I thoroughly enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy; it blended swashbuckling adventure, lashings of super-violence, locations lightyears away from what we’ve seen in the established MCU and genuinely funny humour. It felt a lot like watching an adored cult 80s film (helped in large part by the nostalgic soundtrack) like Indiana Jones, mixed with modern day budgets and art direction. That said, I didn’t think (as many do) that it’s the best Marvel Cinematic Universe film to date; I enjoyed it more than most of the first phase films, but not more than Avengers or the second phase films.
While watching, my imagination was sparked multiple times, yet despite the talent involved, the experience fell slightly short. The purpose of this list is not to say the film was bad overall, more to just to imagine how it could’ve been had there been more time and money and all that jazz. Plus, there’s always the sequel. So, in ascending order from least important:
1. Thanos’ Voice
Firstly, the big blue guy and a fairly small point. It was great to see him finally, following the tease at the end of the Avengers. While his voice served its (minor) purpose in the film, I was left underwhelmed. Thanos was hyped-up by everyone as a galactic butcher, a cosmic monster. He looked fantastic – his costume’s transition from the comics to film armour worked and evoked death through its skull-evocative design. On the other hand, his voice seemed barely altered, if at all. In the comics, his speech has its own type of balloon, so I’d always imagined it along the lines of Pinhead from Hellraiser, or the Voice of Sauron:
2. More Varied Aliens
The film follows in the mould of other grand swashbuckling space opera like Farscape, Babylon 5 and Star Wars, but while it had Groot and Rocket in the main lineup, the vast majority of the aliens in it were different coloured/Star Trek-style “forehead bump” humanoids. The guys from Xandar didn’t even have that (though I did like their outfits), they were essentially human. The bodypainting on show was wonderful, but as with Farscape, Men in Black and Futurama, a little more variation would’ve made it far more alien and colourful.
The film did have some pretty awesome character designs that unfortunately got lost in the mayhem, but even there, they didn’t deviate much from the established humanoid shape, and that’s a shame, thinking how long it’s been since Babylon 5 came out, and that gave us the Shadows and Vorlons.
3. More Mysterious Ancient Artefacts
The action takes place in worlds that are unfortunately not too dissimilar to ours (see earlier comment about humanoid aliens), and not thoroughly lived-in by alien cultures. Unlike Farscape or Firefly, Guardians doesn’t really have any deep, scary, awe-inspiring mysteries. Everything that could be mysterious is unfortunately summed up in a short CGI scene.
The clearest example of this is probably the Infinity Stone itself; it gets a quick summary that doesn’t really explain anything. The explanation given neither explains the artefact in an interesting way, nor does it give any information on its actual purpose. The Aether from Thor II and the Tesseract from Captain America and the Avengers, by extension, have much more in the way of character and myth to them. The nature of the Infinity Stone seems to be missing from the film, once it’s revealed, it’s like it’s obvious to everyone in the film but not to us beyond “craps out energy”, which is not substantially different to the Tesseract.
It would be easy to say “don’t take it too seriously,” but I would venture that this is a glib response excusing a lack of effort. Even with a very jokey, swashbuckling romp, supporting the world with detailed, deeper thought makes for a more satisfying, lasting experience. Ghostbusters, for instance, is full of somewhat plausible-sounding and consistent, if completely mad, super-science and ancient myth; you should read Dan Aykroyd’s ideas on how the proton packs and ecto-containment unit work, and the name Zuul (worshipped by Sumerians, Babylonians and Hittites) is close to the Sumerian word “Xul” meaning “evil god”, used in ancient incantations and exorcisms.
Indiana Jones, too, while we enjoy it for the pulpy adventure and humour, is similarly full of obscure myths and conspiracy theory. Unfortunately, Guardians doesn’t have time to have a moment to spend on the mythic worldbuilding as it’s flying along too busily. The pacing definitely works as-is, but it drops reverence and awe. It could learn a lot from the cosmic horror genre.
4. Intergalactic Politics and Star Wars
The CGI work in the film is fantastic. My final suggestions regards the lack of the use of space-based warfare, especially towards the climax of the film. Many of the space locations, like Knowhere, look fantastic, yet when the Dark Aster comes to Xandar, there’s no space security around the planet, no fleet of capital ships or planetary shielding implying a larger universe than what we immediately see. Instead, the reach of the civilisations and their destruction seems to be effectively limited to the scale of a city, rather than planetary or beyond.
After I watched it, I thought that a couple of elements, perhaps running for 30–60 seconds, would make the climax reveal a much more vibrant and space-faring affair. How?
- Have interactions between the Kree government and Xandar’s. The Kree potentially have as much to lose by Ronan’s plan as anyone – anyone that disagrees with Ronan’s crusade will be destroyed, and there’s a good chance the Kree would be considered responsible by other worlds.
- Xandar should have a thoroughly-defended homeworld. Tons of massive capital ships, equal in theory to the Dark Aster, as well as well-armed space stations and gun emplacements. These would then be laid waste by Ronan using the Infinity Stone. The fighter-net thing would be a last line of defence and the rest could play out as normal.
- The Kree fleet should come to Xandar’s aid, and likewise be immolated by Ronan’s power. This would reinforce his fanatical commitment to the cause and the power of the gem.
5. More Interesting Villains
What’s the Deal with Kree?
The film repeatedly adds “necro” in relation to Kree craft, weapons and soldiers. Going on the resurrections in Agents of SHIELD, Kree physiology or technology clearly has something funky going on around death. This would have a massive impact on a society and would have a massive utility in a military and could be an explanation for why they are so feared. What’s unclear in the film is how it would be weaponised or utilised in spacecraft design.
A couple of throwaway lines or a comically re-regenerating underling (comparable to Frost’s sidekick in Blade) would’ve been easy to add, and it could’ve made for an interesting plot point or built-up fight between a main character and one of Ronan’s crew. It could also have been used in the final fight with Ronan, justifying the complete molecular destruction of the villain.
And the Sakaarans?
The Kree creed, and in particular, Ronan, are puritanical and seem to want to end all forms of life that aren’t Kree. Yet they use non-Kree mercenaries. To an extent, this happened in real life with the nazis, but once Ronan had the infinity stone, you might expect him to wipe out what he’d consider a hideous affront species. Then again, perhaps he was more pragmatic than he appeared, or perhaps his fundamentalism, like most real world fundamentalisms, just had a couple of hypocritical exceptions. Still, you might expect Ronan to value their lives less and use them as the first wave shock troops to protect superior Kree lives.
One of my favourite parts of Lord of the Rings is where the Isengard-bred Uruk-hai and the common Mordor orcs end up fighting each other over species differences. Guardians could’ve relatively easily set up a similar situation – the Sakaarans are used as cannon-fodder for the heroes to mince repeatedly, with one as a “leader Sakaaran” character taking up 10 seconds or so per fight to chitter in his alien-speak to his fellow Sakaarans as they get blown away. This Sakaaran notices the motif of their lives valuing less and eventually betrays the Kree in the climax, forcing Ronan (who presumably lifts his hammer to destroy all non-Kree life on Xandar), and briefly forces him to adapt to the situation, buying the good guys a moment to get closer.
A final thought on this motif – Ronan betrayed Thanos, but there’s no implication that there’s any real comeback for it. I had hoped that Nebula would try to play them off against each other more, perhaps unpredictably using Ronan to launch a devastating strike against Thanos, perhaps unsettling the assumed course fans had of the overall path of the Marvel films, like the Winter Soldier did with the destruction of SHIELD.
What do you think, Thanos?