As The Avengers: Endgame approaches, Team Midnight has committed to watch all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films released to date in chronological (story) order: 22 films in 8 weeks. Follow along with us.
As The Avengers hunt down Hydra on earth, elsewhere in the universe, a very different kind of team is about to meet up.
Hero: The Guardians of the Galaxy
“I have lived most of my life surrounded by my enemies. I would be grateful to die surrounded by my friends.”-Gamora
The Guardians are:
- Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord
- Drax the Destroyer
- Rocket Raccoon
Our heroes, who count among them a pirate, an assassin, a notorious criminal, and a pair of bounty hunters, are the cast off and disenfranchised dregs of the intergalactic criminal underground. Together they form a sweet ass Voltron of redemption and friendship known as The Guardians of the Galaxy.
- Irani Rael / Nova Prime
- Rhomann Dey and The Nova Corps
Villain: Ronan the Accuser
“They call me terrorist. Radical. Zealot. Because I obey the ancient laws of my people the Kree and punish those who do not.”
Remember the Kree? From Captain Marvel? Ronan is a fanatical Kree military warlord with a penchant for genocide.
Villain Complexity Rating: 2/5
It’s nice to have more background on Ronan now that Captain Marvel is out, but unfortunately neither of these films is concerned with providing much beyond the broad strokes of this character. Ronan is Kree zealot on some heavy colonialist bullshit who REALLY HATES the planet of Xandar, so he’s agreed to do some side quests for Thanos in exchange for its destruction. He’s a warrior with access to political power and resources of the highest order, but as portrayed here, Ronan’s defining trait is his superpowered ability to hold a grudge, kinda like people who hate bike lanes or drug law reform.
“What’s at Stake” Rating: 3/5
Ronan has arranged for Thanos to destroy Xandar in exchange for an Orb, which is presumably a powerful weapon. So in earth terms, the stakes aren’t super high for an MCU plot. When Ronan later learns that the orb contains the Power Stone, things get a bit more interesting as he betrays Thanos and threatens to kill him.
What did our hero(es) learn?
The Guardians, each hardened and accustomed to facing life’s gauntlet on their own, discover that their collective baggage is easier to manage if they carry it together. They also learn that Groot can do all sorts of crazy shit and Peter is probably a demigod.
Heroism Rating: 2.5/5
The Guardians are a moral work in progress. The mercenary tendencies of Peter Quill and Rocket tend to be at odds with the less materialistic motivations of Gamora or Drax. They’re learning, but it’s hard. In the end, and in spite of themselves, each of them makes the semi altruistic leap into oblivion in order to save Xandar (and themselves).
Visual Aesthetic/CGI Rating: 4.5/5
Guardians of the Galaxy’s visual style is in lockstep with it’s quirky sense of humor, and it works every bit as well. Where the first Thor film embraced the psychedelic nature of Asgard, Guardians introduces the truly random nature of the rest of the galaxy. There are at least three different types of blue people in this film, but it doesn’t register as particularly strange amid the rich color and character palettes in play. The costumes and character design are plasticine but alive, and the purely CGI characters Rocket and Groot are almost seamlessly incorporated in with the real action. Environments are at times almost glowing with immaculate tech, and others convincingly grimy. The visuals are a huge factor in this film’s success.
Heroic Cinema Saturation Index
Betsy Rating: 4.5/5
I love the Guardians! They’re all heart. The warmth of their friendship is a wonderful surprise, because they’re a pretty nasty bunch on the surface – criminals and murderers and thieves all n’er-do-wellin, with their sneaky plots and friends in low places. The juxtaposition of Peter Quill’s lighthearted humor with Drax’s inability to understand metaphor, Gamora’s sultry, righteous ferocity, and the creaturish one-of-a-kindness of both Rocket and Groot is rich material for writer/director James Gunn, whose cinematic homeplace is the outrageous, socially unacceptable land of B-horror movies. Compared to the Troma landscapes he grew up in, this corner of space is a colorful, slick wonderland – and Gunn makes it sparkle with tight, witty dialogue, a nip of nostalgic sentimentality, and a soundtrack of just-familiar-enough pop classics… I had no idea that combining this strange and specific set of things with a story about friendship between space pirates would warm up my insides so completely, but it really does! After the intense heroism levels in the 10 MCU films we’ve watched so far (Tony Stark a notable exception of course), Guardians is exactly the splash of irreverent, silly, barely heroic imaginative space adventure we didn’t even know we needed. That great scene where Groot lights the way through the scary spaceship (“The Dark Aster” – what a great name!) by mysteriously producing all these little glowy, organic puff balls that fill the air like stars – so beautiful and strange for no reason at all – feels like an appropriate example of how this movie is. So inexplicable, so unexplained, so unnecessary… and yet, that moment – when these misfits, who are defined by sarcasm and loneliness and pain, marvel together at a shared gesture of unexpected beauty, it binds them to one another in a deeply felt way, and makes all of our hearts grow a little bit.
Justin’s Rating: 4.5/5
Well, we’ve officially crossed over the midpoint in this exercise in objective, science-based film criticism, and just as I was beginning to fatigue slightly from all the heroism and do-gooding, in stroll The Guardians to spike the punch and crank up the stereo at this superparty before folks start leaving. Don’t get it twisted – I’m still having a good time even though Phase II got off to a rough start and Winter Soldier deftly got this thing back on track but shit was getting kinda heavy up in the MCU before these dudes showed up.
Everybody knew Guardians was going to be a stupid good time from the moment the trailers hit the internet. This thing was way too goofy and awesome to fail, and it fully met our collective expectations. Dave Bautista’s deadpan stoicism is of course GOTG’s secret comedy weapon, but everyone takes turns doing the heavy lifting generating laughs. Bradley Cooper’s Rocket is perfect snark, and Zoe Saldana’s suspicious, eye-rolling demeanor toward Quill is really funny stuff. I can even forget for a moment that Chris Pratt is a real life dickhole he’s so funny in this. James Gunn nailed the interplay, tone, and dialogue of these characters dead center, but it’s more than funny – Guardians has gigatons of heart, and Gamora is at the center of it. While all the boys have their kumbaya moments, each of them is something of a punchline to some pretty broad character stuff (see Drax declaring his friendship to “this dumb tree” and “this green whore”**, or Rocket’s “I don’t got that long a lifespan anyway” commitment to the team). Each of these characters has a past rife with pain and suffering, but Gamora’s suffering isn’t just her past, it’s tied to Thanos, who is very much alive. Zoe Saldana manages an armored vulnerability in this character that is simply heartbreaking amid all the goofy antics and awesome shit happening. It’s great to see another major female character written and portrayed with deep sympathy who can also be a badass leader (which she definitely is in these films).
This being my 5th or 6th viewing of Guardians of the Galaxy, I was surprised to discover that this time felt different. I’m sure it’s because we’re watching these films in sequential story order, but Guardians doesn’t feel quite as strong to me as it once did. Ronan, even with the benefit of a significant role in Captain Marvel, is a little thin, even though his war paint looks cool as hell. His obsession with destroying the entire planet of Xandar is kind of breezed over with a line or two of aphoristic ranting about how he’s mad about a peace treaty they struck with the Kree after a generations long war. Even though he gets roasted in the end and we know Thanos was the Grimace pulling his strings, it would have been nice for him to be a real character. These films are titled after the heroes, but the strongest of them are all about the villains, and Guardians whiffed it in that respect. Stemming from this same deficiency is an inadequately explained Nova Corps, which is a bummer cuz they’re super cool! After Thor, Cap, and The Avengers did such a solid job with world building, this feels a little weak.
This is in no way to say that I don’t still love this film, because I do.
**This line was controversial, but is defensible as it is consistent with Drax’s hyper literal comprehension of the world. The inmates in the Kyln were calling her this, which he failed to understand as an insult, which is pretty funny imo.
Guardians of the Galaxy is available to rent online through Vudu or the Google Play/iTunes app stores. It’s a total standalone, so not really required to get the MCU storyline, but it’s a ton of fun, so you should see it anyway!
Want to come see Endgame with us?
If you’re a Minnesoter and would like to join us, we’re going to see The Avengers: Endgame at 8:30pm at the Rosedale AMC on Thursday, April 25th (opening night). Let us know if you plan to come – the more the merrier.