Guardians of the Galaxy got a lot of things right. Firstly, expectations were initially set low because almost everyone, except for the deeply-initiated comic book fans, had never heard of them before. Most people expected a film starring a talking raccoon and a walking tree as main characters to fail. They were very wrong. Secondly the blend of comedy and action, an art Marvel have been perfecting for years, was spot-on in Guardians of the Galaxy. Sure Drax and Gamora may have been toned down a bit from their comic book origins to help bolster the comedic elements and keep the adventure nice and family-friendly, but there was still enough badassery (it’s a word) on show when it was needed. Thirdly, Guardians of the Galaxy managed to help bridge the gap between Marvel’s Earth- and Asgard-bound films and the comic book’s much wider galaxy, introducing the Kree and Thanos, amongst others. Comic book fans have known for a long time that there is more to Marvel’s universe than Earth and Asgard, and Guardians of the Galaxy introduced this expansion into the cinematic universe, setting up the beginning of Marvel’s Phase 3. Finally, and for me this was the aspect of Guardians of the Galaxy that marked its absolute crowning achievement, was the soundtrack.
Guardians of the Galaxy’s blend of late 60’s and 70’s soul, soft rock and pop is terrific. This aspect of the soundtrack, based off Star Lord’s aptly named “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” mix tape contains such retro-hits as Blue Swede’s “Hooked On A Feeling”, David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” and Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. Generally, it’s difficult to make this kind of soundtrack work, particularly in a film that isn’t an Earth-based comedy, but Guardians of the Galaxy cleverly contextualised the existence of these songs as being on a tape that the young Peter Quill had in his possession when he left Earth.
It’s not just a clever way of integrating catchy pop songs, keeping Peter Quill grounded in Earth-based cultural reference points, either. At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking some of the songs were randomly chosen. But look at the lyrics and the use of these songs in Guardians of the Galaxy and you’ll see each one has been expertly chosen. The aforementioned Bowie song “Moonage Daydream” contains appropriate lyrics like “Put your ray gun to my head, Press your space face close to mine”. Then there’s the likes of Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around And Fell In Love”, where the lyrics talk about going through a million girls before finally meeting the one, a song that perfectly reflects Quill’s own romantic exploits before he meets the deadly assassin Gamora (even if she is a little less deadly than her comic book counterpart).
Of course this music wouldn’t have had the impact it had if it hadn’t been so openly used throughout the film. These songs are not apart of the background music in the film; they are loud and in your face. The early scene of Quill dancing through an ancient alien cavern perfectly makes clear the intentions of the whole film, coming just after an opening few minutes that felt decidedly more Ridley Scott than Marvel. Later you’re treated to Quill using his music to try to woo Gamora, as he uses Footloose as an Earth-based contextual basis to describe how music is intrinsically linked to heroics in his home culture. The musical context of the film is even used to help distract and defeat Ronan the Accuser. It’s a little bit absurd, and probably the only time Guardians of the Galaxy feels like it has gone a little too far, but it’s still funny and a great way of integrating this musical context within the heart of the film. And all the while throughout the entire film, the alien nature of Quill’s musical heritage is constantly questioned by the non-human characters, who just don’t get it.
Guardians of the Galaxy did so much right. It used lesser known comic book characters, who are almost as heroic as the great Kevin Bacon, to create an action-packed, sci-fi, comedy-infused, comic book masterpiece. It’s one part Star Wars, one part Firefly/Serenity, one part Marvel, and all parts awesome. That’s thanks to the writing, the acting, and just as importantly the soundtrack.
I for one can’t wait for the promised return of Guardians of the Galaxy and the continuation of Marvel’s newest blockbuster franchise. More excitingly though, I can’t wait for Star Lord’s “Awesome Mix Vol. 2”.
Images from http://www.IMDb.com