An outsider’s take on the Marvel Cinematic Universe: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (2014) (Movie review)

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his blog series chronicles my first viewing of the complete MCU movie saga. I’ll examine each film under various categories that reflect popular discussion points. Next up is the 10th film, “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014):

STRENGTHS

Even on my first viewing a few years ago, I thought “Guardians of the Galaxy” was visually beautiful. It also sounds good: The 1970s pop songs make this the MCU’s most foot-tapping entry, and the score by Tyler Bates is epic yet slightly alien. And I like how the ragtag group of heroes organically comes together.

WEAKNESSES

We’re thrown into the middle of a grand cosmic conflict without a handhold. Ronan (Lee Pace) wants to destroy the planet Xandar. We don’t know why. Xandar is a human-populated planet. We don’t know how that’s possible. And “Guardians” almost goes too far with the comedy. I don’t need Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) ordering his teammates to acquire unnecessary things – the prosthetic leg — to get the job done; that’s a bit juvenile.

The 1970s pop songs make this the MCU’s most foot-tapping entry, and the score by Tyler Bates is epic yet slightly alien.

HEROES

I like how Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill/Star-Lord is a big kid like his “Parks and Recreation” character, but notably smarter, having made the adjustment from abductee to star-hopper. “Guardians” gives us a ragtag bunch of heroes without shining too much of a light on the cliché. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is the former enforcer who has decided to break free from Ronan, Drax (Dave Bautista) falls in with this group on his own revenge quest but discovers friendship, the genetically enhanced raccoon Rocket is the only one of his kind and therefore has a chip on his shoulder, and the sentient tree Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) is a big-hearted lug who can dish it out if his friends are threatened.

VILLAINS

“Guardians” is relatively weak on the villain front, as Thanos (Josh Brolin), Ronan and Yondu (Michael Rooker) all want the Orb (which contains an Infinity Stone) for the sake of power or money. Rooker makes Yondu fairly entertaining, and we see how Peter is – in a twisted way – like a son to him.

WOMEN

Despite being a “guy’s movie,” there are a fair number of women peppered throughout the large cast. Peter’s late mother, Meredith (Laura Haddock), is always at the front of his mind – she’s why he’s always spinning that mix tape (along with the quality of the tunes, natch). “Guardians” passes the Bechdel Test since adoptive sisters Gamora and Nebula (Karen Gillan) clash after Gamora decides to switch to the side of good. But there’s no nuance to their relationship.

MIRROR TO REALITY

Even more so than “Thor: The Dark World,” “Guardians” disconnects with Earth, and from immediate Earth issues. There are some things to be picked out if one is inclined. For example, Rocket is a raccoon made intelligent through experimentation, a possibility that’s coming down the scientific pike, and an issue the recent “Planet of the Apes” films explore.

BEST ACTION SCENE

I like the fact that the climactic battle in the skies of Xandar takes place during the daytime. It’s a rare choice for CGI space battles (I believe darker palettes are easier to work with). It contrasts with the darker tones earlier in the film, and symbolizes brighter days ahead for our heroes.

BEST COMEDIC MOMENT

This exchange nicely illustrates how Peter is a big kid who doesn’t like cleaning his room:

Gamora: And Quill, your ship is filthy. (She walks away.)

Peter (to Rocket): Oh she has no idea. If I had a blacklight, this would look like a Jackson Pollock painting.

WORLD BUILDING

This film opens up the MCU to the space lanes. The “Thor” movies have space elements, but Asgard is concerned with its nine realms and is historically connected to Earth, for which it has been a protector. “Guardians” goes beyond that, yet it doesn’t feel overly alien thanks to Peter and the fact that humans populate other planets, including Xandar (which functions as an innocent target, like Alderaan in “Star Wars”). “Guardians” doesn’t elaborate on this rich history of interplanetary fighting, but it’s an intriguing introduction. This movie also emphasizes the powerful Infinity Stones, which I imagine will be important for future “Avengers” epics.

FINAL THOUGHTS/EXPECTATIONS

I found “Guardians” mediocre on my first viewing a few years ago, but got into the spirit of it this time. My Cold Bananas’ colleague Michael Olinger calls the film “a punk-rock ‘Star Wars,’ ” and even though it has a pop soundtrack, I think that’s apt. (It might be fun to dig into the parallels with “A New Hope,” although I imagine someone on the web has already done this.) I’m interested to see how the cosmic locations, Infinity Stones and the Big Bad Thanos play into future films.