I had never heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy before this movie was announced. I admittedly haven’t read a lot of Marvel comics, so I was in the same position as the general audience was with being introduced to these characters. Obviously, it was billed as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe so that meant nine movies of clout behind it, and it was an August release, four months after Captain America: The Winter Soldier. There wasn’t much in the way of expectations for it at all.
I think to say that it was surprisingly good is a little unfair. I hadn’t disliked an MCU movie to that point and had every reason to have confidence in this one, but because it was such an unknown property to me and the general audience, I don’t think I knew what to expect with it at all. It looked like it could have been similar to a lot of other movies that I liked but I just didn’t know.
So, I guess I could say that I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it, even though I wasn’t expecting it to be bad. It’s the first time an MCU movie has devoted that much of its script to humorous exchanges, but in Guardians of the Galaxy the jokes all seem to be pretty well timed and don’t derail the overall tone or intentions of the story. In fact, the movie starts pretty heavy with a young Peter Quill witnessing the death of his mother in a hospital before he runs off and is abducted by aliens.
Fast forward to present time and adult Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord, played by Chris Pratt, is scavenging an orb from a remote planet before minions of Kree Warlord Ronin can get their hands on it. Ronin is our villain, played by Lee Pace and he has designs on genocide of the Xandarians, whom he loathes with a passion. To achieve this goal, he has partnered with Thanos, the Mad Titan and his two daughters, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora and Karen Gillan’s Nebula. If Ronin retrieves the orb for Thanos, then the Mad Titan will destroy Xandar for him cut and dry.
Now, as an audience member we have been aware of Thanos for two years at this point as we determined in the mid-credit scene of The Avengers that he was the one who gave Loki his mind control scepter and the Chitauri army to conquer Earth with. Four movies later, we now see him within an actual MCU movie in what really amounts to a cameo, but it’s still important in establishing that he wants the orb.
The problem is that everyone seems to be playing Hot Potato with it. Quill tries to sell it himself apart from his handler Yondu and The Ravagers, but his broker won’t buy it after discovering Ronin wants it. Gamora attempts to steal it from him on Xandar but is interrupted by Rocket Raccoon and Groot, who are trying to cash in on a bounty for Quill that was set up by Yondu and The Ravagers to get him back. Everyone is arrested by Nova Corps and sent to The Kyln space prison, where Quill, Rocket and Groot learn that Gamora wants to sell the orb to The Collector, Benicio del Toro’s character that we met in the Thor sequel mid-credit scene, for four billion units. Her primary goal is to keep it away from Ronin and save Xandar, but the others all want the big payday. With the aid of Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer, who originally had designs on killing Gamora because Ronin killed his family, the group busts out of the Kyln and head for Knowhere to meet The Collector.
When they get there, he tells them what’s inside the orb: An Infinity Stone. The Power Stone, to be precise. No one person can wield it and even a group would have trouble with it. The Guardians get a taste of the stone’s power up close and personal when one of The Collector’s servants, tired of being a slave, grabs the stone and allows it to annihilate herself to escape his torment. The resulting destruction scares the others, but an incoming attack from Ronin forces them to flee. He gets the stone, becomes aware of what it is, double-crosses Thanos and decides to destroy Xandar himself with it, leaving the Guardians, with the aid of Yondu and The Ravagers, to save Xandar from genocidal annihilation at the hands of Ronin and his ship, The Dark Aster.
While this movie is loaded with humor, a ton of it coming from Bradley Cooper who voices Rocket Raccoon, there are definitely some more serious moments and emotional beats here and there and the cast and crew definitely have a lot of heart, which serves this film very well. You care about Quill, Gamora, Rocket, Groot and even Drax as they deal with their own struggles as misfits while attempting to do the right thing and save the day. They’re clumsy, they don’t always get every joke and they’re not above making mistakes, but they endear themselves to the audience in a way that allows it all to work.
Clearly that formula worked very well for Marvel Studios as it grabbed $773.3 million worldwide with Guardians of the Galaxy, all but guaranteeing a sequel. It has the unique distinction of not being directly connected to any other MCU movie in terms of story or setting, but like the Thor movies, it did take us out into space to see the interstellar realm of the MCU away from Earth. You can watch the movie by itself without having seen any of the others and you simply won’t be lost, but if you have seen the other movies then there will be references that you will appreciate in addition to it.
At the time Guardians of the Galaxy came out, the jokes weren’t jarring, and no one was really thinking about the amount of humor in the MCU. This definitely got the ball rolling in that regard and from that point on, a certain measure of levity is all but expected from an MCU movie, especially in most recent memory. How the rest of the franchise would deal with that would be quite an interesting challenge to say the least.