The Guardians of the Galaxy was a smash hit when it came out. Those who knew Marvel, and were comic book nerds (like myself), knew characters like Rocket and Groot could be popular. I had seen the team, as the ‘old’ Guardians, before the movie, on Marvel’s animated series, as well as the comic version, for several years before this movie came out. The animated series usually centered more on Rocket being the most interesting, as he is more often than not doing the talking. Star Lord was a much more serious, stoic, and ‘mysterious’ character. And his helmet was a LOT different!
Once the movie came out, though, they changed the comics to be nearly the same as the movie version. I don’t blame them, the old Star Lord was pretty generic as a character. He wasn’t nearly as fun, or interesting, as a raccoon that would talk, and fire machine guns at you. The movies also changed Groot from being just “The muscle”, nearly silent in the background because his only line was “I am Groot”, but now he is the comic relief with a single line and an expressive face. Baby Groot is simply adorable, ad no one can tell me differently. Even his toys are adorable (and pose-able).
So, when the first Guardians movie came out, I was expecting there to be a little less attention to Groot and Rocket – even though those two were more interesting characters in the comic, the cost associated with CGI characters being stars in a world full of cheap actors (well, cheaper…well, less expensive….I can’t even use the word “cheap” in any context to describe actors pay) was just too high, I thought. And, in a way, I was right. But they also didn’t overshadow the characters played by humans, like Drax, Gammora, and of course Star Lord. But now, since the first movie, Rocket and Groot have not only become an inseparable team in the minds of pop culture, but they are, in many ways, the true ‘breakout characters’ for the franchise.
Now, when describing the movie, the first thing that always strikes me with Marvel movie is the tone. Right off the bat, they set the one with the opening sequence/title sequence/dance number. While the team is fighting some inter-dimensional nasty, Baby Groot fights a small little lizard-like creature. Oh and he dances. In a very cute manner.
So while the first movie was all about getting the team together, this movie starts them off as a bickering, but effective team. Rocket has had time to put together some tech toys (space suits, rocket backpacks) that seem to be based off the same type of technology as Quill’s helmet. So, they stand around, arguing, as they fight the creature. Almost all of their fights have this element to it, even the climactic fight at the end of the film.
The tone of this movie, is all about comedy, even while it has other emotional beats and themes, it always stays light-hearted in the might of life-or-death fights. Even while flying through a quantum asteroid field (which is a science-y joke if I ever heard one), with giant rocks teleporting all around them, Quill and Rocket manage to fight over who is better. Either one of them could make it through the field without crashing, but they both want to do it. It goes as well as can be expected. That is to say, not well at all.
Even though they constantly bicker, they are still an effective team. Under the prickles, and thorns, they care about each other, and would die for each other. It’s a powerful theme that resonates with people. Family isn’t always who you’re genetically linked to. Family can be who raised you, who was there for you, who stood by your side when the chips were down, your back was against the wall, and all hope seemed lost. That is family. Not a question of “Are you related to me?” but of “Will you stand with me?”
While not everyone has to face insurmountable odds of facing off against a living planet that calls himself a Celestial (and the lone one, even though we saw a Celestial’s severed head (reputed to be) called Knowhere (the space port with no rules) in the first movie. So, the status of the entire “celestial” debate is still up in the air. That self-proclaimed Celestial was introduced as Peter’s father, and the living planet Ego, played by Kurt Russel. Just the name, Ego, tells me his claim to god-hood, and Celestial status might have been a bit inflamed. His quest to destroy everything and replace it with himself, was quite suicidal. The entire problem he found, to begin with, was that he was alone,. When he did discover other life, he found it to be inferior. Killing everything in the galaxy wouldn’t have solved his problem. It only would have left him alone again, only thing time with just his offspring as company. I can’t see how that would go poorly. /sarcasm
So, while Peter dealt with his genetic father, his real family had his back. They even dealt with Gammora’s crazy, not-related-but-still-her-sister sister, and the two women came to an understanding. Perhaps she might not be sane, but at least she isn’t trying to kill Gammora anymore, so that’s a good thing.
Drax opened up about his family, his dead wife and kids. He spends a majority of the movie laughing, having the greatest time risking his life at every opportunity….which turns out is a LOT. He even shows Mantis overwhelming humor, at Peter’s expense of course. Drax went from stoic straight man, to stoic straight man who laughs at death and pain. Even Baby Groot snuggles into Drax for comfort during the funeral scene, all the while int he opening scene (and a few others) he was seen play hitting Drax, with no effect. Of course, this was clearly just an act, as Groot showed he could easily take on a single full-sized human if he were motivated (or mad) enough.
Overall, this movie had some amazingly fun characters, who loved each other enough to endlessly tease and poke each other. The sets were, of course, visually stunning. The backgrounds were a nod to the psychedelic style that gave birth to the characters and settings. The Stan Lee cameo showed he truly was everywhere…but left the door open as to whether or not he is a Watcher.
The comedy didn’t get in the way of the action. It enhanced it. It gave a break from the constant danger and threat, giving the audience a chance to breathe for a second, before charging head-long back into the action. It gave the actors the chance to show their characters off. Quill actually going to ask for tape in the middle of the battle – and getting replies – got laughs. And the replies from the different off-screen characters were all in-line with their characters. None of them complained about the fight being more important than the tape. None of them tole Quill to get back to the fight because they needed his help. They all trusted that what he was doing was important (even if some of the conversation could get a bit side-tracked), and that if he needed to focus on Rocket and Baby Groot, then they would just have to keep fighting without him.
The cameos were also a fun part of the movie. Some of them were characters I didn’t recognize until I got home and read about the easter eggs. All of the ‘Original Ravagers”, the Ravager leaders, were all comic book members of the Guardians of the Galaxy. We already knew Yondu as a Ravager, and he was also an original Guardians character, so it looks like the entire Ravager leadership is made up of original Guardians.
Stallone’s Ravager captain is a character who is better known as “Starhawk”. Michelle Yeoh played a character named Aleta, who was also part of the Starhawk character (a merged character, like Firestorm from DC). There was a crystalline man, Martinex, played by Michael Rosenbaum. There is a large black man, known as Charlie-27, played by Ving Rhames. The hardest cameo of all was, the robotic severed head called Mainframe, and was played by Miley Cyrus. The last cameo wasn’t so much an actor as a character. The most interesting former Guardian, though, was the guy in all red, who didn’t speak, but only gave his thumbs up. His name is named Krugarr, and he was using magic to reply to Starhawk. The symbols around his hands, the entire visual effect of his magic was identical to the Dr. Strange aesthetic, keeping in line that magic is constant across the galaxy.
They even managed to get David Hasslehoff in the movie for a couple of cameos.
And in typical manner, Marvel left the audience in their seats through the full credits. Several follow up scenes were amusing, of course, but mostly had impact on the huge comic book nerds who stuck around to watch them. Especially the final scene, where she names the ‘Perfect Being’ Adam. Pretty important character for the Infinity Stone plotline they’re building up to in the Avengers movie.
The best part of this, I think, is how it’s not tied down by any of the other Marvel projects. because it’s so far from Earth, it was free to do almost anything, and go nearly anywhere. When it does finally tie back to earth, it’s going to seem so plain, and boring against the city backgrounds.
Maybe I’m a touch biased, but I love the space backgrounds they get to play with in this franchise.