RECAP: Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): James Gunn

Marvel took a chance in sending a team of total unknowns into theaters in August 2014. Chris Pratt was a bit player on a NBC sitcom, and the other actors were voices or covered in strange paint colors.

Producers injected humor and a great soundtrack to attract audiences likely tired of overly dramatic hero slogs. The Awesome Mix, Peter’s collection of his mother’s favorite pop songs, became the first soundtrack devoid of new songs to top the Billboard charts.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: A band of galactic misfits protects a planet that doesn’t want them from a warlord who wants to kill everyone with a purple Infinity Stone.

Hero (6/10)

Like many humans, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) grew up on Earth. His mother died of cancer when he was young, leaving him a gift that he would not open for 26 years.

Unlike many humans, Peter was abducted by aliens shortly after his mother died and spent the rest of his life as an outlaw flying through the galaxy.

Guardians of the Galaxy opens with the touching scene of young Peter at his mother’s bedside. He watches her die from cancer, and I can’t shake that maybe her death is related to Peter’s creation from an unknown father. We shall see.

Peter Quill after his arrest on Xandar
Peter Quill after his arrest on Xandar

Anyway, the movie skips ahead 26 years to adult Peter on an abandoned planet called Morag. We don’t know it’s Peter at first, because he’s wearing a cape and a scary mask with red eyes.

Peter uses cool space technology (is there uncool space technology?) to locate the object of his quest–a purple orb. The only thing in the ruined city not ruined, he finds it easily.

And groovily. Peter has spent the last 26 years of is life listening to one mixtape. ONE mixtape in 26 years. No matter, Peter still enjoys the tracks, as he grooves to “Hooked on a Feeling” while stealing the orb and escaping another outlaw named Korath.

Cut from the Indiana Jones mold, Peter Quill uses guile and charm and the nickname Star-Lord to survive as a thief in a galaxy stuffed with them. So close does Peter adhere to Jones that the movie could be called Indiana Jones Junior and the Infinity Stone.

Copying an iconic character is never a great idea, but neither is it a bad one. Pratt makes Peter work because he’s the perfect cast for the role. Buff and trim, Pratt is as funny as he is handsome, and Star-Lord needs all these characteristics to survive.

Peter's Star-Lord getup
Peter’s Star-Lord getup

Peter is a womanizer, and he uses this skill to woo Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to his side. Unaccustomed to actually feeling feelings for a woman besides lust, Peter longs to be with Gamora, though the latter hates his guts. He tries to get her to dance to the awesome mix, but Gamora won’t be fooled by Peter’s “pelvic sorcery.”

When not wooing green women, Peter cracks jokes, mostly of the Earth, version 1980s. Peter keeps Troll and ALF cards on his dash, he still wears the shirt he wore at his mother’s deathbed, and his references include Ninja Turtles and Ranger Rick.

Peter changes rapidly from an outlaw desperate to flee trouble into a man asking his friends to die beside him to help save a planet. Pretty big character arc, and one pulled off.

Villain (3/10)

Lee Pace plays an enraged Kree warlord named Ronan the Accuser. ensconced in his warship the Dark Aster, Ronan accuses many peoples of many things, but mostly he accuses the Xandarian people of treachery.

The Kree sign a peace treaty with Xandar early in the film, and Ronan refuses to honor it. He kills more of his enemy after the treaty is signed, though we don’t see the slaughter. Ronan has his sights on the planet and culture of Xandar, but to kill them all he’ll need a weapon.

That weapon is inside the orb Peter stole from Morag. It’s a purple Infinity Stone. When Ronan gets his proverbial hands on the Stone, he places it inside his war hammer.

Ronan is not a nice person. Desperately in need of an interior decorator, he keeps his ship as dark and lifeless as his soul. When I say the ship is lifeless, I mean that his henchmen are called necro-warriors.

Ronan slaughters children, according to Ronan’s enemies, so it might be true, might not be true. Definitely true is Ronan’s desire to capture Peter’s orb. He wants the purple Infinity Stone inside it, not for his purposes, but the hand over to Thanos, a large, purple demon god floating around on a space throne.

Everyone, come see how intimidating I look
Everyone, come see how intimidating I look

Ronan agreed to capture the Stone, and in return Thanos would help Ronan wipe out the people of Xandar. Thanos offers to bathe the star ways in Ronan’s blood, should he fail to attain the orb. Ronan, showing no fear, kills Thanos’s sniveling mouthpiece.

Ronan gets the Stone and places it inside his hammer, turning his eyes purple. Like all classic villains, he lets the power go directly to his head. He’s ready to kill Xandar himself and when that’s done, he coming for Thanos.

Ronan’s love of theatrics gets him in the end. He can’t help but watch Peter’s adequate dance moves as Rocket repairs the hadron gun that will end Ronan’s hold of the Stone. Ronan accuses Xandar of…something. He never says of what, just that he accuses them, and that is meant to be enough of a curse, I suppose.

Action/Effects (4/10)

Action scenes are brief in Guardians, and I consider that a good thing. This movie has many characters to introduce and crazy places to travel to. It needs the tint to introduce these people and places and can, or must, eschew extended action scenes.

Probably the longest scene, aside from the climax, is the escape from the space prison. Rocket, the expert in escaping, lays out a plan. As he explains exactly what he needs and in what order, Groot goes and takes the one item, a battery, they were supposed to get last.

Groot announcing his presence with authority
Groot announcing his presence with authority

As Groot snatches the battery alarms sound. The others spring into action. Groot and Drax break some drones and guards with guns as Gamora and Peter head off to capture some other important items. Rocket gets hold of a machine gun and is psyched about it. “Oh. Yeah.” Rocket opens up on everything in sight that might shoot back.

Gamora, needing a device that controls entrance into the control tower, doesn’t mind that one is implanted in a guard’s arm. She revels in taking the guy’s arm. Peter is busy talking a guy out of his artificial leg.

The team assembles inside the control tower ,scaring away the one man in charge. They had to climb Groot to get there, a foreshadowing to the tree’s extension powers. A Rocket sits at the controls and taps all the screens. Peter drops the leg on the console. “I was kidding about the leg,” Rocket jokes. *** He was just being a dick.

Rocket, who definitely has a plan, works furiously. More guards arrive, this time with rocket launchers. These rockets crack the bulletproof glass protecting the five prisoners from instant death. Rocket attacks the consoles as if he knows exactly what he’s doing.

And then he does. Rocket turns off the prison’s artificial gravity, everywhere but in the control tower. With control of the prison drones, Rocket uses them to fly the tower toward the prison’s exit. They crash, leave the tower for Peter’s ship, and grab their stuff before leaving.

Easy peasy.

Sidekicks (7/8)

Star-Lord is the leader of the Guardians. I can’t think of why, maybe because he owns the ship? Let’s discuss the other members of the team.

Gamora: One of the countless survivors of a Thanos attack, Gamora was forced into Thanos’s retinue. Her green body was trained and enhanced to be a killing machine, and then Thanos sent her to work under Ronan alongside her adoptive sister and fellow Thanos survivor Nebula.

It says "Gamora" but she could be Rihanna
It says “Gamora” but she could be Rihanna

Gamora volunteers to steal the orb from Peter, but she plans to sell it to a black market dealer and betray Ronan and Thanos. For someone about to turn on the galaxy’s most powerful entities, Gamora acts calmly and with purpose.

She arrives on Xandar and meets Peter outside the store of the trinket dealer who rejects Peter. After a few words of introduction, Gamora steals the orb, fighting with Peter and two other members of the Guardians who enter the fray to capture Peter.

No matter. Gamora shows of terrific fighting skills and that total lack of fear. Not until we see her surrounded by dozens of enemies inside a space prison does she show fear.

Faced with hope and a plan, Gamora is every bit as capable a hero as Peter, a man she despises for most of the film. Gamora will put her life on the line several times, when Peter would rather run. In the end, Gamora is dedicated and honored to “die among my friends.”

Drax: Another survivor of the endless wars in our galaxy, Drax (Dave Bautista) is purple. Drax and his brethren are famous for literalism. When Peter tells Drax that metaphors are over his head, Drax says they wouldn’t thanks to his quick reflexes. “Nothing goes over my head. I would catch it.”

Drax hates Gamora, blaming her for Ronan’s and Thanos’s wars and slaughters. In the prison he nearly cuts her throat until Peter’s big mouth intervenes. More interested in a fight, Drax is eager to help them escape from the prison.

Drax and Groot
Drax and Groot

And he’s great at it. Drax rips a drone in two. He kills many enemy troops on the Dark Aster with knives and fists. He rips out Korath’s brain implants. He is very large and without fear. Drax actual calls Ronan to the space god head mine colony for a fight. One-on-hundreds. Drax might be more fearless than Gamora. He’s definite;y funnier, though by accident.

Rocket: Fearless is a word to describe most of the Guardians. The smallest and angriest member is a genetically modified raccoon named Rocket, so named for his affinity toward that weapon. He might be a raccoon, but, as he says, “ain’t no thing like me ‘cept me.”

Rocket's rocket launcher
Rocket’s rocket launcher

Rocket is the mouth of the team, a jerk of the highest order, who will demand an amputee’s metal leg for the fun of it, and a weapons expert. With a permanent sneer on his face he carries guns into bars, plazas, mining colonies, anywhere that a gun can fit. And he loves shooting them. Once he gets his hands on an automatic rifle inside the prison, Rocket gets the camera to encircle him, video game style, as he says in his guttural growl, “Oh. Yeah.”

Rocket is an angry raccoon. When he gets drunk in the mining colony, Rocket is ready to kill everyone. Someone, Drax, probably, calls him a rodent and vermin. Choking back angry tears, Rocket says, “I didn’t ask to get made.” He’s prepping his gun for the next guy to insult him.

Rocket channels that anger toward, well, everything that isn’t Groot. He’s ready to flee to the edge of the galaxy and maybe survive when faced with the prospect of Thanos gaining all the Infinity Stones. He’s so mad that he kicks grass.

Bradley Cooper voices the raccoon. He injects pathos and energy into the role that surprised me. “Everybody’s got dead people,” Rocket shouts at a despondent Drax, after the latter has failed to kill Ronan, without explaining who his dead people are.

Rocket overcomes the most inner turmoil in facing the Kree onslaught. As Peter explains his plan to his friends, Rocket hits the nail on the head. “You’re asking us to die,” he says, before standing with them, “like a bunch of jackasses.”

GrootVin Diesel voices the galaxy’s cutest walking tree. Why did they pay Diesel whatever they did for his four-word script readings? I can’t say, but they did.

Groot has a heart of gold, figuratively of gold, and figuratively a heart, because he’s a tree. As gentle as he is giant, Groot won’t get mad at you as quickly as his friend and translator Rocket, but when he does, look out, you might get a root extension through your torso.

Groot announcing his presence with authority
Or get a root in your brain

Quiet when he’s not repetitive, Groot is easy to lose track of. In the prison, as Rocket explains what he needs to escape the facility, Groot goes and takes down a battery that was meant to be taken last, setting off the plan in reverse order. No one told Groot to do that; no one told him not to.

Groot speaks three words: I am Groot, and exclusively in that order. He can grow and remove body parts with little consequence. Groot eats leaves from his person, the tree equivalent of eating one’s boogers. He lights up when need be, literally, manufacturing floating lights to illuminate a dark room. He smiles after helping the crew. The only Guardian without an actual heart, Groot is his team’s heart.

Henchmen (2/8)

Karen Gillan plays the turquoise-and-blue Nebula, another Thanos war spoil-turned-weapon lent to Ronan. Nebula backs her Kree boss all the way. You know she’ll stay evil because her eyes are black, unlike Gamora’s.

During the attack on Xandar, Nebula leads the tactical strike, while Ronan takes care of the brooding. Aside from bossing around a bunch of necro-dudes and failing to stop Gamora from opening Ronan’s ship chamber, Nebula doesn’t get much to do.

my favorite makeup job of the movie
my favorite makeup job of the movie

Yondu (Michael Rooker) is an unknown entity. He wants to kill Peter more than once in the movie, and is after the orb, but he also considers him an adoptive son. What is known is that he’s blue and possesses the scariest weapon this side of an Infinity Stone.

Stunts (2/6)

Guardians needs beaucoup effects to make this movie work. They didn’t have time to cook up huge fight scenes. Gamora is the most martially skilled. She can flip and roll and spin like Brooklyn’s finest break dancers, and she’s as fast as Usain Bolt.

Peter’s fighting style consists of using rocket feet and shooting stun guns. He doesn’t punch often, despite his large body. Speaking of large bodies, have you seen Dave Bautista? He’s very large, and highly skilled with knives. He seems to not know what a gun is, and if you told him he was carrying two guns (his biceps), he would look at you confusedly.

Climax (3/6)

Peter’s 12% of a plan gets going above Xandar’s surface. Yondu and his fleet of ravager ships attacks the Dark Aster, first using a fireball as cover to dive below the ship. Nebula leads the Dark Aster’s defense as Rocket machine guns a hole in the side.

Yondu, flying in the maelstrom of Kree fighters and his own ships, loses a wing and crashes to the ground. He makes certain Peter knows to hand him the Infinity Stone when everything’s over with. Later, on the planet’s surface, he’s surrounded by 20 Kree soldiers. Yondu finally uses that whistle needle thing of his, and it’s a doozy. The needle flicks through all the soldiers and into a fighter craft in less than three seconds, killing all of them. A powerful weapon indeed.

Things look bad until the Nova Corps shows up. Peter laughs. “They got my dick message,” the one where he said he should be believed because he’s not 100% a dick.

Ships of the Nova Corps
Ships of the Nova Corps

Right about that time Peter crashes his ship through the side of the Dark Aster. They careen and crash for several tense seconds, tense to everyone but Drax, who laughs the whole way. When Peter angles his ship to gun down dozens of Kree soldiers, Drax laughs more. As the ship comes a stop Gamora says, “We’re just like Kevin Bacon.” Gonna cut footloose.

The Dark Aster continues to descend toward Xandar. But the Nova Corps has a plan. The starburst-shaped ships line up and form an energy field to serve as a net to capture the ship. I didn’t expect that trick, and it was a good one.

On the enemy ship the Guardians step into a dark enclosure. Groot shows off another trick: bioluminescence. Dozens of floating lights from Groot fill the chamber. Probably enough light to signal Nebula, who pops in to call her adoptive sister a traitor and a jerk and blah blah BLAM. Drax blasts her with a rocket. “Nobody talks about my friends like that,” he says.

There’s still a shipload of enemies to get through. Korath is one of them. The thief recognizes Peter as Star-Lord, a fact that really excites Peter, er, Star-Lord. Drax double blades two of Korath’s men at once and throws knives into two more. He’s a one-man wrecking crew.

Ronan, holed up in his central chamber, says these words, “Enact immolation initiative.” I guess those words have syntax and meaning? The Kree change their tactics and start dive bombing the city. Now it’s Rocket’s turn to shine. He guns down dozens of Kree fighters, leading Yondu’s people to do the same.

Gamora stays behind to disengage the power for Ronan’s chamber. She also fights a reconstituted Nebula with kicks over her head and by dodging sword slashes.

Peter activates his helmet and heel jets to zip across the floor, zapping Kree left and right, and flying onto others. Drax fights Korath and Groot smashes soldiers like Ents in Isengard.

Drax extracts Korath’s brain implant and shows some improvement in metaphor. Groot, really mad now, aims at a line of Kree soldiers and shoots a root into all of them at once. Groot smashes the soldiers on the walls, back and forth, back and forth, until they are dead. He turns to his friends and smiles. Adorable.

I am Groot
I am Groot

Ronan decides to show himself. Opening the pod bay doors, he addresses the Nova Corps net and the people of Xandar. “You stand accused,” he shouts. They do call him Ronan the Accuser. He touches the Stone-infused hammer to the Nova net, destroying all the ships.

Just in time, Gamora deactivates the chamber’s power and throws her sister off the ship. She bursts through the floor as her friends come through the door, killing guards. Peter aims the hadron gun at Ronan and fires. The bullet streaks to Ronan in slow motion, exploding in a hadronic haze.

hadron gun
hadron gun

It does nothing. Ronan emerges from the haze. Drax comes at his mortal foe, but Ronan grabs his throat and lifts him with ease. “I do remember your family,” Ronan says, possibly lying. “Their screams were pathetic.” Nah, he totally didn’t remember them.

Just then Rocket crashes his fighter into the ship, busting a huge hole in the front that sends the Dark Aster to the ground. Groot surrounds his friends. Literally he surrounds them, growing a wood cocoon to protect the other Guardians before the ship crashes. Ronan, for the moment, is out of sight.

Rocket is upset. “You’ll die,” he shouts at his best friend. Groot serenely looks at Rocket and the others. “WE are Groot,” he says, in the most character development a vocabularistically challenged anthropomorphic tree can show.

Death and rebirth of Groot
Death and rebirth of Groot

The Dark Aster crashes. It nearly destroys Peter’s tape player and the Awesome Mix. What tragedy could be worse than–oh right, here’s Ronan to destroy the planet. Ronan emerges and waxes angrily about Xander doth this and his people doth that. Ronan is probably the biggest fan of Shakespeare to never have heard of Shakespeare.

While Ronan squawks at the Xandarians surrounding him, Peter steps up his charm game. “Oooh child, things are gonna get easier…” Peter sings along and dances to The Five Stairsteps song. Ronan asks him what he’s doing. “It’s a dance-off bro.” Right there is all you need to know about the tone of Guardians of the Galaxy.

dance-off
dance-off

Peter wins the dance-off. Turns out he was distracting Ronan while Rocket finished reconstructing the hadron gun. This time they shoot the hammer concealing the Infinity Stone, cracking it open.

As the Stone falls, the movie slows to a crawl. Peter outleaps Ronan, clutching it millimeters ahead of the Kree warlord. As we saw earlier, mortals are not meant to touch the Stone or their faces will flake off.

The next parts are wreathed in purple flame. Peter holds the Stone. Gamora offers her hand, and Peter sees his mother doing the same as she lay dying in a hospital 26 years ago. He takes her hand. Rocket and Drax grab each other’s hand and Peter’s. They form a chain.

Purple Haze, all in my brain
Purple Haze, all in my brain

Ronan, also in the flame, asks, “You’re mortal. How?” Peter answers, “You said it yourself, bitch, we’re the Guardians of the Galaxy.” As if the Stone was waiting for a good one-liner, it melts Ronan away. Gamora uses another orb to capture the Stone and save the planet.

Guardians of the Galaxy stretches on after this. There’s much to set up in a film with a guaranteed sequel. Peter turns out to be part-human, part-something much more than human, which was why he could hold the Stone. Rocket has a twig of Groot left, which is turning into Baby Groot.

The Guardians fly in Peter’s fixed ship, ready for a little bit of bad and a little bit of good. And a lot of Awesome Mix Vol. 2.

Jokes (4/4)

Guardians of the Galaxy might be the first action movie to use dancing in a climactic moment. Peter dances to a song to distract Ronan, which should tell you a lot about the film’s tone.

Peter cracks jokes often. He uses his 1980s cultural references in the farthest reaches of the galaxy. One of Korath’s men he calls a Ninja Turtle.

On his ship he tells Rocket, “If I had a black light this place would look like a Jackson Pollack painting,” which is disgusting but I’m not sure why. He asks the Xandar Nova Corps to believe his distress call because he is not 100% a dick. More crass than a Han Solo, but the comedy is there.

Setting (3/4)

The Guardians traffic across the galaxy. Xandar is the Earth-like planet with a blue sky and friendly, humanoid faces. These people are as Trekkie as they come outside that cinematic universe.

Xandar, or a screen grab from SimCity?
Xandar, or a screen grab from SimCity?

The most interesting setting by far was the mining colony of Knowhere. The immense head of a deceased space god, miners moved in to extract spinal material and brain fluid.

I felt the movie swept this insane aspect of the film under the rug. Space gods with mineable material? Even for the comics that sounds crazy. The colony did not resemble a skull. It should have. Missed opportunity or purposeful ignorance?

The dead god head mining colony Knowhere
The dead god head mining colony Knowhere

Ronan’s ship the Dark Aster is basically the hollowed interior of 2001‘s obelisk. All black and all stone, it’s a wonder the thing can fly. I didn’t like these scenes much, but at least they matched the antagonist’s mood.

Commentary (0/2)

Guardians of the Galaxy is a delightful romp through strange locations in our galaxy. It has little to say about our world.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

Are you offended by the blatant ripping off of Harrison Ford movies? Star-Lord is about as close to Indiana Jones as a character has been in this century. And any movie set amongst alien planets is bound to get a Star Wars tag pegged to it.

In the case of Guardians, the tag is warranted. Early in the movie, a lackey for Thanos speaks with Ronan on the Dark Aster. This lackey is hooded and in a gray-scale hologram that flickers. All of these images evoke Emperor Palpatine communicating with Vader.

Here's Thanos as a hologram that doesn't at all rip off Star Wars
Here’s Thanos as a hologram that doesn’t at all rip off Star Wars

That Peter resembles Han Solo as well seems obvious. He’s a great pilot in a cool ship, but he lacks the Chewbacca needed to cinch the comparison.

Finally, the intro is straight from the E.T. playbook. Young child, large moon, foggy night, well lit space ship; all E.T.

Others

  • The Awesome Mix appears to be Peter’s only Terran songs. We hear all 12 songs in the movie, which spans a few days. Let’s say that Peter listens to one awesome song per day, and has for 26 years. With 12 songs total, Peter has listened to each one about 800 times for 26 years. They’re great songs; they’re not that great.

Summary (34/68): 50%

Guardians of the Galaxy was a surprise hit for Marvel. With only Chris Pratt’s budding star power behind it, the movie premiered in August and ended third for the year at the box office, ahead of all other comic book movies.

Full of characters as colorful as its locations, Guardians delighted audiences with light humor and bonkers action scenes. Let the jokes and the palate distract you, and you’ll have a great time.