As great as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s track record was in 2014, there was worry that people would start to get sick of superhero movies. You could argue that’s starting to happen now, in fact I have several friends who are planning on seeing Avengers: Endgame, and then taking a break afterwards. Part of the concern came from a lot of the movies kind of being the same, and there is a debate to be had on that front. But then Guardians of the Galaxy came out and drastically expanded what an MCU movie could be.
Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige first mentioned Guardians of the Galaxy as a potential film in 2010. “There are some obscure titles too, like Guardians of the Galaxy. I think they’ve been revamped recently in a fun way.” In 2011, he expanded on this in an Entertainment Weekly magazine interview, saying “There’s an opportunity to do a big space epic, which Thor sort of hints at, in the cosmic side.”
Nicole Perlman was enrolled in Marvel’s screenwriting program in 2009, and was offered several lesser known properties to base a screenplay on. Of the options they gave her, she chose Guardians of the Galaxy, basing her work loosely on Dan Abnett’s run. She credited her interest in space and science fiction as part of her reasoning, adding “I think they were a little taken aback when I chose Guardians, because there were ones that would make a lot more sense if you were a romantic-comedy writer or something like that.” Perlman spent two years writing a draft, before they hired James Gunn as the director. James Gunn changed the script a lot after he came in, with a different story, adding in the Walkman that the movie is famous for. Perlman also wrote the story for Captain Marvel, which is already released in most of Europe and is coming out this weekend in North America.
A number of actors were considered for the role of Starlord, including Zachary Levi (who ended up playing Fandral in Thor: The Dark World), Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Lee Pace, who would eventually portray Ronan the Accuser instead. They ended up with Chris Pratt, who turned out to be an inspired choice for the role. Dave Bautista soon signed on as Drax the Destroyer, while Zoe Saldana was cast as Gamora. Both are also great in their roles. Rounding out the main cast, you’ve got Bradley Cooper voicing Rocket Raccoon and Vin Diesel voicing Groot. Diesel’s role is particularly interesting, because he has exactly two lines repeated over and over again, just with different inflections and tones. Those inflections always make it clear what Groot’s emotions are, which goes to show how much thought and effort Diesel put into the role. He also performed the role in every language localization that exists.
Diesel also found voicing the role therapeutic in a sense. This was the first role he portrayed after the death of his friend and Fast and Furious costar, Paul Walker. “This was in December 2013, and the first time I came back to dealing with human beings after dealing with death, so playing a character who celebrates life in the way Groot does was very nice.”
Similar to Captain America: Winter Soldier, the crew aimed for as many practical effects as possible. Gunn stated in a 2013 interview, “Our sets are enormous. We have a prison that is 350,000 pounds of steel. Anyone who knows me knows I love the mix of practical and CGI effects.” Of course with the movie taking place in space, there was a need for a lot of CGI.
It’s worth noting that this movie sets up Avengers: Infinity War more than any other movie in the MCU, and while Gunn enjoyed setting up Thanos and the Infinity Stones, he also found it challenging. Gunn described setting up Thanos’s character the hardest part of the movie to crack. “Having Thanos be in that scene was more helpful to the MCU than it was to Guardians of the Galaxy.” Yet he still wanted Thanos in the film, without belittling the main antagonist, Ronan. I’d say he found a fairly good balance, helped by the fact that he took all of Thanos’s scenes seriously, unlike the relatively light tone of the rest of the movie.
As much as the soundtrack by Tyler Bates is a good one, a major part of this movie’s atmosphere lies in its licensed soundtrack – which might actually be the best in history. Most of the songs come from the 60’s and 70’s, such as “Hooked on a Feeling”, which made the initial trailer for the movie go viral fast. They also used this soundtrack to have at least some sort of Earthly touch for Peter Quill, despite how he spends the vast majority of the movie in space.
To work out this soundtrack, Gunn downloaded a few hundred songs out of the top hits of the 70’s, seeking out songs that were familiar, but you “might not be able to name off the top of your head.” Guardians of the Galaxy ended up releasing three soundtrack albums, with Bates’ original soundtrack being one, the “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” as the second, and a deluxe version featuring both. The Awesome Mix Vol. 1 ended up becoming the first soundtrack in history consisting entirely of previously released albums to top the charts. For the fun of it, Hollywood Records also released a cassette version of Awesome Mix Vol. 1, the first cassette released by Disney since 2003.
Guardians of the Galaxy performed very well for both critics and audiences, earning a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 7.7/10. Variety described the movie a bit overlong, but praised the cheeky comic tone, Pratt’s performance as Starlord and the cinematography, calling them enough to make the length worth it. The Daily Telegraph enjoyed it, but called it more streamlined, snappy Saturday-cartoon fun. The Los Angeles Times compared Guardians of the Galaxy to the original Star Wars, saying it kind of felt like a B-movie at times, and features unconventional heroes and a story where you’re not always sure what’s going on. The New York Post gave the movie a negative review though, complaining about the characters of Star Lord, Rocket Raccoon and Drax, talked down about the soundtrack, and compared the movie to 1986’s Howard The Duck and Green Lantern. Yeah, let’s not go with that review.
The movie ended up earning $773 million worldwide, on a net budget of $195 million. That makes it the most profitable movie of the summer of 2014, and third overall (behind Transformers: Age of Extinction and The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies). It also beat out both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past, which both earned over $700 million as well. The film was said to have “injected life” into an otherwise lower than normal summer box office.
This is another case where the majority opinion of the critics were right. Guardians of the Galaxy is not only a very entertaining movie, but it’s still a refreshing entry in a cinematic universe that is starting to feel a touch stale. None of the Guardians team members are what you would strictly call superheroes. Star Lord is basically a more charming, but also less intelligent, version of Han Solo. Gamora is a former assassin who is mainly just trying to get away from her “adoptive” father, Thanos. Drax the Destroyer is a vengeful brute who is only a couple steps away from being The Incredible Hulk. Rocket Raccoon is a greedy bounty hunter/conman who happens to be a mechanical mastermind. Groot is the closest thing the group has to a straight hero, and he’s a walking, talking tree.
On paper, none of these characters feel like they should get along, let alone be on a team together. But the movie’s story and their mutual sense of loss, brings them together in a way that’s both coherent and emotionally satisfying. It helps that they’re all fascinating characters in their own way.
Ronan, while not the best villain in the MCU, is by no means a weak villain. His motivations are clear, he’s very driven, and he’s established early on as a serious threat. In-movie, he’s basically a fanatic who sees weakness as a sin, and strength as a virtue. He’s not exactly memorable, but he’s at least portrayed well enough to work for the movie. He is arguably the weakest aspect of the movie though. Ronan also in Captain Marvel, although I’m not sure how major of a character he’ll be there or what role he’ll play.
Despite the movie’s overall light tone, there are some very emotional moments contained within. The opening scene with Peter Quill’s mother dying of cancer is heartbreaking, and it definitely sets a character focused tone for the rest of the movie. There’s a moment where Rocket Raccoon completely breaks down and talks about all the experiments he was subjected to. It’s hard not to tear up when one member of the team willingly sacrifices himself to save the others, while also saying a line that’s somehow both expected and unexpected.
It helps that the movie features a lot of great action as well.
Guardians of the Galaxy is a great movie, capping off a very strong 2014 for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s also very different from the rest of the MCU. It’s not a superhero movie. It’s kind of like Star Wars, except you replace the force with an infinity stone, and you’ve got multiple Han Solo-like characters. That makes this the best possible MCU movie to watch for non-superhero fans. But even if you are a superhero fan, this is worth checking out if you haven’t … for some reason.
Next up is Avengers: Age of Ultron, followed by the last Phase 2 movie, Ant Man. Then we kick off Phase 3 with Captain America: Civil War, which served as a test of sorts for the Russo brothers handling Avengers 3 and 4.