Friday, May 5, 2023

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)


1988. A young boy is abducted by an alien spacecraft right after he witnesses his mother succumbing to cancer. 26 years later, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is an intergalactic smuggler retrieving a mysterious orb on a planet called Morag and is intercepted in vain by Korath (Djimon Hounsou), a Kree and the right-hand man of Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) who, in turn, is a Kree war criminal in cahoots with the mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin). With a bounty on his head, Quill catches the attention of Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a talking racoon, and his ally Groot (Vin Diesel), a humanoid tree. To make matters worse, Thanos’ adopted daughters Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) are also hot on his tracks. Their paths all converge on Xandar where they are all caught and thrown in jail, where they meet Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a warrior with an axe to grind with Gamora and Ronan. As it is revealed that the orb they are all after has galaxy-ending consequences, this band of misfits end up teaming up to save the universe.

There are two franchises in the MCU that I’ve never really got to watch, namely Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy. While these characters did appear in the Avengers team-up installments later on, I basically knew nothing much about them. Since Volume Three has already been released and is said to be the last in the franchise, I’ve decided that some marathon is in order, and I wasn’t disappointed. Starting with Volume 1, I’m beating myself with a stick right now given how I’m just watching this for the first time almost a decade after its release.

Perhaps what makes Guardians of the Galaxy click is how different it appears to be from the other MCU films that came before it. Phase 1 was filled with solitary heroes and their love interests, focusing too much on individual sacrifice and solo storylines. Released in Phase Two as the MCU’s newest addition after a trio of sequels, GoTG reinvigorated the franchise by offering an ensemble piece that is quirky and literally out of this world. Heck, there’s even a talking racoon and a muscle-bounded tree in the mix.

Having an ensemble cast can be problematic because it’s not just the chemistry between your titular hero and his love interest that you need to get right, but rather that of half a dozen characters. Luckily, James Gunn seems to know what he is doing. Despite being a group effort, the storyline is still mainly focused on Peter Quill, which isn’t a bad deal since we do need a human anchor to be our guide in this galactic outing. Being half-Earthling, he is the only suitable candidate for the job.

We do get a glimpse of the other characters’ backstories, but these are mostly just hinted upon or treated as a passing thought. Hopefully, they get to expound on all of those subplots in the sequel. In any case, watching the film made me realize that GoTG indeed served as the rallying call for the Infinity Saga. It seems as though it was here where the infinity stones were first mentioned by name, with Benicio del Toro’s The Collector even making his own brief infinity stones refresher similar to what Wong would be doing at the beginning of Infinity War. It is also here where we first meet Thanos with spoken lines.

All in all, Guardians of the Galaxy is perhaps the most satisfying and refreshing entry in the MCU’s Phase Two slate. Immediately followed by the debut of Ant-Man, we can argue that this marked the beginning of the MCU exploring domains they never dared to explore before, perhaps for being too obscure to gain mass appeal. Given the success of the films that came before it, they suddenly had the luxury to introduce a more quirky and galactic side of the cinematic universe. In the end, it just clicked.

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