The Road To Infinity War: Guardians Of The Galaxy

In a world where we’ve had Thor: Ragnarok & Black Panther within four months of each other, it’s easy to forget what a risk Guardians of the Galaxy was at the time it was released. We fail to remember that James Gunn was maybe not the most obvious choice to take the leap to big budget superhero movie. Guardians debuted in August of 2014, a month in which studios dump films in the gap between summer blockbuster and awards seasons. It’s not that Marvel thought Guardians was a film to be unceremoniously tossed into the cosmos, but for their first foray into the wider, more obscure universe, it was certainly less of a gamble in late summer. Regardless, their strategy paid off and Guardians of the Galaxy is now one of the most beloved MCU franchises, thanks in no small part to Gunn’s outsider perspective.

That outsider view point is best exemplified in the character of Rocket the raccoon – a perfect combination of Bradley Cooper’s surprising voice acting & Sean Gunn’s physical presence. While all of the Guardians are well fleshed out and succinctly introduced, Rocket really stands out and provides a parallel, at times more enjoyable thru line than our main hero, the more traditional, Peter Quill. In a film that features what feels like an inordinate amount of loss, both in the Guardians’ back-stories and in the film itself – think that final battle on Xandar and the incredible sacrifice and loss of human (Xandarian) life – I found myself more deeply moved by Rocket’s loss of Groot & that quiet moment after the battle in which he lets Drax pet & comfort him. Loss is what binds this team together & forms a true emotional core for what on the surface appears to be a vulgar, comedic, brightly colored superhero space movie.

While we’ll find out at the film’s end and more so in vol. 2, that Quill definitely has some kind of superhuman power, when we first meet him he is for all intents and purposes very human to us, especially as he is surrounded by talking tree creatures, raccoons, and all manner of universal species. Most superheroes are not necessarily born that way, they have a transformative moment. Peter Parker and the radioactive spider. Captain America being injected with the super soldier serum. For Peter Quill, that galvanizing moment is the loss of his mother. And while he won’t be heroic for awhile, living a scavenger, Han Solo-like existence, his mother and his loss is what gives him an ultimately moral and human core, granting him the ability to be heroic later.

Guardians like Captain America: Winter Soldier before it is a master class in tone management. At its core is the loss that all our heroes feel. Every one of the Guardians is damaged in some way. Even Groot, who we know very little about, has to have some kind of tragedy in his past that has led him to be alone, without anyone else of his kind, traveling the universe with a walking lab experiment. And yet, though the film starts with an Up-like heart wrenching beginning, it’s remembered for its comedy and fun. It’s no small feat for a film to invest you in its characters, move you, and then make the ride so enjoyable you forget how deeply you really felt along the way.

One of the MCU’s great strengths has always been its wittiness and humor. It has definitely been the main distinguishing factor between the MCU and the DCEU up until now. But Guardians, especially on the heels of Winter Soldier is such an incredible high water mark for the MCU and a precursor of things to come down the line in Captain America: Civil War for example. It shows that even when they’re using the phrase “turd blossom”, Marvel can craft incredibly mature superhero films that follow characters we love and are invested in, that make us laugh and cry while also kicking ass. Watching Winter Soldier and Guardians back to back I see real parallels to the recent one two punch of Ragnarok and Black Panther. This means that for the past four years Marvel has been consistently executing multiple movies per year at an extremely high level. It’s a machine to be sure, but it’s a machine that’s operating with artistry – Guardians of the Galaxy is certainly proof of that.