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“Guardians of the Galaxy”

Guardians of the Galaxy Kate Haskell

Kate Haskell

David Ives - published on 08/01/14

Even if we’re just C-listers, like these Guardians, we can be better people when we’re together.

Never heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy before now? Well, unless you’re an avid comic reader, that’s not really a surprising thing.

First published in an obscure Marvel Comics book way back in 1969, various iterations of the group have appeared sporadically over the decades. And yet, despite the team’s endurance, none of the individual characters, old or new, have ever managed to achieve the marquee status of heroes like Captain America or Iron Man. Heck, even Hawkeye, treated by many as the red headed stepchild of the cinematic Avengers, gets more respect than these guys. The Guardians of the Galaxy are C-listers at best.

And you know what? That’s sort of the point behind Disney/Marvel’s latest comic book inspired blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy. Alone, the characters are basically a bunch of losers.

There’s Peter Quill, an Earthling abducted by space pirates as a child on the night of his mother’s death. Raised to be a petty thief, Quill now sneaks around the galaxy stealing precious artifacts while listening to golden oldies on his 1980s Walkman. He arrogantly calls himself Star-Lord, but he’s the only one. Almost nobody else has even heard of him.

Then you have Gamora, who was taken captive by the evil demigod Thanos (remember him from the post credits scene in The Avengers), and surgically modified to be an unstoppable killing machine. She and her “sister” Nebula have been loaned out by Thanos to Ronan, a zealot from the Kree empire who is currently rampaging across the galaxy (which is why it needs guarding, naturally). Gamora hates her job.

Drax the Destroyer, the third member of the group, is possessed of super strength, a desire for revenge, and not much else. His only goal in life is to confront and kill Ronan, the man who slaughtered his family. His single-mindedness, along with his lack of ability to understand metaphors or filter his emotions, makes him poor company.

And finally there’s Rocket and Groot. A bioengineered hyper-intelligent raccoon and a mostly gentle sentient tree-creature, respectively, this odd couple currently makes ends meet as bounty hunters. The two are inseparable, mostly because only Rocket can understand Groot’s language, which consists entirely of the phrase “I am Groot,” and only Groot can long tolerate Rocket, who is so abrasively defensive about his own state of being that he feels the need to personally insult all other living creatures.

The first act of Guardians of the Galaxy is primarily concerned with how these disparate individuals come together to form a reluctant team. Quill (or Star-Lord as he would prefer) makes off with a mysterious orb desired by Thanos, who subsequently orders Ronan to send Gamora to recover it. Little does either villain know that Gamora, who wants nothing to do with their plans to blow up an entire planet, intends to betray them and take the orb to someone with the power to keep it out of Thano’s grasp.

Also in pursuit of the orb is Yondu, the space pirate who originally abducted Quill, who places a considerable bounty on Star-Lord’s head once he realizes Quill intends to sell the orb and keep the money himself. The bounty brings Rocket and Groot into play as they, along with Gamora, confront Quill on Xandar, home planet of the intergalactic peacekeeping force known as the Nova Corps. The disastrous three way scuffle which follows lands everyone in prison where they encounter Drax, who immediately recognizes Gamora as one of Ronan’s lackeys and attempts to murder her. Quill convinces Drax to let Gamora live, however, using the logic that if she remains alive, Ronan will surely come after her. It takes a few minutes, but the thick-headed Drax realizes this will give him the opportunity to carry out his revenge. With Drax on board, the group is complete and ready to stage a prison break.

Got all that? Looking back on it, there is a ridiculous amount of world building going on in the beginning of Guardians of the Galaxy. While Avengers had the luxury of using characters who had first appeared in their own films, the entire roster of the Guardians and the universe they live in has to be introduced. The movie accepts the challenge and throws a ton stuff at the viewer.

And it doesn’t stop with the first act. As the film progresses we’re familiarized with the likes of another demigod known as The Collector (remember him from the post credits scene in Thor: The Dark World), a moon sized space station called Knowhere carved from the head of a giant celestial being, an explanation behind the all-powerful objects which have been popping up in the various Disney/Marvel movies, and three or four other things which will certainly help drive the plots of future films. The filmmakers have gone out of their way to craft a cosmic space opera of Dune-like proportions.

Not to worry, though, only the very young and the short of attention will likely stand a chance of getting lost amongst all the story elements. Every time the movie threatens to derail because of plot overload, it sets things right with a well-timed joke. Humor plays a big part in Guardians of the Galaxy, probably more so than in any other Disney/Marvel production to date. Admittedly, a few of the punchlines lean toward the raunchy (writer/director James Gunn has never completely escaped his Tromaville roots), but still, it’s a funny movie. I suppose it’s hard for a film to get too dark when 40% of its titular team is made up of a raccoon and a tree.

Which is not to say that the raccoon and the tree don’t have their serious side. Along with its wit, what ultimately makes Guardians of the Galaxy succeed is that it finds a way amongst all the chaos to make you invest in the main characters. Each of the Guardians, in their own way, is a broken person who has allowed their pain and loss to lead them down some of life’s less than savory paths. Alone, they’re kind of losers

But we weren’t made to live alone. One of the oldest teachings in the Church, going all the way back to when God created our first parents as a complementary pair, is that we best recognize our dignity as persons through our relationships with others. Community brings support, strength, and yes, even correction. What, you thought God only commanded us to assemble as a Church because he arrogantly demands worship? The fact is, even if we’re just C-listers, we can be better people when we’re together.

This is what the characters in Guardians of the Galaxy come to realize and the climax of the film depicts this realization in the simplest, most obvious fashion imaginable. Nobody said the movie was deep. But that’s okay, not every superhero film needs to be a Nolan-esque Dark Knight style melodrama steeped in the intricacies of the real world. It’s perfectly acceptable for a comic book movie featuring a talking raccoon to keep things on the light side.

Guardians of the Galaxy does just that. The heroes are heroes (eventually), the bad guys are bad, and the moral of the story is a basic one. Take those ingredients and throw them into a mix with one of the most fully realized far away galaxies since the original Star Wars trilogies, and you’ve got one of this Summer’s most enjoyable films.

And, yes, there’s a post credit scene. You’ll never see it coming, not in a million years.

David Ives reviews new releases for Aleteia and spends his time exploring the intersection of low-budget/cult cinema and Catholicism at The B-Movie Catechism.

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