This is the true face of Marvel: a few cheap, safe blockbusters, followed by something unique. Eventually Marvel will run out of unique stories to tell and unique ways to tell them, but until then, we have gems like Guardians of the Galaxy. It is a twist on the tried and true MCU formula by taking the same set up but throwing a monkey wrench into it by focusing on a group of misfits and their implausible camaraderie. Guardians is a film that celebrates and embraces weird. It’s like Am/Pm: too much good stuff, but most of it is hidden under the surface, which carries the soundtrack that elevates the film to such accessible heights. How does such an oddity exist in the same universe as the bleak and emotionally daunting Captain America: The Winter Soldier?
The Winter Soldier is one of the most serious films I have ever seen, but it has such a fluffy opening by comparison to the rest of the film, where Guardians has an incredibly depressing and heart-wrenching opening compared to, well, any film. So our lead, Star Lord, is a goofball, but his true character is buried deep down. This is perfectly apt to the rest of our cast. Everyone is crazy on the surface, but there is a lot of complex emotions that drive them. Drax is insane, Gamora is aggressive, Rocket is cynical, and I am Groot. They are the most unlikely of allies that come together for their own selfish reasons. The tale is simple enough, but the true magic of the film is the heart that it carries. Rather than the central narrative and a story revolving around one character, we, instead, get a group of characters that are part of a bigger universe who reluctantly come together to save the universe, despite how many hardships have fallen upon them. It’s this big idea that shows our lovable miscreants compassion, and selflessness.
Even though the central narrative focuses around Star Lord and Gamora, they are probably the weakest performances in the film. Not that they are, by any means, bad, everyone else is so good. Sure, Star Lord is the Average Joe, but there is some real humanity in the other creatures. In this film I like Rocket the most, but I think Drax is the best performance. When Rocket goes from pointing a laser gun at a big muscle head to lamenting the anguish of his existence, it really breaks your heart. On the other hand, when Drax calls Gamora a “green whore” when describing her as his friend, followed by shooting Nebula in the face with a rocket launcher, then exclaims “nobody speaks ill of his friends”, it cracks you up. Drax is charming, crazy and hilarious, but he is never annoying. It is a film that celebrates weird and colorful characters, figuratively and literally. Although Ronan is very one note, he is one of the more notable villains, and that is mostly because of the intense performance of master thespian Lee Pace. He is so magnetic when he is on screen that his “bad guy want break stuff” motif is simple to overlook. Ronan is acceptable considering the world to universe level of threat that is presented in this film.
You can not talk about Guardians without bringing up Awesome Mix Vol. 1. It may be the greatest hook of all time in cinema. Is it the best soundtrack? Well that is subjective, but it is a great way to get the audience invested, establish a tone, and add a little something more to the main character. My favorite moment in the film is when Star Lord is demanding his Walkman back, but not because of his fondness for music, but because of his love for his mother. It’s the line “damn it, that’s my song” that explains the necessity of the soundtrack. His mother made that for him, especially. The songs are an extension of his emotions. Sure the songs are fun, but it’s not about the songs, it’s about Peter. Peter is Awesome Mix.
So Iron Man 3 is the more funny film, but Guardians is the more silly. All Marvel needs to do to keep their momentum going is to keep throwing curve balls like this, so their movie timeline can stay fresh. Guardians can make you cry, and it will make you laugh. The Guardians themselves are some of the best on screen characters in that they are oddities but have very real emotions and constantly grow but never betray their broken nature. Though the GotG theme is very memorable, it’s the clever use of classic pop songs to establish the tone and mood, and it ties the whole thing together. I once made a case for Guardians of the Galaxy to win best picture at the Oscars. I stand by The Winter Soldier is the superior film, but I believed Guardians was just accessible enough to snag the win. My hope was a bit beyond the realm of realism, but when I held my own version of the Oscars, Guardians of the Galaxy won best “I am Groot”.