It’s saying something that a Marvel Studios production that’s a sequel to Iron Man, Captain America, Thor or the Avengers team-up is considered a safe bet for the studio. A few years back, all of these were properties no one had heard of and were considered as big a risk as the movie we’re talking about. And yet, the prolific studio made billion-dollar grossing franchises out of them and solidified its position as the numero uno producer of superhero films.
And yet, despite their now proven track record, heads turned when President Kevin Feige expressed a desire to turn in a movie featuring a bunch of literal rag-tag misfits. A team-up comprising of a half-terran half-alien human, a green-skinned assassin, a talking raccoon, a walking tree with limited “vocabulistics” and a muscular, too-literal, vengeance seeker with supporting characters ranging from a blue-robot girl to another blue-skinned alien with a mohawk. At one extreme, everyone was excited, elated even to see Marvel try out new things despite having so many successful heroes and IPs under their belt. At the other end, this super-weird team-up was pegged as having the potential of being Marvel’s first flop. Instead, it turned out to be the studio’s widest original hit to that point, surpassing all first sequels to the aforementioned movies in monetary grosses.
A lot of the movie’s success is often credited to director and co-writer James Gunn. Arriving on the scene out of nowhere, he offered a take on the misfits that instantly resonated with both the studio execs and the wider audience as a whole. Among the key characteristics included uncharacteristic humor and a tight script punctuated by some of the best 70s song ever to grace a movie soundtrack accompanied by a score every bit as epic as Alan Silvestri’s iconic theme for The Avengers. Because of the property’s lesser known nature, Gunn had complete authority on depicting it the way he desired and the end result was a celebration of the rarest order. Some movies have such a strong directorial stamp all over them that their success is highly attributed to the director attached. Guardians of the Galaxy is definitely among those movies.
As salivating as the prospect of seeing a brand new world realized on the screen is, the well-connected and smoothly flowing plot is what keeps things together. And so Peter Quill a.k.a. Star Lord, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon, Groot the Tree and Drax find themselves strung together on a mission to sell a mysterios Orb to the Collector, only to come to their senses upon seeing a demonstration of this Orb’s powers. After them is Ronan the Accuser, sent by Thanos to retrieve the Orb in exchange for destroying Xandar for the Kree fanatic, who has a vendetta against the planet. That’s just scratching the surface of the plot but that’s only because there are other things to talk about.
Despite being one of the most standalone movies of Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase Two, Guardians of the Galaxy introduces some of the most important elements of the MCU at large. First off is the concept of an Infinity Stone. While technically, Infinity Stones had already been seen on screen at this point, this is the first movie that sheds some light on the kind of power such a Stone holds in its stead, and the destruction it is capable of, which explains why our heroes should be so afraid. And as if that weren’t enough, it gives us our first and only proper scene with the Mad Titan Thanos, who until now has only been seen in cameos and flashes, a trait that would continue until the release of Infinity War. This is the only time we ever get a hint of what Thanos could be as a character as well as the first time he’s played by actor Josh Brolin (who would continue to imbibe the character for years to come). And he definitely sounds a lot more menacing than we imagined.
Even outside its direct MCU references, Guardians of the Galaxy‘s importance lies in its cosmic origins. More than 95 percent of the movie is set in space and save for the prologue, we do not visit earth at all. This opens up the MCU beyond the confines of earth and hints at the existence of a world beyond the cosmos. And the fact that it worked, to the tune of $774 million worldwide, empowers Marvel to take more risks with their movies which only bodes well for moviegoers in general. The weird success of Guardians would not only lead Marvel Studios to greenlight a sequel but also take up weirder projects, some of which would bear fruit several years down the line.
Usually all Marvel productions are technical marvels in their own right but Guardians of the Galaxy is a different beast altogether; it outshines its peers even in the most underappreciated aspect of modern blockbusters. The visuals are straight out of Jack Kirby’s comic book art, reeking of the same level of imagination, wonder and artistry that once graced the pages from which these movies are adapted. Gunn expertly takes you from one place to another and rarely do you feel lost in the confines of the prison Knowhere, Ronan’s ship The Dark Aster or Xandar itself. Environments are gorgeously rendered with elaborate production designs that make the small details stand out. And the songs as well as Tyler Bates’ orchestral themes are all hummable tunes that will stay with you long after the movie is over. I particularly love the title theme that evokes this triumphant unification of discordant elements that’s a staple of what the movie is about.
Guardians of the Galaxy was a smash success despite releasing at the tail end of the summer season. In essence, it proved one additional thing; that the studio can be a lot freer with its release dates and move things around to capitalize on certain empty time frames and the audience will still show up. With a unimaous acceptance of these bunch of a-holes, the prospects for a future Avengers movie got all the more interesting, more so due to the relationships some of these characters shared with each other as well as with the chief antagonist of the event all Marvel films were building up towards. Way to go James Gunn, you made absolute unknowns a household name.