[After the “noted” “success” of our LOST rewatch two years ago, James and Scott are back to prepare for the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron the only way they know how: by going through the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, movie by movie. We are not very imaginative. Check in every week as we go into way too much detail about pop entertainment and frequently say people are wrong about things.]
James: So shall we get down to recapping, since we’re running a little late?
Scott: Righty-o, our final MCU Rewatch before whatever it is we end up doing for AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, is what many hailed to be the best Marvel movie yet, and certainly the most unexpected success of the lot: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY!
James: It’s funny, because I remember, leading up to the release of the movie, how the main narrative about it was about how risky it was to make a superhero movie about an obscure team, and whether people would embrace the movie. I spent a lot of time reminding people that Star Wars was a smash hit before any superhero movie. Like, it makes all the sense in the world that a movie about a handsome young orphan of uncertain parentage and his friends, including a wise-cracking rogue and a giant beast that only one person can understand, would resonate with people. They’ve been trained to since 1977!
tl;dr I was right and nerds were wrong
Scott: It’s easy (and fun!) to create the narrative that these D-listers came out of nowhere to become a commercial juggernaut, but the truth is much like you say: Marvel knew a good property when they saw it, and if you looked at the nuts and bolts of GOTG it would have been shocking if it HADN’T succeeded.
James: Plus, at that point, even if they didn’t have the World’s Safest Non-Batman Idea For A Movie, they’d still spent years training people to expect and reflexively go see Marvel movies. My mom knows what Guardians of the Galaxy is!
Scott: I think the form of that success – the level of cultural currency they now have as a result – is the only really surprising aspect. It would be one thing just to make a lot of money, but this movie will probably be better remembered in the future than, say, AVATAR. Better and more fondly, take your pick.
James: Sure sure. And while part of that is definitely the fact that it’s part of the canon of the world’s biggest film franchise, it’s also because the movie definitely did resonate with people, and despite a few rough moments, is pretty good!
Scott: It’s a really fun time at the movies!
James: And with that, let’s get down to business with the actual recapping, with what is maybe the weakest scene of the whole movie!
: It’s the sort of cheesy throwback origin-ish scene on “Earth, 1988″ with little scrapper Peter Quill, being called to his mother’s deathbed as she pontificates about how he’s so much like his father, who will be coming to collect him soon. Li’l Peter, for his part, seems to just want to disappear into his mixtape.
James: Music, and Peter’s relation to that mixtape specifically, is a big part of the movie, but this scene still feels a little perfunctory and ham-fisted to me. I mean, I am down for parent issues in movies as a rule, but the way this is handled, with Peter refusing to fulfill his dying mother’s final request to hold her hand, and then screaming and being abandoned outside the door by his family, feels like it’s mostly just there to set up important things: Peter’s dad being an x factor, Peter’s relationship to his mixtape, Peter’s abduction by aliens. It’s not BAD, but it’s just… functional. It lacks a lot of the cohesive style that the rest of the movie has.
Scott: “Functional” was exactly the word I was going to use. And luckily the sweep it away fairly quickly.
James: The next scene is almost absurdly charming, and excellent at setting up the tone of the movie.
Scott: One way of looking at it is that it puts GOTG in the tradition of all these 80’s and early 90’s movies where a kid gets sucked into an incredible adventure where he turns out to be the ultimate hero – except this is what happens when the kid grows up.
James: Oh, that’s DEFINITELY what it’s doing, I just don’t think it works with the tone of the rest of the movie overall. I am down with The Last Starfighter-ing, as a rule. This is just the exception!
Scott: The maudlin aspects the crop up later in the film kind of outstrip it anyway.
James: Exactly! The way the concept of loss and arrested development is handled later in the movie is much better, and really enhances the feeling that this scene is just obligatory.
Scott: Quill, 20-something years later, lands on the abandoned planet of Morag. He uses some neat spacey tech to find his way to an abandoned cave, where he puts his headphones in and gets down to business… jiving his way to the object of his search to Redbone’s “Come And Get Your Love.”
James: And if there’s one thing that establishes the tone of the movie, it’s Peter Quill, dancing underneath the title, picking up space rats and singing into them like microphones.
Scott: So we know immediately that Quill had spent the bulk of his life in space, and his main connection to Earth culture is an impressivey eclectic mixtape his mother made for him, and that is, as we all know, AMAZING.
James: I’m not sure we know immediately, and the movie plays it surprisingly cool with actually establishing what Peter’s been doing for 20 years, but it’s super efficient at letting us know what matters: this guy is like Luke Skywalker if he was Indiana Jones.
Peter sneaks into an ancient temple and steals an artifact, but is caught by some weird dudes talking about “Ronan,” and who totes haven’t heard of Peter or his sweet outlaw name, Star-Lord. So they chase him down! It’s very Raiders of the Lost Ark-y, in a good way.
Scott: I think we can safely say that anytime this movie is like another movie – which is not infrequently – it’s in a good way. Star-Lord is, in fact, one of the few people in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to give himself a codename, which also strangely helps establish the tone of the movie.
James: One of the last things in the movie we’ll find out is where Peter got that name from, but the idea of a self-styled outlaw who’s really just a dork into Redbone is a fun one. And it sells, very succinctly, the idea that Peter has a higher opinion of himself than other people do.
Scott: It ties nicely into his arrested development – the Star-Lord persona basically seems like something he invented as a kid and he intends to live it out, despite being momentarily deflated by Korath’s “WHO?”
James: It’s fun to have a hero who’s definitely competent at what he does, but who is insecure enough that he gets in his own way.
Scott: Totally! The way he gives Korath & Co the clip shows that he does have some real juice.
James: It’s different than the other MCU superheroes so far, who are all generally pretty smart and charming and talented and always the best. Peter is very frequently NOT the best and, in fact, this movie is explicitly about him learning to get out of his own way. Case in point: Peter escapes into his ship, where he’s surprised by a pretty woman (wearing his childhood t-shirt he was abducted in!) he’s very clearly slept with, but whose name he doesn’t remember and who he forgot was still there. There are people who really dislike the idea of Peter’s womanizing, especially coming from Chris Pratt, but I think it works because the movie pretty consistently establishes that Peter Quill at this stage in the movie isn’t really someone to be emulated. HE might think being a womanizing jerk is cool and what he’s “supposed” to be, because of his stunted development, lack of a real family (and his surrogate one being a bunch of jerks who want to eat him) and outdated idea of what a man is supposed to be, but the viewer is, right from the beginning, in on the idea that Peter isn’t an aspirational figure.
Scott: Literally the first thing we see him do as an adult is animal abuse. But it’s Chris Pratt, so we’re along for the ride on charm alone.
James: Viewers’ mileage may vary, but what I like about it is that Chris Pratt’s natural charm sells you on the idea that Peter COULD be someone you can unabashedly root for, but isn’t yet.
Scott: We are also introduced to Quill’s employer/mentor/abductor, Yondu! Who is… different… I think, from the comics. I love Michael Rooker as space-hick Yondu.
James: With a metal mohawk that mind controls his space arrow!
Scott: I like that 1) Space has hillbillies, and 2) There are three unrelated blue people in this movie who are never stated or even implied to be the same species.
James: The movie’s world-building is very much into showing and not telling, which I’m a fan of; to me, it gives the impression that the world is filled-out and lived-in, whereas when movies do a lot of explaining about their sci fi worlds and alien races and technologies, I usually end up thinking, “Oh, right, you’re saying this because you made it all up, all these things are things that you wrote.” And, obviously, I know that Guardians of the Galaxy is fiction, but I appreciate it encouraging me to suspend disbelief and buy into the movie’s world.
Scott: Case in point: We get some relatively light exposition about the peace treaty between the Kree and Xandarians, and about Ronan, and then we’re off to the races.
James: A news report basically tells us that Ronan is a terrorist zealot who doesn’t accept the peace treaty, and will probably cause trouble later, which is really all we need to know right now. Back to the plot, Yondu calls Peter to ask him why Peter stole the artifact, a metal orb, by himself and isn’t currently on his way to rendevous with Yondu, and Peter basically says, “Hey, you taught me to steal, that’s what we do, I’m gonna sell this, smell you later,” and Peter gets a price put on his head as he heads to Xandar.
Meanwhile, Ronan sends the daughter of his benefactor Thanos, the assassin Gamora, to Xandar to chase after Peter and get the orb, much to the chagrin of her sister, the cyborg Nebula.
Scott: I really like the dynamic between Gamora and Nebula, and I hope it gets more play in future installments. Karen Gillan doesn’t get a lot to do, but she manages to seethe with jealousy toward Gamora in every shot.
James: As far as I’ve read, that’s the plan! We’ll talk about it a bit more later, but I think the character of Nebula was a casualty of the movie’s leanness and general lack of female characters, and some stuff with her was cut, but they’re going to revisit her later.
Scott: Elsewhere on Xandar, Rocket gets the lowdown in various passersby in hopes that one of them happens to have some dirt on them – a bounty, say – while Groot drinks from a fountain, adorably. And by elsewhere on Xandar, I mean literally in the exact same place. Rocket establishes his character by heckling a toddler: “It’s not cool to get help!” Fair to say NONE of these people are aspirational. Except for Groot.
James: Speaking of Rocket, I think he’s a good bellwether for the success of the movie; people were nervous about how a racoon voiced by Bradley Cooper would play in the movie, and with this scene, where he’s snarkily making fun of civilians while scouting for bounties to hunt, we get the general gist of the character, and it’s good! The toddler remark is FANTASTIC.
Scott: Cooper does an amazing job throughout, and honestly if the credits of these movies weren’t obsessively pored over by every nerd, I wouldn’t have recognized him.
James: He’s a much better voice actor than you expect a good-looking Hollywood actor to be; normally, stars like Cooper are hired for voice acting gigs to basically just use their regular voice and attract moviegoers. Cooper, though, actually transforms his voice.
Scott: I was also reading today about how the CGI couldn’t be motion capture because of the differences between a human’s facial features and a raccoon’s, so I want to give a shout out to the VFX team for creating such a fully-realized, sympathetic character.
James: Before we move on, one reason I like the toddler remark from Rocket so much is because sure it’s funny, but it actually highlights how broken and alone Rocket is down inside that he’ll shit on a baby for “getting help.” It’s not just a funny line; it’s a funny line that establishes the major internal conflict of his character!
Scott: Yeah. It shows how thick his barriers are. You know he has some decency deep inside because of his relationship with Groot. He knocks him quite frequently because that’s the only way he knows how to relate, but it’s clear the friendship and loyalty is genuine there. So you know there’s some humanity (so to speak) in him, and it lets you forge an attachment to his character.
James: He spots Peter in the crowd on Xandar, but he’s not the only one. After Peter scares off the buyer for the orb by mentioning Ronan’s name, he leaves the buyer’s place and runs into Gamora, who he tries to flirt with like a scumbag but who hits him, robs him and runs off.
Scott: With Gamora looking to recover the Orb (ostensibly for Ronan,) and Rocket and Groot looking to capture Quill for the bounty, we wind up with a three-way fight scene that just stupendous the way it’s built, with each of the characters getting the upperhand at various points.
James: My favourite part is when Peter literally gets jammed in a potato sack by Groot.
Scott: Mine is when Groot mistakenly grabs Gamora, and Rocket hisses “Learn genders!” Or in the aftermath, when Gamora has cut Groot’s arms off, and Rocket callously reminds him “Ah, they’ll grow back.”
James: With all this bickering going on, all four of them get distracted and ultimately arrested by the Nova Corps, an intergalactic police force from the comics who literally nobody cares about.
Scott: If you’ve looked at Tom Brevoort’s Tumblr, you’d know how strangely not true that is. A lot of people are very concerned about the lack of Richard Rider these days.
James: You also know I don’t consider the average nerd to be “people”
James: It’s weird, because the rest of the movie treats the Nova Corps as being good guys, but they’re introduced as the wardens of a prison who literally collude with prisoners to let them murder other prisoners.
Scott: Depending on where the Guardians are in their arc, they go from being antagonists to supporting protagonists – this is also true of the Ravagers.
James: With the Ravagers, it makes sense, because they’re defined as opportunist jerks, but it struck me watching the movie this time how weird the initial portrayal of the Nova Corps is. That said, delivering the exposition about each Guardian’s background through their police lineup is a stroke of genius.
Scott: The Nova Corps are outwardly squeaky-clean law and order types but I find it interesting that there’s a darkside, it adds a certain dimensionality to their conflict with the Kree, since our heroes aren’t on either side of that conflict really. In general, hiring John C. Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz was a stroke of genius.
James: I still mostly think it’s disjointed writing thats saved by the movie’s considerable charm. But yes, Reilly and Serafinaofiafdajkaznaxzc are good.
Scott: For whatever reason, I found it most interesting that they referred to Rocket by his “real name” of 89P13, kind of showing the low regard humans have for him, that he’s dealt with his whole life.
James: The lineup scene is full of golden little details like that, or how Peter was once arrested for “illegal manipulation of a duchess.”
The prison sequence in general is a great move; it gives a reason for the heroes to all be in a room together and be forced to get along, and the danger of a prison full of people who want to kill them (mostly Gamora, since she murdered a lot of their families) gives a sense of urgency. That said, the prison rape joke like 30 seconds into the scene in the main prison yard is dumb and shouldn’t have been in the movie.
[Scott: The movie has a couple of moments where it just oversteps the line, even for a movie that otherwise revels in bad taste.
James: According to the (somewhat deposed) co-screenwriter Nicole Perlman, those moments generally came from director/co-writer James Gunn. And I’m definitely a James Gunn fan, but he definitely sometimes loses track of where the line is, in his work in general.
Scott: With a tweak it could have easily been like the Star Wars “He doesn’t like you… I don’t like you either” exchange , but they landed wrong.
James: It’s a weird interjection of vague homophobia in a scene that already had physical threat established; it was really unnecessary. Luckily, the rest of the sequence is pretty good, as the team comes together!
Scott: As they are being brought to the yard, we get my absolute 100% favourite line in the movie, POSSIBLY any Marvel film to date. Quill overhears a guard testing out his walkman and is enraged. As they taser him, he defiantly cries out “Blue Swede, ‘Hooked on a Feeling,’ 1974! That song belongs to me!!” They’ve defiled the one thing in the Galaxy Peter has any emotional attachment to whatsoever.
James: And even the idea of “owning” a song (not just a copy) is so hilariously juvenile. It sells Peter’s sustained adolescence.
Scott: His reaction, like so many nerds, is to believe that his love for a piece of pop culture is unique and singular.
James: It’s one of the more succinct lines in the movie.
Scott: Really, the entire film is loaded with tack-sharp banter that’s loaded with characterization!
James: Once the nascent team gets to the yard, we’re introduced to the fifth member of the team: Drax, a green and red muscleman played by WWE wrestler Batista, from a species who doesn’t understand figurative language (something a lot of kids on the Autism spectrum really identified with, which was so cool) and who is trying to get back at Ronan for killing his family. For the time being, he’s ready to settle for killing Gamora in the interim, until Peter talks him out of it. As he explains, Gamora was betraying Ronan anyway, and he’ll be coming for her, so why do his work for him? Better to tag along and get his revenge later, since Ronan’s gonna show up eventually.
Scott: For Rocket and Groot, siding with Gamora and Peter is a better deal than turning him in, for Drax it’s the marshmallow test of not killing someone now so he can kill someone more important later. I love how the reason the Guardians come together is completely self-interest. What was gross and tacky in MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS is 100% in-character for this film.
James: Absolutely! The point of GUARDIANS is that these are broken people who can be healed by friendship, so when they’re self-interested jerks in the first half, it’s okay.
Of course, for the payday to arrive – Gamora’s contact was going to pay enough for the orb to make them billionaires – they first have to get out of prison, and luckily, Rocket has a plan. He needs a few devices: a guard’s wrist-piece, a quantum battery from the guard tower, and an inmate’s prosthetic leg. Unfortunately for anything but fantastic comic timing, as Rocket explains that the battery has to be obtained last because pulling it out of the wall will set off the alarm, Groot is busy in the background obliviously ripping it out of its casing and bringing it over, establishing not just comedy, but a timeline for the heroes.
Scott: This whole thing is pure wonderful. Particularly the one inmate’s incredulous “You want my WHAT?” Chaos erupts as the Guardians fight their way into the watchtower, from where they can shut off the artificial gravity and convert the tower into an escape pod to get to their personal effects. Notably missing: one walkman.
James: Of course, the real comedy is that Rocket was just fucking around asking for the leg.
Scott: “What did he look like, hopping around?”
Scott: Rocket, you stone cold dick, never change (except to allow friendship as an active force in your life.)
James: But the Guardians-to-be escape and head to Knowhere, a den of scum and villainy set inside a dead space god’s head, to sell the orb. Before that, though, they have to wait, and we get some character work, as Peter tries to hit on Gamora AGAIN because he’s dumb as rocks, and she basically threatens to cut his throat as he moves in for a kiss while teaching her about music. Rocket, Groot and Drax are busy betting on a violent animal bloodsport, much to Groot’s horror.
Scott: Knowhere is really cool. It’s a space-casino and mining colony inside the hollowed-out head of a dead Celestial. It’s baller. Peter uses the plot of Footloose to explain the appeal of dancing to Gamora. Although I’ll admit that Gamora’s “Who put the sticks up their butts?” line makes me groan because they already allocated the “doesn’t get metaphors” gag to Drax.
James: Yeah, it’s a bit off, but the scene is mostly saved by Dirtbag Pete getting what’s coming to him.
James: However, what happens next is one of my favourite bits in the movie, as Peter and Gamora’s “moment” is interrupted by Groot and Rocket fighting with Drax. A drunken Rocket is letting out all his frustration at being treated like a monster or, as Drax called him, “vermin,” and how deeply he feels the shame of being a science experiment gone wrong.
[Scott: Back at the animal bloodsport, Drax and Rocket get into a brawl because Drax refers to him as “vermin” which is kiiiiiiiiiind of a trigger word for Rocket.It’s a slur.
James: It’s a surprisingly emotionally affecting scene coming in a movie that has, so far, largely avoided genuine emotionality (by design), prominently featuring a CGI raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper’s New Jersey accent. As patently absurd as that description makes it sound, the scene is genuinely emotional; you really do feel how alone and despairing Rocket is.
Scott: GOTG goes to great lengths to legitimize Rocket’s despair. It doesn’t have an element of “Haha he thinks he’s people” to it, it’s treated very seriously.
James: Part of that arises from how the movie doesn’t make ANYTHING of all the aliens that populate it. In this world, it seems like Rocket would be a natural fit, and the fact that he feels so alone because he’s not, strictly speaking, natural, takes on an extra depth.
Scott: “Do you know how it feels to be taken apart and put back together?” And of course they all have some version of that, and they deal with it in their own ways. We kind of glossed over where Gamora recounts her backstory as being forced into Thanos’ servitude – she and Nebula are not literally Thanos’ daughters.
James: Each of the heroes has loss and loneliness to them, and Rocket’s scene is just the most nakedly emotional of them. Just as things are about to boil over, Gamora’s contact shows up and whisks them off to see the Collector (Benicio del Toro), a psychopath who collects items and species, as well as taking a creepy interest in Groot. He explains that inside the orb is an Infinity Stone, one the six remnants of six singularities that preceded the creation of the universe, and which have incredible power. So much power, in fact, that regular mortals can’t hold one for more than a few seconds without being destroyed (see also: the Tesseract in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER), and which Thanos and Ronan are after.
Scott: I would’ve liked more from Benicio, hopefully he gets to be in the sequel too. He has such a weird, quirky, nasty energy here, but he mostly just spills some exposition that I’m not even sure his character would have wanted to share.
James: Apparently, his contract includes the option to be in more movies, so I’d count on it.
Scott: Elsewhere, Ronan gets summoned to Thanos’ Sanctuary, where Ronan gets to kill Thanos’ annoying cloaky guy from MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS, and Thanos scolds Ronan for being a dumb baby about his fundamentalist agenda. (And about Gamora betraying him.)
James: He also calls Gamora his favourite daughter, which Nebula is probably fine with.
Scott: I quite liked the glimpse we got of Josh Brolin as Thanos.
James: A little meatier than his I-wanna-fuck-Death smirk in the MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS credits. Meanwhile, as the Collector explains the Infinity Stones, his slave girl gets tired of putting up with his shit and tries to use the Stone to get revenge, but she mostly just ends up blowing up.
Scott: Which, considering what became of his last slave girl, was probably an upshot she’d considered.
James: Drax, personally upset at all this dithering, literally calls up Ronan and says, ‘Hey, I’m here, wanna fight about it?”
Scott: Sometimes I hate in movies when characters make bad choices just because it suits the plot, but this is one case it makes perfect sense.
James: Yeah, Drax’s literal whole deal is that he’s so blinded by rage at Ronan killing his family that he’ll do dumb, impetuous things.
Scott: And as fearsome as Drax is, Ronan literally just shrugs him off.
James: It’s a nice touch that the otherwise unstoppable Drax the Destroyer just can’t even scuff Ronan, because it drives home, as we’ll see later, how pointless his rage and vendetta were. But we’re burying the lede: Rocket, Peter and Gamora try to escape in super tough mining ships, which Rocket uses to basically just pinball off enemy ships to destroy them, and which Peter uses to pilot a second ship. A spaceship piloting a spaceship is super dope. God Bless America.
Scott: The whole thing is terrific-looking and inventive, like the bulk of the action in this movie. And all the while, Gamora is pleading with her sister for sanity. Nebula is… less than sympathetic.
James: Yeah, instead she just blows up Gamora’s ship, grabs the orb and leaves her sister to die in space. Luckily, Peter took Gamora’s near murdering him and accusations of being “despicable, dishnourable, [and] faithless” to heart, calls Yondu to surrender, gives Gamora his oxygen mask, buying just enough time to be rescued… by Yondu… who still wants to let his crew eat Peter.
Scott: I love Peter’s later appraisal of this threat: “Why do you feel the need to hold that over me? That’s not something normal people even consider!”
James: It’s the culmination of Peter’s surge of self-awareness, as he finally realizes that these guys weren’t really the best models of masculinity for him.
Scott: And the moment when Star-Lord risks his own life to save Gamora has a real transformative feel to it. The smart, pragmatic thing would be to turn back with Rocket, but he is suddenly overcome by the urge to Do The Right Thing (1989)
James: It’s a trifecta of scenes: Peter’s empathy for Rocket, his decision to save Gamora, and his final rejection of his upbringing.
Scott: Peter and Gamora strike a deal with the Ravagers: help stop Ronan and the Infinity Stone is yours.
James: Back in Knowhere, Rocket is less than sympathetic to Drax’s guilt for ruining everything, literally telling him that he’s not special, “Everyone’s got dead people,” and basically telling him, much to Groot’s aghast face, to stop being a baby. This has the odd effect of bonding them.
Scott: Drax realizes he can’t kill Ronan on his own, and the three resolve to rescue Peter and Gamora. By threatening to blow up the ship they’re on.
James: It is not a great plan.
Scott: Fortunately things are on their way to working themselves out out by now – Peter has 12% of a plan to stop Ronan, which as Groot notes, is more than 11%. All he needs is his new friends by his side. (And presumably the other 88%.)That whole run, as they finally agree to stick together, is one of the best scenes in the movie, with some of that delightful, bouncy yet load-bearing dialogue.
James: I really like Peter’s speech where he basically says, yeah, they’re all assholes, but they’ve all lost people, and that lets them understand each other. It’s genuine, and undercut with enough Rocket bickering that it never feels too top-heavy.
Scott: “I have spent my life surrounded by enemies. It would be an honour to die surrounded by my friends.”
James: Cue super cool getting pumped montage set to “Cherry Bomb” by the Runaways! For a movie that sometimes has gender issues, it’s kinda cool that one of the more important musical sections in the movie is set to an iconic song by an all-woman band. The montage also features Drax briefly considering wearing a shirt before shrugging and deciding to keep it shirtless, as per the usual.
Scott: Peter also sends a transmission asking for help from the Nova Corps (or really, asking that the Novas don’t arrest the Guardians when they show up to help stop Ronan since the Novas would have to work on stopping him anyway,) reasoning that “[he] may be an a-hole but he is not,” and John C. Reilly is quoting here, “100% a dick.”
James: It bugs me a little that Peter’s “a-hole” comment is calling back to a scene where Saul, played by Peter Seraasfdjkasnaizc, called the Guardians a “bunch of a-holes” but Peter was in a different room and couldn’t hear. But that’s maybe nitpicking, and besides the point considering it’s followed by Glenn Close, as Nova Prime, asking John C. Reilly if he believes Peter and he says, “Well, I’m not sure ANYONE is 100% a dick.”
Peter’s 12% of a plan is charmingly dopey: have the Guardians, Ravagers and Nova Corps team up to attack Ronan’s ship and blast a hole in it, whereupon the Guardians will go inside and shoot Ronan, now juiced up on the Infinity Stone and having rejected Thanos, with the Doomsday gun that Rocket designed earlier.
Scott: It does not go great!
James: For a short time, this all goes according to plan, and the Guardians (minus Rocket, who sticks behind in a ship to help attack Ronan’s forces and defend Xandar) move through Ronan’s ship, their way lit by Groot’s glowing spores. And as funny as the movie is, and as good as the action is (who knew James Gunn was good at directing CGI spaceship dogfights and Drax chokeslamming dudes), I really like the simple beauty of the Guardians temporarily being moved by glowing lights, as a team.
Unfortunately, it’s interrupted by the single worst part of the movie, as Drax, trying to convey his feelings to his friends, calls Gamora a whore, which is both offensive and doesn’t make any sense, by the movie’s own rules about Drax.
Scott: Yeah, that line was just all kinds of wrong.
James: Like, Drax’s whole deal, by the movie’s own explanation, is that he does;t understand figurative language. So why is he saying that Gamora literally has sex for money? She… doesn’t. And the fact that it’s used as a gendered slur is just gross. It shouldn’t have made the final script. Previously, Gunn has been good about making genuine apologies about being unintentionally offensive for things like this, but he kinda dug in his heels with this publicly, if I recall.
Scott: It’s a garbage line. Like, that’s all there is to it. Even if the joke weren’t grossly offensive, it wouldn’t land.
James: It’s really unfortunate that it follows such an earnest scene, because it means the movie suddenly has to work harder to get me back into it.
Scott: I would have liked Drax to call Gamora a “walking thesaurus,” making his first attempt at figurative speech without having any idea what he’s saying. But hey, I wasn’t hired to punch this one up. Maybe the next one.
James: I’ll send in our application.
Scott: Before Drax, Groot and Star-Lord can get to Ronan, Gamora has to fight off Nebula to open the armored doors (why Ronan has to hide when he wields the most powerful weapon in the galaxy, iunno.) This whole climactic battle has some of that “Everyone gets their own mini-mission” jazz, the way THE WINTER SOLDIER did.
James: I liked that it featured Drax giggling and smiling at outrageous violence whether it’s done by him or a beatific, beaming Groot.
Scott: Groot can THROW DOWN in this.
James: The juxtaposition between Groot’s otherwise peaceful nature and his capacity for brutal violence – simultaneously impaling a dozen bad guys with his vines and smashing them against the floor and ceiling like they’re a jump rope – is fun.
Scott: We’ve seen Groot’s violent streak before – the aforementioned prison yard scene – but it mostly comes out when his friends are threatened.
James: Nebula makes her escape after being edged out by Gamora in their fight, Gamora opens the door to Ronan’s lair, and let’s just say the plan works, end movie.
Scott: We also finally get to see Yondu do his thing with that magic arrow.
James: That’s one of the more interesting slow burns in the movie; pretty much all of Yondu’s scenes feature him menacing someone (usually Peter) with his weird stick that he controls by whistling, and at first it seems silly, until he uses it to take out two dozen of Ronan’s soldiers, including a fighter jet, by himself.
Scott: It’s a really great payoff.
James: It does a pretty good job of reversing Yondu’s silliness.
Oh, also, the plan to kill Ronan doesn’t work, he’s unfazed by it, his forces break through the super visually cool blockade set up by the Nova Corps, Peter Serafnaisdjfnasnzc dies, and Rocket basically crashes Peter’s ship into Ronan out of revenge.
Scott: As Ronan’s ship crashes, Groot realizes there is only one way to save everybody… to sacrifice himself by forming a sort of branch-shell around them. And why does he do it? Because “We are Groot.” Shut up, YOU’RE crying.
James: On paper, it sounds like it could be hokey, but in the moment, it plays REALLY well following the team’s coming together before the suicide run. Groot, by virtue of not being able to talk in standard language, mostly communicates through smiles and being translated by Rocket. But to show his change, something dramatic is needed, and the simple twist on his language abilities is a killer moment. Unlike Drax’s inability to understand figurative language, Groot’s language “rules” are more casually defined; Rocket tells Peter that Groot can only communicate by saying, “I am Groot,” but that’s a loose enough definition, given by someone who doesn’t necessarily know the whole truth, that it gives Gunn and Perlman some wiggle room to create a dramatic moment by subverting the rule.
Scott: Totally. It’s a combination of our familiarity with the “I am Groot” catchphrase, and the implication of the change, that he considers his friends an extension of himself, being obvious.
James: It comes off as elegant and genuine; it’s one of the slickest moments in the entire script, and it successfully washes out the bad taste from Drax’s line earlier. It’s just fantastic.
Scott: There Vin Diesel goes, taking a mostly-mute voice role and making everyone bawl their eyes out when he sacrifices himself. Again.
James: Because of Groot’s sacrifice, the team survives. Unfortunately, so does the cosmically juicing’ Ronan.
Scott: Ronan gives the team their name, sarcastically (it’s been a while since we had a square on codename bingo!) and Peter, inspired by the Five Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child,” decides the rest of his plan is to challenge Ronan to… a danceoff!
James: That one-two of Groot’s emotional sacrifice and Peter’s dance-off, for me, nails what I like about the movie; it’s able to be earnest when it wants to be, but it’s also dedicated to subverting the genre expectation of Capital-I Importance. I mean, Iron Man is wry and sardonic, but ultimately each of his three movies ends with him being a super serious action hero. GUARDIANS’ climax is instigated by pure goofiness and dancing. Ronan is a Super Serious Character, and when the Guardians engage him seriously, they fail each time, because they can’t compete on that level. You can’t shoot him, you can’t drive a spaceship at him, you can’t punch him to death. But you can disarm him with silliness. Or, as Peter says, “I’m distracting you, you big turd blossom!”
Scott: Ultimately the Guardians win because they are comedy characters, which is rad.
James: And not only do they win because they’re comedy characters, but they win because they’re capable of learning. Peter learns to a different approach. Drax learns that, instead of shooting right at the invulnerable Ronan, he should instead shoot at the gem to dislodge it. Ultimately, the Guardians succeed because they’re able to move past their baser instincts – selfishness, impetuousness, loneliness – to actually grow up. Peter learning to harness his adolescent tendencies without sacrificing his new-found ability to connect with others is, for real, the actual Important Stuff.
How important is that connection? The team literally defeats Ronan by holding hands (to spread out the destructive power of the Infinity Stone to keep them all from immediately exploding) and using the Care Bear Stare. The Power of Friendship saves the day.
Scott: And as with the above, it’s not hokey at all. In fact, it was explicitly stated earlier that the Infinity Stone’s power could be shared, at least for a hot minute.
James: Like the titular team, the movie’s core strength is that underneath its jokes, it’s totally genuine.
And with Ronan defeated and Xandar saved, the team gets thanks and full pardons from the Nova Corps, which Rocket and Drax immediately do their best to ruin by openly talking about committing crimes. My favourite joke sequence in the movie is John C. Reilly trying to explain to Rocket that he can’t take something from someone (robbery) just because he wants it more than them, and to Drax that killing people is murder, “one of the worst crimes of all.” Rocket just does not get it.
Scott: Quill reluctantly lives up to his bargain by giving Yondu the Infinity Stone and oh wait it’s just a Troll doll. Which is nice, because he had earlier professed an affection for dashboard trinkets.
James: Luckily, Yondu appreciates both the troll doll and the ruse just enough that he says he’s glad that they never delivered Peter to his dad all those years ago like they were supposed to. Bum bum BUMMMMMM
Peter’s dad, who is described by his mom as being an angel of pure light, and whose genes the Nova Corps credit with allowing Peter to not explode when he touched the Infinity Stone. Peter’s dad, who in the comics is the evil ruler of Spartax, and who in the movie… might be an Eternal?
Scott: Or… Pip the Troll??? No, probably not Pip the Troll.
James: Russo Swerve: Thanos is Peter’s dad.
Scott: Thank goodness Gamora’s adopted.
With that, the Guardians of the Galaxy move on to do something good, something bad, or a little bit of both.
James: As the movie ends, Peter – who hallucinated his mom (Momllucinated(tm)) during the final climax and finally grabbed her hand (Gamora’s hand), symbolizing his growth – finally opens his mother’s death gift to him: a new mixtape, which starts off STRONG, with one of the legitimate best songs of all time, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
Scott: Followed by the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back.” Mama Quill was a woman of tastes.
James: And, in the final shot before the credits, we see a baby Groot dancing in his pot, having been planted by Rocket in desperate hope, rewarded. So the team is united, they’ve all grown up a little, and they’re off to get into trouble in 2017! Final thoughts?
Scott: This is just a really fun movie! The comedy is never at odds with the action or the drama: where a lesser film might downplay the comedy when the time comes to get the gears of the plot or action moving, the two blend seamlessly here. James Gunn, despite a couple of missteps in the dialogue that betray a retrograte sensibility, keeps the tone light and loose with great dialogue that generally feels like it’s being delivered by 3-dimensional characters with real motivations and personalities. The movie creates a fully-realized universe to play in, and fully takes advantage of being cut off from the rest of the MCU, while still managing to feel loosely like part of the same cloth. The plot isn’t brilliant or complicated by any means, and Ronan is in the Malekith/Red Skull tradition of Marvel villains in that he’s barely worth mentioning, but watching the main characters go is just a blast. Since Nebula and the Collector both got out alive, there’s a chance their talented actors will get a chance to have more fun in a future instalment. The only real loser in this is Lee Pace.
James: I actually think the characterization of Ronan works, because his serious, dour nature is a counterpoint to the deliberately overstuffed and volatile personalities of the Guardians. His background is explained succinctly, and I think the scenes where he and Thanos interact actually gives him a lot of characterization. He’s still a relative negative space to balance the Guardians, but it feels really deliberate and not scant character-building.
Scott: I think you’re right about that. I don’t think it can have been fun for Pace to play, but I think it was right for the film.
James: He’s not Loki, but who can be?
Scott: Well, he does get to ham it up a BIT.
James: The hammier Ronan scenes are definitely fun. I love him just going full-on goth teen at Thanos.
We didn’t talk about it before, but a big part of the success of the movie, to me, is Chris Pratt, an actor I’ve followed since EVERWOOD. The fact that Chris Pratt is now a bonafide action star is pretty nuts to me! He’s got enough ridiculous natural charm that he’s able to endear the character to the audience even at the beginning, when the movie is showing how immature he is. The movie doesn’t apologize for his adult adolescence and, in fact, openly critiques it, so Pratt’s portrayal is the necessary counter-balance. You always BELIEVE that Peter can be a good guy.
Scott: It almost goes without saying – but we really should take care to do so anyway – that Pratt’s charm, from the second you see him shimmying to Redbone, is the main line on which the film rests. We had a lot more to say about Rocket, but the delicate layers of overgrown boyhood sensitivity clashing with macho bravado makes Star-Lord a great central figure for the film.
James: Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan aren’t given a lot of background by the script, and their conflict isn’t really allowed to naturally show itself, but I think they did good work with what they were given.
Scott: Yeah, Saldana in particular has a tough line to walk, as the “most dangerous woman in the galaxy” but also someone who feels deeply broken inside and is trying to make amends. She does it quite well.
James: It MOSTLY works for me, but it would be interesting to see what the movie could have given her with an extra 15 minutes of running time. And as we’ve said, the movie does have flaws – the script doesn’t always know what to do with characters like Nebula, and there are the unfortunate jokes – but overall the script does a good job of presenting broken people and having them grow up through being able to personally connect.
One detail I really like is that they stop making smarmy jokes at each other’s expense as the movie goes on and they start being able to emotionally engage with each other. It’s never addressed overtly, but it’s a nice, pretty subtle change. It’s an example of the movie SHOWING the development instead of only relying on Peter’s speech, which would have been a mistake.
Finally, the music is simply fantastic.
Scott: I can go on at length – and have – about how wonderful this soundtrack is, both for its own sake, and as a feature of the film, taking these eclectic elements that nonetheless have their own timeless appeal, much like the ingredients that make up the film itself, and inform Quill’s personality. I’ve often wondered, for instance, if 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love,” with its spoken bridge of “Be quiet, big boys don’t cry…” seriously damaged Quill as a kid. Quill had a bunch of thieves and maybe 100 minutes of pop music to teach him how to be a human being. It’s a wonder he turned out as good as he did.
James: He had to learn how to be well adjusted from DAVID BOWIE. He’s lucky he didn’t run across space cocaine.
It’s easily the best use of pop music in the MCU, which trends towards radio-friendly bro rock.
Scott: Although THE WINTER SOLDIER had a Marvin Gaye song too!
James: But only as a punctuating, movie-ending song and not an overall active part of the soundtrack. Yes, though, WINTER SOLDIER is delightful, as people will have discovered earlier today.
Scott: Anyway, I’m just plain excited to find out what else is on Awesome Mix 2.
James: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY continues the MCU’s Phase 2 trend of allowing more personal, stylized movies from the directors. It’s really not like anything else in the MCU. It also has the interesting honour of standing out completely from the rest of the MCU, with pretty much no crossover so far. That relative isolatedness let James Gunn and Nicole Perlman make a movie that really stands on its own, that, if anything, connects to pop culture other than the MCU.
Scott: It’s just really refreshing. There’s a reason why everyone loves it.
James: And with that, our FAST AND FURY-OUS rewatch of the MCU comes to a close. Any final thoughts on the endeavour as a whole?
Scott: The cliche goes that Marvel is just churning out cookie-cutter films for the marketplace, and while there are certain elements they can’t seem to get away from, all the best films add something fresh to the palette. Each of these movies can be viewed as an opportunity to further tweak that formula, to experiment a little more, culminating in the character-deepening of IRON MAN 3, the oddly astute politics of THE WINTER SOLDIER, and of course the kitchen sink zeitgeist of GUARDIANS.
In rewatching these movies, I’ve mostly gotten a new appreciation for them – even the ones I liked less on recent views, I feel good about the way my awareness of them feels more complete. It’s pretty important to double-check our own opinions and those of others (which usually seem to be wrong.) Basically: screw you, nerds!
James: Going through the rewatch, I was surprised at how some of my opinions on the movies had changed; I came out of it doubling down on my love of the THOR movies and really taking a 180 on MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS. Mostly though, it was just nice to watch the movies and talk about the themes and connective tissue that ran between them, but in a deeper way than just counting the references and Easter Eggs.
Scott: The Marvel Cinematic Universe takes an inevitability – the blockbuster film – and prods and massages it into being better, to get away from the complacency we all worry about in our big budget action flicks. At its best, anyway.
James: One interesting critique I hear of it is that it’s training people to anticipate what’s next instead of appreciating movies as discrete objects, and while I know there are definitely some viewers who are hooked on the trailer-and-rumour mill, I generally think that’s an unfair critique. The MCU stands as an interesting intersection of blockbuster action movies and the serialized storytelling of both comics and old movie serials. And after having watched 10 serialized movies over the last few months with you, I feel comfortable saying that the movies hold up best as relatively discrete entities. Or, at least, the heroes themselves do.
Scott: These films remain fun to watch. No thinkpiece about how Marvel collapsing in on itself can take that away. And with that, I’m gonna go collapse in on myself for the night.
[And that’s it, folks! Tune in later for however James and Scott decide to discuss Avengers: Age of Ultron, and watch the distant, less exhausted future for whatever the next rewatch project is!]