From the (Mr) Blue Skies of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2 to the Dog Days finally being over in Vol.3, the emotional rollercoaster that has been the Guardians franchise has been one hell of a journey and always represented the best of the MCU.
Which of these films holds up best, though? Read on to find out…
(Warning: Potential spoilers ahead)
4. Guardians Of The Galaxy
2014, Directed By James Gunn
Very few movies have had such a major cultural impact over the last decade as this one: the iconic soundtrack which Dads still play on the car speaker to this day, the beloved characters who transformed a group of comic book nobodies into cultural icons, and a brand which defied the current anti-MCU public feeling to become a critical and commercial success with its final (and most recent) entry.
Enough on cultural impact, though; if you wanted to read about that, you’d be looking at the news. You’re here for a review, so let me give you one: this movie is great. It is! It’s a great time, with great music and very great characters. It never really amounts to much more though, in my ever-humble opinion, which I believe is due to Gunn’s filmmaking still being on the ever-tigh MCU leash.
Whilst Gunn’s ever-awe-inspiring direction is still present throughout, it’s clear that Feige and co were not yet willing to branch out from the standard visual conventions of the MCU, meaning that the film just doesn’t look as good as the ones that come after it, and still feels a bit flat visually. Ronan is also a rather mediocre villain, holding absolutely no screen presence and being overshadowed by the far more interesting secondary antagonist, Yondu. Hell, even Thanos is more captivating in his single scene.
However, like I said, the film is still great, and full to the brim with heart. The bond that is developed between the team is wonderful to see develop, as they overcome their differences (and mostly selfish personality traits) to save the galaxy.
Each member shines in their own way :
- Pratt’s goofy but loveable Star-Lord hides a sense of vulnerability that the sequels would explore more deeply.
- Saldana’s Gamorra hides a softer side beneath her deadly assassin exterior, ready to protect her friends after a life without love.
- Diesel’s Groot brings the loveable CG companion to new levels and then breaks all our hearts subsequently.
- Cooper’s Rocket, whilst lacking the depth he would later be granted, is a scrappy raccoon that won all our hearts despite his best efforts to prevent it.
- Bautista’s Drax is the loveable moron we all need in our lives.
These characters, and the bond they form, carry the movie to heights otherwise unachievable under the constraints of MCU filmmaking, and alongside an obviously banging soundtrack, changed the future of the MCU forever…
Highlight Of The Film: The moment Peter and Gamora fooled around and fell in love; you get a hint here of the even higher quality of filmmaking Gunn is capable of in the sequels.
3. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2
I would like to make a note: from this point onwards in the list, I adore every single film with every inch of my heart. The fact that this is placed third is not a detractor to its quality, because frankly, it’s amazing, and pretty much improves on its predecessor in every conceivable way.
For starters, visually it is far more engaging, with a far stronger presence of color and life within the world, as opposed to the more dull tones of the original (which were simply a poorly chosen staple of the MCU at the time), with the alien worlds and characters popping off the screen, even if the VFX do feel a little bit more rushed in places this time around (a poorly chosen staple of the MCU at this time).
Also, now that no more set-up with the characters is needed, we get far more time to explore their dynamics and relationships: Peter and Gamora’s “unspoken thing”, Drax and Rocket’s unhinged and dangerous ways, hell, the dynamic between the entire team is just fantastic, and elevated to far greater heights due to the fact that it’s a sequel. Mantis also makes a fantastic addition, adding a new layer of humanity to Drax that we were yet to see.
Of course, a special shoutout has to go to the greater spotlight put on Yondu in this film, and the revaluation of the dysfunctional father/son relationship between him and Peter in the eyes of the audience; Michael Rooker’s rough charm develops the character from something of an asshole into someone I was crying my eyes out for in the film’s final act.
There’s also Kurt Russell, one of my favorite actors (The Thing nation rise up), as Peter’s cruel and tyrannical father, Ego. He’s mostly standard affair MCU villain stuff, carried by Russell’s natural charm, but what his character does for the character of Star-Lord is greatly appreciated, and the revelation of what happened to Peter’s mother still makes my jaw drop every time in how unfathomably cold it is.
Ultimately, Vol.2 ramps up the emotions, the music, the storytelling, and the visuals to craft a less-refined yet far better film than the first, a film that I never thought could be surpassed in the series (I was wrong) and a film that will always hold a very special place in my heart…
Highlight Of The Film: Yondu’s funeral; it hits home every single time. The music, the emotion, the celebration of life and death, it is simply beautiful.
2. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.3
Yeah okay, this is certainly gonna turn some heads, but we’ll get onto my controversial first-place placement after an outpour of praise for the glorious finale that is Vol.3.
Where to even begin with this one? In an age where the MCU now seems to consist of rushed, ugly products without a clear soul in sight, Gunn brought back filmmaking to the franchise, with a great big beating heart, more practical effects than you’ll know how to process, and glorious and inventive camerawork and shot composition.
Vol.3 never hid the fact that it was going to be an emotional rollercoaster, with most speculating that tragedy was going to strike the Guardians, with their roster taking a hit. However, subversively and intelligently, Gunn flips the “everyone dies” expectation on its head by instead ensuring no one on the team dies.
Now this was a fact that I had to roll around in my head for a while: given that there were multiple “fake-out” deaths, and that this is the scarier and darker finale, the fact that everyone made it out alive felt a little anticlimactic, but then you think to yourself: they deserved to. These characters, who have suffered so much, lost so many loved ones, and been through hell and back, deserve their happy ending.
They all get to finally find peace and love in their own way, even if it’s without each other for some of them, and get to dance the night away after what is arguably the most torturous experience any of them have been through.
Of course, no one suffers quite like Rocket does in this movie. Haunted by a past that returns with a cold and calculating vengeance, the film gradually fills in his harrowing past, showing the audience a deeply saddening example of attempting to maintain optimism during the darkest and most harrowing of times. Every scene adds a layer to his character that fleshes him out and rewards rewatching the trilogy even more, even if it is incredibly painful to watch.
The film, as amazing as it was, however, still wasn’t quite perfect in my eyes. The first act is quite rushed, with bizarre pacing clearly designed to get the film rolling a bit too quickly. The High Evolutionary also was a bit disinteresting to me as well, as whilst his actions make him easily despisable, I felt his presence and performance delivered nothing particularly special.
These are minor complaints, however, for a film that otherwise sets a high bar for the future of the MCU again (for the first time in a while), and truly felt like a special and emotional final ride with these characters I love so much…
Highlight Of The Film: The feeling of emotional finality to it all; the film recognizes this is the end, and never shies away from it.
1. The Guardians Of The Galaxy Holiday Special
No, this is not a joke, this is not a bit, The Holiday Special is genuinely my favorite Guardians movie, and it all comes down to the fact that in its tighter runtime and more intimate story, all that’s left is a heartwarming, hilarious and downright beautiful tale of Christmas joy (and mischief).
With The Holiday Special, we are given the rare opportunity in the MCU to see our favorite characters during downtime. Normally, when we spend time with superheroes in this franchise, it is surrounding a life-changing event or an epic battle, but here, the crew are just getting ready to celebrate Christmas.
After finding out that Christmas has always been a sore spot in Peter’s life, Mantis and Drax (the most hilarious duo in the team for sure) head off to kidnap Kevin Bacon and deliver him to Peter for the ultimate Christmas. What follows is a series of hilarious hi-jinks as the two of them navigate Hollywood, providing the opportunity for some hilarious fish-out-of-water humor.
Of course, whilst the plot is absolutely ridiculous, as always it is the heart that Gunn salvages from the silliness that steals the show here, and we get to see these characters bond in a way that is rare for these big blockbuster franchises, using the festivity to show how much these characters really mean to each other, and paving the way for the important arcs ahead in Vol.3. Also that opening Christmas song freaking rocks!
Highlight Of The Film: Seriously, it’s the opening song. I love it!