Marvel's Cine-CHAT-ic Universe: Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)

Ali Gray,
Matt Looker,
Becky Suter,
Ed Williamson,
Luke Whiston

28th March 2019

It's the regular feature you assumed had been quietly abandoned - but we've got nothing else going on right now! We're back with another scintillating edition of Marvel's Cine-CHATIC Universe: this week/month/quarter, we're talking about James Gunn's Guardians Of The Galaxy, but also, very much other things too.

Previous Marvel musings
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Iron Man 3 (2013)
The Avengers (2012)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Thor (2011)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Iron Man (2008)
Becky: ARE WE DOING THIS OR WHAT? Shall I start? I'll start. It's good, isn’t it?

Luke: Oh, look who has been empowered by Captain Marvel. But yes, it is very good. The music and Chris Pratt and Rocket make it an easy sell, but besides that it's a really imaginative and fun ride with some great sequences. The first one of these I actually liked, but the re-watch with the sequel and magic gem stuff in hindsight reveals the layers I never appreciated (or knew about tbh).

Ali: I too agree that the film in question is good. This was the first Marvel movie where you go, ah, okay, it's really not about the source material at all - they can make great movies out of anything. You don't need a household name or an established comic-book base as long as you've got a great writer and an interesting director, and James Gunn is both of those things. Again, you look at the pre-release chatter for a movie like this, and all the talk was how this was a big risk because it wasn't an A-list property. You look at it now and you wonder how anyone ever doubted it. It's Marvel meets Star Wars! Almost like it was focus-grouped that way!

Luke: If I recall the fuss was whether this weird thing that didn't look like the eighty superhero movies before it would make a few million less, but when you think about it the film *had* to work or else anything following it would have an uphill battle. But I think what that translates to is chucking marketing $$$ behind it, and GotG was everywhere. Marvel have got that side of things nailed, really. The collection has reached such a mass it doesn't matter if GotG3 makes a bit less than Iron Man 4 now. There's no expectation for that anymore. Do people care about that stuff with actual comics? No. I don't know actually. Probably not.

Matt: After complaining in our Winter Soldier chat that the film felt too embedded in the Marvel formula, this really does feel like a bold departure that really shakes things up. It's easy to dismiss it now as basically a fun soundtrack masquerading as a colourful space adventure, but I think this was a massive accomplishment for Marvel. They had already established a successful template and then went right ahead and established another one with this film. And, as Luke says, so much relied on GotG working. In order to expand the MCU, they HAD to go cosmic, and so much of the Infinity Stones story rests on this film selling the idea of 'comic books in space' to Marvel's existing audience.

Luke: The cast is so incredible. Not just the main ones, who were on the cusp of being major household names - Chris Pratt fresh from getting ripped, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana (who had already been in Star Trek and Avatar which is pretty amazing) - or the big Hollywood stars like B-Coop, Vinny D or G-Clo, but the supporting cast too: Michael Rooker, Djimon Hounsou, Kirk from Gilmore Girls, Peter Serafinowicz - even a Finchy spotting!

Ali: Finchy really does get around. He's been in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Star Wars universe, the Harry Potter universe and the Game of Thrones universe. Well done Chris Finch.

Luke: Also, the prison warden was a guy from Hollyoaks who used to play a character that was more or less an Irish Dick Dastardly, and Carina, The Collector's assistant, was Mandy the Bonobo Syndrome woman from Nathan Barley. I'm basically just naming actors now, but I don't think any of the other films - even the big ensemble ones - have had so many recognisable faces in them.

Matt: I think a lot of those are only recognisable to British audiences and was fairly unintentional as a casting strategy goes. I can't imagine some Marvel exec has made the case for ensuring that "a guy from Hollyoaks" appears in the film to hit that sweet, sweet teen-soap demographic who might otherwise be uninterested.

Luke: Oh yeah, I don't think there was a strategy, just there were so many layers of "star" in it. Ophelia Lovibond has gone on to be quite big on TV though. Not sure about the Hollyoaks guy. I looked it up, he's been in loads since. Brendan Brady is in prison now so I guess he can return to Hollyoaks at some point. Did you know Luke Morgan and Darren Osborne are both back?

Ed: I refuse to watch it until Bazz FM is reinstated in full.

Becky: He's doing corporate training now with Sophie's Dad from Peep Show. Hollyoaks has been a fairly good launch pad - Mitzi won an Oscar.

Ed: I covered this in full in a 2011 post which got me blocked on Twitter by OB. I stand by it. Just checked, still blocked :(

Ali: The thing I love most about Hollyoaks is- HEY WAIT A MINUTE

Needs more Bombhead.

Matt: I just think it's to the film's credit that it has such a sprawling cast that works really well as an ensemble of characters, and it really helps give that sense of actual world-building that loads of other sci-fi films aim for but fail at. This is what basically sells the 'Marvel meets Star Wars' pitch for me, because you really get the sense that this is just one slice of story happening in a huge, expansive universe.

Ali: You kind of forget that Guardians is basically the movie that properly sets up the Infinity War saga - not in the cheeky, post-credits, maybe-we'll-see type way we saw at the end of The Avengers, but in a 'moving pieces round a chessboard' type way. It's all the more remarkable because Guardians feel like its own proper adventure with its own identity and not some cynical piece of corporate synergy. The last movie like that Marvel made was Iron Man 2 and that was a fartsplosion in a balls factory.

Becky: Marvel really comes into its own with its ensemble pieces, which kinda goes against convention. Each character is memorable and brings something to the party. The Guardians are not overly stereotypical Marvel characters which is why it feels so fresh and original. Add to that the setting, unlike the other times we’ve left Earth these new planets feel distinct and well-articulated, not just some dusty realms somewhere with a pixel background. I loved Knowhere, it actually made me want to do some research after the film to learn more about it. Bonus points also for doing minimal work on the South Bank and Millennium Bridge.

Luke: I'd have loved to have been a fly on the wall during production because it seems like Marvel - notorious for creative differences leading to firings - said "Here you go, have a few hundred million quid to do whatever". Swearing, cum jokes, just general weirdness. Not sure if an experiment, boldness or cockiness.

Ali: Definitely the first - and last - spooge joke in a Disney movie.

Matt: What about when Sebastian sings "Darling it's better, down where it's wetter - take it from me?" in The Little Mermaid?

Ali: Surprisingly few Disney songs are about jizzing, I have found.

Please stop talking about jizzing.

Ed: I'm in no position of strength here, having only seen it once years ago, but I really struggled to stay interested in it. None of the characters were recognisable to me as a non-comics fan and in particular I didn't understand or care what the MacGuffin was or why anyone was looking for it, which might've helped override that feeling. Partly I guess this is down to my not really maintaining the details of how the films relate to each other and what sets up what, so I tend to view and judge them in isolation. Still it's their fault rather than mine somehow.

Luke: My favourite thing about the MacGuffin is Peter Quill literally using it to bash a guard over the head. That won me over quite a lot.

Ali My favourite thing about the Macguffin is that we're told it's literally one of the most powerful objects in the universe but at the beginning of this movie it's just sitting on a plinth in some empty castle on a deserted planet waiting for someone to nick it. Ed, maybe, I don't know, I'm just spitballing here, but maybe you should have rewatched it in order to take part in this regular feature where we all rewatch the Marvel movies in order to comment on them with a reasonable degree of accuracy? Crazy idea!

Ed: I would've been curious to see if I felt differently second time round but it's a fiver in CEX. Feel free to leave my comments out but they aren't inaccurate; I'm not misremembering how I felt about it.

Luke: Your cheapness is staying in, Ed. Although saying that I am a bit miffed at how expensive it is getting to rewatch these films as we get closer to the more recent ones. Aren't Marvel meant to be paying us?

Matt: Why you don't all instantly buy these films on a physical format the second they are released is beyond me. Ed, please tell us what you remember from the film so we can judge how accurate your memories of your feelings are.

Ed: Yes, good exercise actually. My memories of what actually happens in the film:

- His mum dies at the start on earth and there's a mixtape
- Then you skip forward to present day in space and he's scavenging on a planet like they used to in Red Dwarf and he's still listening to the tape
- There's like a big CGI space city? And in a square/piazza he meets one of the other Guardians, dunno which one
- There's a glowing blue thing that everyone wants. Presumably it will destroy/save the universe
- Everyone tries to get it. I guess there's a bad guy who wants it too? No idea who
- Compo slides down the hill in a bath

Matt: You forgot the bit where Drax needlessly calls Gamora a whore, but, yes, otherwise you're pretty much all there.

Ed: Well then I'll thank everyone not to call into question the veracity of my contributions again.

Ali: The glowing thing is PURPLE you absolute CLOWN.

Ed: This is why they won't let us in the London Film Critics' Circle isn't it.

Luke: If this was the DCEU right now we'd be discussing Wonder Woman and Israel. Yikes.

See? Purple. GOD.

Ali: Bringing it back on track EDWARD, the thing I like most about Guardians of the Galaxy is its commitment to humour throughout, even in the serious bits, even in the little throwaway moments. Like when Rocket asks Quill to steal the guy's prosthetic leg during the prison break for shits and giggles. That sort of anarchic comedy felt quite new in the MCU - humour for humour's sake, not just characters reacting to things in a glib fashion. I appreciate when a film goes out of its way to make me laugh.

Becky: The humour is definitely the biggest sell (aside from the prison rape lols, not sure how that made it into a kids film). The "That was my favourite knife" line just had me in stitches.

Luke: Yeah, other side of the universe, alien races of all sorts, still get a rape/whore line. Sigh. What cert was this - PG13? They knew what they were doing with Gunn. Which makes the split later on all the more troubling.

Ali: Guardians also has some of the best action scenes in the MCU too. The whole prison break sequence is superb: thrilling, funny and has a genuinely surprising payoff. The humour, the action, it all feels so fresh and exciting. You definitely get the feeling 99% of this movie's DNA is written by James Gunn. I was, and remain, absolutely appalled at how he was treated by Disney last year, and I think letting him go is Marvel's biggest misstep thus far.

Matt: Roland The Abuser is shit villain though, isn't he?

Luke: Ronald the who?

Ali: I quite like Ronan the Accuser, actually. The idea of a religious zealot in a movie like this is quite fun. He's like the Tucker Carlson of space. His little helmet and big hammer and black microbead moisturiser is a 'lewk', as they say. I just wish he had a name that inspired more fear into his opponents. He might as well have been called Jeff, or Phil, or Gary.

Matt: Also 'The Accuser' isn't a particularly threatening role, is it? What if Star Lord had been called Peter The Denier, or Peter The Refuter. Peter The Actually He Who SMELLED It Dealt It. He'd have immediately met his match.

Purple Ronnie strikes again.

Becky: Who's the MVP in this? Because for me it's Bautista, he is so subtle but lands every line.

Ali: The biggest character win is the double-act of Rocket and Groot. Completely CGI but utterly lovable and unique and charming. They make the movie for me. Rocket's sad little exasperated voice when he gets drunk and talks about his experiments. Groot's big dumb smile when he skewers all those guards. They are proper characters not just CGI stand-ins. I love Dave Bautista too, he was a great find, but to me, Rocket and Groot are the spirit of the movie. The tree made me cry! With three fucking words of dialogue!

Matt: I don't warm to Rocket and Groot like that, but they're clearly spectacular achievements in the film. Drax is probably my favourite purely in terms of line delivery. Or... can the MVP be the soundtrack? Because holy shit every song on that is the good stuff.

Becky: So character - great. Soundtrack - awesome. Action - good. Writing - fucking amazing. The "percentage of plan" scene is not something I'd ever expect to see in a 'superhero' movie. I'm so in awe of it goes from sharp, snappy dialogue to unifying themes on loss.

Ed: Beginning to wish I'd actually watched it again.

Matt: Oh wait, are we allowed to still like the The Jackson 5? What's the rule on still liking Michael Jackson when he was just a kid himself? This is a pop music minefield.

Becky: Let's not go there.

Ali: Swerving Neverland, I'd like to agree with Matt that the soundtrack choices are very good, but also I worry that this more than anything gave the movie its identity, and all subsequent sequels - including Volume 2 which we'll probably get round to discussing to in 2021 - now have to abide by the same rules. They simply must feature obscure 80s power ballads! That's their whole thing! I will say that the music does at least come from a place of story and isn't just shoehorned in there, but as soon as you start trying to replicate what made previous movies a success it makes them a little less surprising. Also Michael Jackson is a paedo.

Luke: So here we are: Hollyoaks and nonces. This isn't Whatsapp. I bet studios are carefully vetting their references now. Trouble is it turns out everyone in the entertainment industry is some kind of sex deviant, so good luck with that.

Ed: But it said on the side of a bus that Jackson was innocent. If there's one thing we've learned over the last three years, it's that everything on the side of a bus is true.

Matt: Ali, you're editing this one.

Luke: Luke has left the group.

[Some time passes]

Matt: Ali, I see your comment about Disney firing James Gunn has aged well.

Ali: Brilliant. In the time it took us to write and publish this feature, James Gunn was exonerated of all Twitter crimes. Great work everyone, we've made a real difference here today.

Luke: Remember when we were trying to time this for the release of Endgame? It'll be the BBC Christmas Film by the time we're done.

Next time: Avengers: Age of Ultron. Pretty sure Matt has some opinions on that one.

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