am now stripping The Avengers of that title. After seeing Guardians of the Galaxy twice (and I’m planning on seeing it at least 2 more times), I think head-to-head, Guardians is the best damn comic book movie so far. More on this blasphemous statement later in this post, but first, let’s talk about Guardians of the Galaxy. Mild spoilers ahead, a-holes.
I’m pretty sure most of us had no idea what to expect when Marvel Studios announced they were going to make a Guardians movie. Actually, I’m pretty sure most people didn’t care at all. Some people may have been interested because they are fans of the existing Marvel movies, while some, like myself, were quite intrigued because we read Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s reintroduction of the Guardians concept in the modern comics era. And then the first trailer hit and it changed EVERYTHING.
I still had reservations even after that fantastic first trailer hit — until director James Gunn released the list of ’70s pop songs in Peter Quill’s mixtape. That made me go all in. The movie delivered exactly the kind of delightful fun that was promised by the trailer and the soundtrack. Oh how it did.
While all 5 members of the Guardians pulled their own weight in making this movie one of the most entertaining blockbusters of the year, Peter Quill, the Legendary Star-Lord, is definitely the one who pulls it all together.
Chris Pratt turns my least liked member of the team in the comics into one of my favorite characters in the movies. His hilarious antics were expected thanks to those nights I binge-watched Parks and Recreation, but his performance as a space thief who misses his mommy is a welcome surprise. That short bit in the end with his mother’s letter and the sadness in his eyes just brought out my feels.
ROCKET AND GROOT
Without a shadow of a doubt, the breakout stars of the film are Rocket Raccoon and Groot. I was apprehensive about how these CG characters would translate in a comedic epic space opera and I wasn’t really thrilled with the choice of voice actors, but the animators, Vin Diesel, and Bradley Cooper pulled it off. When you reach a point where you forget that these are CG characters voiced by two big Hollywood movie stars, you know they’re doing it right.
Also, who would’ve thought that the two most emotionally engaging parts of the movie involve a talking space raccoon’s drunken outburst and a touching selfless act by a dumb sentient tree?
GAMORA, DRAX, AND THE REST OF THE GANG
Dave Bautista as Drax was surprisingly entertaining as well. Who knew Batista had it in him? I thoroughly enjoyed his maniacal laughter in their ship while they were seemingly about to crash. Also, his bulletproof strategy for not letting anything go over his head. I wouldn’t mind if Big Dave remains in Hollywood and stays as far away from wrestling as possible.
As for Gamora, this is where I’m torn. She’s not the badass intergalactic assassin like she is in the comics. She’s supposed to be the Deadliest Woman in the Universe. I wanted to see her wielding her Godslayer dagger and just scaring the shit out of everybody. But she’s… softer? I guess that cold, deadly murderer version of the character wouldn’t work in this kind of movie anyway. Zoe Saldana does make Gamora easier to relate to, so that’s good enough for me.
The rest of the cast, including Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Benicio Del Toro, and Glenn Close are a joy to watch in their supporting roles. I wouldn’t say they were wasted in their relatively small parts because their presence alone makes the movie feel more special. Josh Brolin as Thanos specifically makes Guardians of the Galaxy a special, precious little snowflake in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
HOOKED ON A FEELING
Star-Lord’s Awesome Mix Vol. 1 is an integral part of the film’s success. From the moment Peter Quill started dancing to Redbone’s Come and Get Your Love to Baby Groot dancing to the Jackson 5’s I Want You Back, this happy little soundtrack makes the movie 10x more enjoyable. Also, it’s not just a bunch of pop songs from the ’70s — it’s a gift from Peter Quill’s mother. Seeing how he treasures his cassette player (ask your parents about it, kids) adds more character and soul to the Legendary Star-Lord more than anything else. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack ever since James Gunn released the list of songs and it has been my pick-me-up playlist ever since.
BETTER THAN ‘THE AVENGERS’
The Avengers was the culmination of 5 movies sharing a universe. Most of the character work was done in those 5 movies, so in The Avengers we mostly got epic battles and fun interaction between all kinds of characters. But there was no heart, no soul. If there was, it was probably Coulson — and he was skewered, making him more or less a plot device.
Guardians of the Galaxy, on the other hand, also has the visual spectacle and the action and the humor found in other Marvel movies, but cranked to 11. But the single most important thing about it is its heart. While the Avengers won the day because they’re superheroes doing superhero-y things, the Guardians won the day because FRIENDSHIP.
Guardians is pound-for-pound the best Marvel movie to date, at least for me. Sorry, Marvel’s The Avengers. I know it’s unfair to compare the two because they’re totally different animals, but I judge movies by the number of times I would want to see them and I don’t think I will ever get tired of watching this one.
Now back to that thing I wrote about The Avengers being the best comic book movie so far. Here’s the relevant excerpt from that post:
Notice how I didn’t say “Greatest Comic Book Movie OF ALL TIME”. As much as the overacting Internet hooligan in me wants to say it, and as much as I absolutely loved the perfection that is Marvel’s The Avengers, I’m not willing to believe that this is as good as it gets. I say “so far” with the hope that this is the beginning of the new age of comic book movies — an age where films based on superhero comics would not be ashamed of their source material; an age where comic book movies would embrace the absurdity and the larger-than-life events seen in superhero sequential art.
For 2 years, The Avengers was the gold standard of comic book movies. I hoped that it was the start of a new age, and it was. James Gunn’s wild space opera takes pride in its source material and embraces the ridiculousness of the Marvel Universe. Guardians being better than The Avengers is a good thing. It means things are getting better with every new movie. The Avengers is one small step for Marvel, Guardians is one giant leap for Marvelkind. That sounds stupid but you know what I’m talking about.
Marvel eased us into their wacky universe with men wearing high tech suits of armor, rage monsters, and super soldiers. And while the Thor movies and Marvel’s The Avengers gave us a window so we could take a peek at what’s outside Marvel’s Earth, Guardians of the Galaxy gave us a door that leads directly to Marvel’s cosmos and then proceeded to blow that door wide open in the most irreverent and unruly way.
Everything from Iron Man to Captain America: The Winter Soldier feels like Marvel was just preparing us for Guardians of the Galaxy and beyond. The Avengers was great, but it was just Marvel establishing their universe in pop culture and our collective consciousness. The Avengers was just the delightful appetizer. With Guardians, though? NOW the party really starts. We’re in deep now and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
I give Guardians of the Galaxy 5 out of 5 Star-Lords, plus extra commendation for that magnificent after-credits scene. WAAAAAAUGH!