The Guardians of the Galaxy
In 2014, The Guardians of the Galaxy looked like a risky choice. Not only was it the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first foray into a story with no connections to events happening on Earth, but the team and it’s stars were not big names.
Chris Pratt, who plays Peter Quill/Star Lord was known mainly for a supporting role on NBC’s Parks and Recreation (2009-2015), while Dave Bautista (Drax the Destroyer) was known primarily as a professional wrestler. Zoe Saldana (Gamora) had been gaining increasing fame as a female action star. Add in that perhaps the biggest stars at the time, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper would be voicing a talking tree and raccoon respectively was a jarring concept. Oh, and additional supporting roles would be filled by Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, John C. Riley, Glenn Close, and Benicio Del Toro.
What would this movie be? With an August release date it was clear that Marvel Studios had little faith in the property, perhaps just hoping to break even.
Then the first trailers aired.
Set against Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling”, audiences were given a taste of a comedic action movie unlike any other superhero film at that time. To great surprise, Guardians broke records for August, and, in many ways, Guardians took the MCU to the next level, beginning a trend of increasingly ambitious films. Personally, I knew within the first five minutes (I timed it) that this would be one of my favorite movies.
While I could go into the impact the Guardians have had on the MCU, today I want to recap just who they are and what role they play. When we first meet Peter Quill, it is 1988 and he has just watched his mother die from cancer before being abducted by a group of alien bounty hunter/pirate/adventurers called Ravagers. Twenty-six years later, after making a life amongst the Ravagers, he is sent to acquire a mysterious orb. After fighting for it, he travels to a planet called Xandar where he hopes to sell the item for himself. Here is where he meets Gamora, Groot, and Rocket.
Gamora is the adopted daughter of Thanos, an intergalactic warlord (who the audience may remember as being partially responsible for the events of Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012). Like he did with Loki in The Avengers, Thanos has allied himself with Ronan the Accuser, a soldier who seeks to undo the peace that has recently come to his people. Gamora and her adopted sister, Nebula, are sent on loan to help him acquire the stone in return for Thanos’s help. Gamora wants nothing to do with either of them and wants to use the orb to get out from under her father’s thumb.
Rocket Raccoon and Groot (a sentient tree) are codependent bounty hunters, unaligned with any other group. Learning of the bounty on Peter, they don’t know anything about the orb and merely seek a quick payday. The resulting brawl between our four unlikely heroes ends with them arrested by the Nova Corps, the police force on Xandar.
In prison, they meet Drax the Destroyer, whose family was slaughtered by Thanos. Together, the five of them escape and Gamora leads them to the Collector (Benicio Del Toro), who informs them that what they have is an Infinity Stone, specifically, the Power Stone. After Ronan gets his hands on it, Peter and the others persuade the Ravagers to help protect Xandar, contacting the Nova Corps to warn them. In the end, these misfits manage to stop Ronan (in a dance battle), but it costs Groot’s life. The newly dubbed Guardians of the Galaxy (and a baby Groot growing in a pot) have their criminal records expunged. The Power Stone is safely tucked away on Xandar and the team of anti-heroes decide to see where the universe takes them.
Months later, in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), the Guardians are fighting an inter-dimensional monster in exchange for Gamora’s volatile adopted sister, Nebula (Doctor Who‘s Karen Gillan). In an other excellent opening musical number, we see the Guardians are still doing what they’ve become known for, fighting the good fight (but often with a selfish ulterior motive).
In general, Guardians 2 is a much more emotionally complex film with a lot of important elements. However, the key details are: Peter meets his father, the Celestial and living planet, Ego. Ego wants to take over the universe and is destroyed by the Guardians. Being half Celestial, however, is part of how Peter survived his encounter with the Power Stone. Ego’s servant, an female empathic humanoid named Mantis, joins the Guardians, while Gamora and Nebula make amends, and Gamora and Peter begin a romantic relationship.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018) takes place four years later. The Guardians play a key role as they have the most direct connection with Thanos. While Earth’s forces are gathering, The Guardians of the Galaxy (and Thor and Nebula) serve as the central group based outside of Earth’s solar system. After they rescue Thor from his destroyed refugee vessel, the group splits up, with Groot and Rocket going with Thor to get a new Thanos-killing wepaon, while Peter, Gamora, Drax, and Mantis go in search of the Reality Stone, which leads to Gamora’s capture.
In going after Gamora, Peter, Drax, and Mantis meet up with Tony Stark/Iron Man, Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and Doctor Stephen Strange and nearly succeed in getting the Infinity Gauntlet off of Thanos. This fails, however, when Peter learns that Thanos sacrificed his daughter, Gamora, the only thing he loves, to obtain the Soul Stone. In attempting to kill him, Peter disrupts Mantis’s mental control.
Once Thor acquires Stormbreaker, he, Rocket, and Groot travel to Earth, arriving just in time to help the fight in Wakanda. Groot and Rocket fit right in as they help destroy the attacking monsters. As we know, however, that isn’t enough. While Groot fades away on Earth, Peter, Drax, and Mantis do on Titan, along with Stephen Strange and Peter Parker.
In the end, all that remains of the Guardians are Rocket and Nebula, two of the characters least likely to be selfless or noble, but both seem horribly shaken by the end of Infinity War. Based on trailers for Avengers: Endgame, both characters will be joining the other Avengers on Earth. Like the rest of the characters, we know very little about what role they will play. None of the Guardians appeared in Captain Marvel‘s (2019) post credits scene, but trailers suggest that while Rocket is on Earth, Nebula is helping Tony Stark come home. With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 expected to release in 2021, it’s fair to say that at least a few of them will be resurrected by Endgame‘s end.