"When I look around, you know what I see? Losers.." offers Star Lord to the rest of Guardians of the Galaxy, just before the climax. So too could the ninth instalment of the Marvel Cinematic cannon. By this point most of the established Marvel heroes already had sequels. Tony Stark had 3 chalked up and Captain America had the second in the chamber. Audiences were more than comfortable with their heroes battling ne'er-do-wells to save their Tera firma. Although Thor may have come from Asgard, Midgard was very much his battlefield of choice, particularly as his earth-bound squeeze lived here. Why then did we need to strap in, blast off and spend time with a bunch of Star Wars rejects that were, by their own admission, losers?
The answer is exactly that. All the Guardians are literal aliens - even if Peter Quill is half human and half something else entirely. Yet there's so much we have in common with these space truckers. Peter corrects his offering when the rag-tag group look at him: "I mean like, folks who have lost stuff." Although this is actually one of the emotional linchpins of Guradians of the Galaxy and galvanises what we already knew: That this unlikely group had become an unlikely family. It embues the film with a real heart lacking in even the Avengers. It's no accident that the film starts with Peter's mom dying moments before he's sucked into a ravagers blinding tractor beam. Gamora too has her family violently taken from her and "fostered" into the most abusive environment imaginable. Rocket never had one, while Groot only has the wise-crackin' rodent as anything close to a sibling. While dysfunctional they have all moved on to some semblance of interstellar life they could cling to. Drax however is still very much in the anger phase of mourning. As an audience, we may not have all experienced these things, but it's very much something that has touched us. Quill continues "And we have, man, we have, all of us. Homes, and our families, normal lives. And you think life takes more than it gives, but not today. Today it's giving us something. It is giving us a chance."
With this in mind it's a wonder that Guardians of the Galaxy is such a rawkus ride. While Iron Man had been quick witted and Thor had the fish-out-of-water follies for comic relief, Guardians is genuinely funny. From Quill's disappointment to not having his codename recognised by his pursuers, to Drax's literal interpretation of the idioms we all take for granted; the laughs are plenty. Even the secondary characters have moments usually saved for the title characters of lesser movies. Each one is an earned character-driven reward that hits it's target rather than just impacting on the surface. However without the charm that Guardians seems to effortlessly plume from its thrusters, it would be a jumble of set-ups and punch lines like Spaceballs.
"To do what?" Rocket returns to Quill. If anything pulls Guardians into the gravitational pull of the Marvel Cinematic Universe it's the McGuffin. While it's probably the most obvious infinity stone, it spends the first half of the movie encased in a patterned, chrome orb. Guardians establishes itself in it's own universe (no pun intended) with little help from the earth-bound Marvel Cinematic Universe. With all the intergalactic shenanigans it's very easy to miss the real craft of James Gunn's storytelling. If Suicide Squad demonstrated any lessons it's how easily an ensemble of main characters can quickly sputter the engines of the narrative and reach a terminal velocity of non-investment. In Guardians, not only do you care about each of the 5 character's arcs, but there's interesting secondary characters. Yondu's ravagers are lovable rogues, the Nova Corps inner workings are clear and even Nebula's motivations are understandable.
Quill finally responds to Rocket, but he's talking to all of the Guardians: "To give a shit. And I am not gonna stand by and watch as billions of lives are being wiped out." It's not only a triumph of storytelling, but come the end of the movie you're hard pushed to find a better feeling. Avengers may make you punch the air, but the conclusion of Guardians makes you want to take everyone dancing!
5* - Footloose and Fancy Ships
Others in the series:
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 2
Captain America: The First Avenger
Iron Man 3
Thor: The Dark World
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Captain America: Civil War