“Gamechanger” is a moniker which could be applied to any number of films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, particularly so in recent years. Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and of course Infinity War all broke new ground for this superhero franchise for very different reasons, encompassing big steps forward in terms of diversity both in front of and behind the camera, as well as massive leaps forward in the scope of the storytelling and the vastness of the universe.
But rewind back a couple of years, and a bunch of A-holes changed the game in the most unexpected and wonderful of ways. Prior to the release of Guardians of the Galaxy, the universe had mostly focused on the core four; Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America. Whilst additional characters such as Black Widow, Hawkeye, Loki and The Winter Soldier had proved popular with the fans, the MCU was still yet to take the leap and have an adventure entirely focused on a group who were a little more obscure in the Marvel comic book lore.
It was a bold leap to introduce an entire group of characters in the form of the Guardians, and the film undoubtedly succeeds in crafting a storyline that can stand alone as well as very much feeling like it is a part of the greater narrative. It is, of course, the first time we properly see Thanos on screen after his cameo at the end of The Avengers, and the first time we start to see exactly what his plan involves. We learn more about the Infinity Stones and we learn that the universe is a whole lot bigger than the “core four” heroes we had so far spent so much time with. So even though there are a lot of new faces, thematically and narratively we’re still in familiar territory and that collective sigh of relief meant that the audience was ready to embrace everything that the Guardians had to offer.
Guardians is a film which feels more like a zany space opera than a superhero film, and for the first time, it showed that a film from the MCU could have an entirely unique vibe whilst still feel like it is cut from the same cloth. It is arguably the funniest MCU film and it entirely plays into the wackiness of its eclectic group of misfits in the most wonderful of ways. The characters on paper seem like they would never work together, but there is unbeatable chemistry between them, and this “band of misfits” approach is something that really works. Take a badass assassin, a daft but deadly beast of a man, a talking racoon with a penchant for guns, an alien tree, and a swashbuckling space pirate, and you have all the makings of an unforgettable team…
The “mixtape” that forms part of the narrative as well, gives us what is undoubtedly the best soundtrack (at least in terms of needle drops) in the MCU, and I love the way it feels so integrated into the story. Star Lord (Chris Pratt) is a character who is originally from Earth and these reference points – particularly with the 70s/80s soundtrack nods – provide a real grounding to this otherwise fairly alien world.
With all that being said, there is a huge amount of pathos in this film as well, particularly in the climactic “we are Groot” moment. Frankly if you didn’t cry at that point, I’m not sure you have a soul! And it is also the beauty of this film that a moment like this can then be followed with a dance-off being used as a distraction for the bad guy!
Truth is, nothing in Guardians of the Galaxy feels like it doesn’t belong in this universe, and yet is also entirely unique. It is testament to the world building of the MCU that you are totally locked in by this point that they can throw all the weirdness at us and the audience will just embrace it for exactly what it is. For its characters, its comedy, its wonderful soundtrack, and for all of its wonderful weirdness, Guardians of the Galaxy charmed and delighted the fans of this franchise and gave us some new heroes to (g)root for. From this moment on, the universe became a whole lot broader, the doors could be opened for the many tonal shifts and different styles that were utilised in the films that followed, and for this reason, it is still one of the many MCU “gamechangers”.
Directed by: James Gunn
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan