The Marvel movie countdown to Avengers: Infinity War – #10: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

We're counting down to the release of Marvel's eagerly anticipated Avengers: Infinity War with our Marvel movie challenge

Watch one Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie a week from now until Infinity War's release on 27th April, and you'll be up to speed on all the blockbusters in the MCU so far.

We're continuing this week with what is possibly Marvel's funniest film yet: Guardians of the Galaxy...

The story

After discovering a mysterious silver orb in another part of the galaxy, Earthman Peter Quill, AKA Star-Lord, is now the main target of a manhunt led by the evil Ronan the Accuser. Ronan is after the orb, an object that will give him immense power. It’s then up to Peter, along with his new friends, Gamora, Drax, Groot and Rocket, to stop him.

The comic book

Guardians of the Galaxy debuted in print in 1969, but this iteration of the outer spacey superteam didn’t feature any of the characters familiar from the movie version. Vance Astro, Charlie-27 Martinex and Yondu (okay, he did turn up, but not quite as the same character) were the first Guardians, with Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Groot and Rocket not arriving until 2008 under the watch of writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.

The background

Before it was released in 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy was seen as Marvel’s riskiest movie yet. Not only was it one of Marvel’s lesser-known comic book properties, but it was to be the studio’s first non-Earth-set story. Not only that, but its lead was someone whose best known work was on a TV sitcom.

Many were expecting Guardians of the Galaxy to be Marvel’s first flop. Yet Guardians would go on to gross $773.3 million worldwide and become the highest-grossing superhero film of 2014. Not bad for a movie that could have been a one-shot deal for Marvel.

In fact, Guardians remains one of the MCU’s best-reviewed movies principally because it was so bracingly different from any of their other entries. A space opera comedy with a roll-call of outlandish, mostly alien characters, it’s about as far away from Iron Man’s grounded realism as it’s possible to get.

Writer-director James Gunn would prove a perfect choice to shepherd this band of space misfits to the big screen, nailing the comic book’s off-the-wall humour and sense of intergalactic scale.

The movie would make a bona fide star out of Chris Pratt. Before Guardians, he was best known for his role as the slobbish Andy Dwyer in the cult sitcom Parks and Recreation. For Guardians he hit the gym with a vengeance, shedding 60 pounds and netting himself an impressive six-pack.

Equally unknown at the time was Dave Bautista, a wrestler-turned-actor who would prove to be on-point casting as the hilariously literal Drax the Destroyer. Zoe Saldana was known for her role as Uhura in Star Trek, but probably the movie’s biggest names weren’t even seen – Vin Diesel voiced the giant man-tree Groot (even though he only says three words, endless times, throughout the entire movie), while Bradley Cooper was the voice behind irascible CGI raccoon, Rocket.

Standout performance

It has to be Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, AKA Star Lord. He’s the human heart of Guardians of the Galaxy and Pratt’s innate likeability is a key ingredient to the movie’s success. Not only does he have the acting chops to sell the character’s more dramatic scenes, but he’s an experienced comic actor, helping to make Star-Lord one of the funniest and warmest characters in the MCU.

Standout scene

Aw man, too many to choose from. But we’re going to have to go to the scene, at the end of the movie, where Baby Groot shakes his funky stuff to The Jackson Five’s 'I Want You Back'. Cute as hell.

The soundtrack

Ah, just a mere mention of the Guardians soundtrack makes us feel all warm and fuzzy. Did you know that Awesome Mix Vol. 1 was the second best-selling album of 2014 in the US? In fact it was only topped by Frozen.

Truly, you'd struggle to find a modern blockbuster that matches pop music to its visuals as well as Guardians does. James Gunn's gloriously retro choices rely largely on pop and rock staples from the 60s and 70s, lends a breezy and distinctive quality to the movie. Many sequences are carried on the power of the songs, including the deliriously entertaining 'Come and Get Your Love' opening set-piece.

Meanwhile Tyler Bates' rousing symphonic score is interwoven around the songs brilliantly, hearkening back to the golden era of comic book movie soundtracks where brass, strings and choir craft an unashamed sense of heroism. The standout track has to be the gentle electronics and choir of 'Groot Spores', lending a heartfelt sense of wonderment to the storyline and reminding us why we love going to the movies in the first place.

Stan Lee cameo

Post-credits sequence

Howard the Duck is a curious member of the Marvel Comic Universe – a cigar-chomping, permanently angry anthropomorphic duck, it’s hard to think he exists in the same fictional world as Peter Parker and Tony Stark.

Lucasfilm released a Howard the Duck movie in 1986, with Howard played by a dwarf in a catastrophically awful animatronic costume, and that film’s failure (it’s regularly labelled one of the worst films of all time) seemed to suggest that Howard would never again grace the big screen.

But if there’s any MCU movie into which Howard would fit snugly, it’s Guardians of the Galaxy (if you can swallow a talking raccoon, why not a talking duck?). Still, it was a genuine surprise when he turned up at the end of Guardians, as a pet of Benicio del Toro’s Collector, and voiced by Austin Powers’ Seth Green. Check it out for yourself below.

Did you know?

  • According to Vin Diesel he recorded Groot's iconic line, "I am Groot" over 1,000 times.
  • Bradley Cooper cited Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci's character in Goodfellas) as an influence on Rocket Raccoon's voice

General observations

  • Thanos (played via performance-capture by Josh Brolin) makes his first MCU appearance in this film. He’ll next be popping up as the primary villain in this April's AvengersInfinity War.
  • The movie marked the first big screen break for Karen Gillan as the blue-faced Nebula, adopted daughter of Thanos and, as it turns out, sister of Gamora. The former Doctor Who star shaved off all her hair for the role.
  • Look out for an appearance from British comedy actor Peter Serafinowicz as the Denarian Garthan Saal.
  • One of the movies that Guardians was most compared to when it was released was Flash Gordon. Interestingly (or not), Guardians was filmed on the very same Shepperton sound stages as the 1980 camp classic.
  • This is the second movie in which Zoe Saldana appears as a blue alien – she was also ‘Smurf-ed up’ for James Cameron’s Avatar in 2009.
  • Look closely at the scenes set at the prison and you’ll see Lloyd Kaufman, better known as the founder of schlock movie merchants Troma Films. Director James Gunn wrote Tromeo and Juliet for the studio in 1996 and cast his old mentor as a tribute.

What the critics said

Guardians of the Galaxy is Marvel at its loosest, breeziest and most humorous, and once again the studio doesn’t shy away from the “comic book” nature of it all. That’s confidence, and the result is that Marvel’s cosmic playground just got a little bigger.” Den of Geek 

“Marvel Studios' new superhero film Guardians of the Galaxy is a smart, funny, self-aware bubblegum movie; like the recent X-Men film Days of Future Past, it features a retro playlist indicating an increasing possibility that middle youth, as well as actual youth, is an important target audience.” The Guardian

Guardians of the Galaxy’s cheerful, hectic aesthetic is closer to one of the crackpot fantasias of Guillermo del Toro than Marvel’s own increasingly house-styled output, which reassures you, even in the wake of the Ant-Man debacle, that the studio hasn’t entirely lost the will to experiment.” The Daily Telegraph

“Colourful, tongue-in-cheek fun, purpose-built for grown-up lovers of kitsch ’80s science-fiction. But the Marvel formula is starting to feel, well, a little too formulaic.” Empire

“As indebted to Serenity as it is Star Wars and Avengers Assemble, Guardians of the Galaxy reboots the space opera in the most surprising, entertaining and emotionally satisfying of ways.” Total Film

“At its core, Guardians is a fleet-footed throwback to the action-adventure movies of yesteryear. Remember when big-screen entertainment wasn't so serious and just really good fun? You can feel everything from Raiders of the Lost Ark to Star Wars and Back to the Future in Guardians's DNA.” Digital Spy

Next time...

Avengers: Age of Ultron