Pop-Ed: Is Guardians of the Galaxy the Best Marvel Movie?

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The question is out and the staff of Pop-Break engages it…Is Guardians of the Galaxy the best Marvel movie?

Lauren Stern: Is Guardians of the Galaxy the best Marvel movie ever? When our editor-in-chief reached out and asked us this question, I needed some time to decide whether or not I liked this movie more than Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier or The Avengers. The second film of the Captain America franchise was certainly a good one and it most definitely paved the way for many future Marvel entities. The Avengers will always be one of those movies I could see over and over again and never get sick of it. I also love Loki (Tom Hiddleston) as a villain and the cast complemented each other so well.

However as much as I loved these movies, I have to deem Guardians of the Galaxy as my top choice. My reason for this is two fold. The first is because unlike the rest of the Marvel movies I have seen, the humor didn’t feel as forced. The second is because it was a different change of pace. Unlike the superhero series, Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t about good guys being good. Gamora, Drax, Groot, Rocket Raccoon, and Star Lord were generally bad people who decided to use their strength for good.

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These two reasons along with impeccable cast chemistry, a great soundtrack, and shirtless Chris Pratt scenes it’s kind of a no brainier. Guardians of the Galaxy is the best Marvel movie. Well, at least for now anyway. We will see if I change my tune once Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out next year. Verdict: Yes

Logan J. Fowler: I went into Guardians of the Galaxy supremely hyped. This little-known comic book turned film was going to be something different, and despite having a graphic novel source, I thought it was going to be creative. Seriously though, how many movies have a talking tree and vulgarity spewing raccoon in the same film?!

Even though it was one of the best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (I actually like it better than The Avengers…yeah it’s that good), it has solidified its place at #2 for me. Captain America: The Winter Soldier still stands tall as my numero uno. It’s one of the few films in the franchise that has nothing to do with a person/group of people trying to retrieve something dangerous that could destroy the world/galaxy. I am not bringing down the MCU for its approach to the Infinity Gauntlet build up, but I just felt that The Winter Soldier shook things up a lot and did it in a way that was different and fresh. It evenly and successfully balanced the elements of Cap trying to fit into modern day, the conspiracy within S.H.I.E.L.D. (even tying into the ABC TV show), and hell, gave us not one but two villains that were equally interesting. Plus, Falcon was awesome.

Guardians, however, to its credit, brought together five characters in a matter of 15-20 minutes and did it effortlessly without sacrificing character development. This is what Avengers tried to do with five films leading into it. Yes, I understand why they did that, but the fact that Marvel’s space opera only needed a one film to band criminals together and make them heroes in a believable sense is really impressive. That, and the characters featured (two of them CGI, no less) are ones you walk away caring about sincerely. Who doesn’t want their own personal Groot after viewing the movie?

While Guardians of the Galaxy is a wonder to behold, funny, and has a sense of true uniqueness to it, Captain America: The Winter Soldier still sets the bar for comic book movies, specifically Marvel movies. That being said, Marvel Studios’ entries this year have definitely been the overall best. 2015 has a lot to live up to. Bring it on, Age of Ultron. Verdict: No

Nick Porcaro: Get your guns out, guys — I don’t think Guardians of the Galaxy lived up to the hype. It was certainly thrilling and hilarious and gorgeous and entertaining, but after months of relentless advertising and rumor-mongering, the end result is just…good. You could chalk some of that up to a crummy cinematic experience on my part (let’s not go there) but I bet I’ll hold the same opinion after seeing the film again in IMAX 3D.

As some have already noted, Ronan and Nebula’s potential as fearsome antagonists couldn’t overcome a lack of character depth. Additionally, the film’s unavoidable status as an origin story means director James Gunn faced the unenviable task of cramming a ton of exposition into a two-hour film. None of it is particularly painful, sure, but it clashes with the film’s more casual and engrossing banter. I also think the prologue would have served better as a flashback in the middle of the film, perhaps when Quill is apprehended after trying to get his headphones back. As it stands now, that first scene is a dramatic departure from the tone and style of the rest of the film, and it’s one of the weakest openings to a Marvel film so far. Nonetheless, I’m confident the sequel will go down as one of the Marvel’s strongest cinematic efforts.

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The best MCU movie, then, is probably Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I say probably because I’ve only seen the film once, but it blew my mind in theaters. Let’s break things down a bit further: a great Marvel movie should tout exhilarating, state-of-the-art action sequences, stunning visuals,  endearing and believable performances, some funny quips to interrupt tense moments, several “holy shit!” scenes and, preferably, a bit of depth to the plot. The Winter Soldier features all this and more. Every battle is filmed flawlessly and paced expertly—the opening naval raid deserves comparison to Metal Gear Solid, the Winter Soldier’s first intrusion on Nick Fury and Steve Rogers was excruciatingly suspenseful, the utterly crazy highway scene was the best of its kind since The Dark Knight, and on top of all that, THEY DESTROYED S.H.I.E.L.D.! Come on!

As for acting, Robert Redford lent his Academy Award-winning chops to the role of S.H.I.E.L.D. official Alexander Pierce, a deceptively charming diplomat and a worthy foe for Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. Scarlett Johannson really came into her own as Black Widow. Her sharp-witted remarks and effortless sex appeal stole many of the film’s quieter moments away from Chris Evans, a charming actor in his own right. Newcomer Anthony Mackie made a great impression as The Falcon, too, and I’d love to see his portrayal of Sam Wilson eventually take up the Captain America mantle, as per the comics. In terms of plot, directors Anthony and Joe Russo stated several times over their vision of making The Winter Soldier in the vein “a ’70s political thriller”, and they succeeded without question. Featuring twists and turns, ethical debates, interpersonal conflicts and one truly shocking conspiracy, nothing is as it seems in The Winter Soldier. In hindsight, I’m amazed they pulled it off.

If the best Marvel film isn’t The Winter Soldier, it’s definitely Iron Man 3but I’ve committed enough Marvel nerd heresy for one article. Verdict: No

Marla Pachter: I’m probably going to be the outlier on this thread, but I generally do not enjoy action films, or the superhero subgenre. Action films tend to be light on plot, full of “epic” explosions and action sequences which literally do nothing for me. While everyone is “Oooohing” and “Ahhhhing,” I have already lost track of what’s going on and am waiting for the fight to end so I can figure out who is winning. Or, to be completely honest, I’ve probably fallen asleep. Quick cuts, close-up movement shots, sick fight choreography, and shit blowing up… it’s the same in every movie. And once you add in a well- known comic book figure, the similarities only increase. Superhero films all boil down to the same basic plot.

Even from the trailers you could tell that Guardians of the Galaxy was different. The first time I saw the trailer in theaters, I thought it looked awesome and funny. My friend turned to me and said, “What is this? I mean, nobody is going to take this movie seriously.” I was in awe someone could feel that way because that trailer so clearly wasn’t asking to be taken seriously. It was saying, “Look at me. I am a superhero film, but I am unlike the rest. I am something you have never seen before. I dare you not to have a good time watching me.”

And that’s really, to me, what makes Guardians of the Galaxy the best Marvel movie to date. Hands down, no question about it. I didn’t like or care about any of the other ones. There are still some superhero tropes – the villain is still evil just for the sake of being evil and the good guys still will in the end – but there is so much new in this film. First and foremost, despite being categorized as an action film, Guardians is one of the best comedy films I’ve ever seen. The film does a good job of making us care about these characters, giving them all depth and gray areas instead of one dimensional motivations. The 70’s soundtrack is used to absolutely perfection, in a way we rarely see music used in film these days. And the action sequences are actually shot and edited in a way that a human brain can follow what’s going on – something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a film.

Basically, if you’re going to see one superhero movie in your lifetime, this is the one you should see. Verdict: Yes

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Daniel Cohen: It’s true. The best Marvel movie ever made came out this year, and that movie is X-Men: Days of Future Past. Even with my love and adoration for that film, there has been far too much hyperbole this year. Superhero movies either have to be the greatest film ever made, or the worst. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not “Marvel’s Dark Knight.” While absolutely atrocious, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is not the worst superhero movie ever made. Can’t a superhero movie just be “good” or “bad?” Guardians of the Galaxy is not the next Star Wars. It’s not the greatest movie to ever appear on film in the history of the world times a billion. But despite all that, Guardians of the Galaxy is still a damn good movie. And while I have it behind three X-Men films (Days of Future Past, First Class, X2), I do think Guardians of the Galaxy is the greatest Marvel Studios movie ever made.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t for me. The constant barrage of one-liners. The winks and nods. Stellan Skarsgard running around without his pants. Iron Man passed out in a giant donut. Whatever. What separates Guardians of the Galaxy from the typical Marvel hoopla though is that I genuinely cared about these characters. They are vulnerable. They’ve suffered loss. And despite having a talking raccoon and a tree that only says three words, the film is subtle. Rocket’s back tells you everything you need to know. If it was another Marvel movie, there would have been a five minute Nick Fury explanation, followed by a Tony Stark one-liner. Is Guardians of the Galaxy a comedy? Maybe. But when I look at Peter Quill’s walkman, Rocket’s drunken tirades, and basically everything that Groot does, I cared. I love these characters. But aside from the emotion of it all, yes, it really is that funny.

This movie has the type of humor that is sorely lacking in today’s cinema. Unlike the other Marvel movies that go for the easy joke, like someone playing Galaga in an Avengers ship, or Hulk punching Thor, the comedy stems from the characters. We are talking about the type of dialogue and subtle humor you would find in a Ghostbusters movie. This is Ghostbusters in space. Chris Pratt and Bradley Cooper in particular create immediate iconic characters. But even with all its humor and gut busting laughs, at it’s core, this movie has heart, something that gets away from the other films in this universe.

The man of the hour on this is James Gunn. His fingerprints are all over this thing. I’m almost sad this has to be forced into an Avengers/Marvel tie-in. I wish it could be its own thing, because I would love to go on more adventures with just these guys. I don’t need to see Rocket and Tony Stark have a snark off, but I won’t worry about that now. I came into this film a huge negative nelly, but heaven help me, I came out of it “hooked.” Verdict: No

Harry Jackson: When I planned this out, I knew there was no way I could write about how Guardians of the Galaxy was the best Marvel film to date. Did everyone forget about the absolute masterpiece that was Joss Whedon’s Avengers? Were we all so busy falling in love for the band of unlikeable misfits in space that we forgot about the ones back here on Earth (and Asgard)? Then I sat down to write the article, and I started comparing the two films side-by-side, and it became abundantly clear: Guardians steals (and dances away with) the crown.

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My biggest accolade for the Avengers is that it met and exceeded expectations that were impossibly sky-high. Serving as the tentpole-of-all-tentpoles, the Avengers was a sequel for the Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America films, a reboot for the Hulk, and a deeper character study for Black Widow and Hawkeye. That moment when the camera pans around the six heroes before the New York battle still sends goosebumps down my spine. But Guardians managed to reach the same destination by a much more difficult road. Guardians introduced five brand new characters that were obscure to even the most hardcore comic book readers, and by the time the space team assembled, I felt the same familiar chills. Taking it one step further, Guardians fleshed out its five-member team giving Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Groot, and Rocket their equal moments to shine. Ask Hawkeye fans if they felt like the Avengers served their hero as well with his twelve minutes of screen time.

Well surely the Avengers featured a more nuanced villain in Loki than Ronan, right? But how much of the universal love for Loki comes from the baggage we carried over from the Thor film? Avengers Loki shows up at SHIELD HQ, steals the Tesseract, makes some speeches, and tears up Manhattan. Ronan take possession of the power gem, makes some speeches, and tears up the Nova Corps’ home planet Xandar. But wait, Loki killed a fan-favorite character in Avengers – that has to count for something! Sadly, the impact of Coulson’s death during the film has been severely diminished due to his resurrection for the Agents of SHIELD TV series. The only mark against Ronan is that he is easily distracted by the Kevin Bacon powers of dance, but honestly, aren’t we all?

As my internal debate continued, I thought about the impact of the characters between the two films and their personal journeys. In the Avengers, Captain America felt uncomfortable with the modern world around him, Iron Man needed to learn humility, Black Widow had some kind of debts she needed to repay, Hulk…wanted to be left alone or something. Perhaps the Avengers did not have the most defined personal character journeys during the film. In Guardians, Peter Quill was dealing with the loss of his mother and homesickness for a planet he’d left behind, Rocket was tired of being looked down and experimented on, Drax lost his entire family and was looking for a sense of purpose, Groot makes mistakes when trying to understand how to best help the team, and Gamora struggles to make a name for herself outside of Thanos’s shadow. As Peter eloquently described later in the film, this group was full of losers – individuals who had lost something. Together, they were a stronger unit, and individually, they could barely function. Where any one of the Avengers could stop most major threats with little need for help from the rest of the group, the Guardians needed each other to survive. This makes the Guardians more relatable to an audience who has experienced similar grief or losses and felt the need to seek the help of others who may have similar experiences. We are not technological geniuses, super soldiers, or gamma-induced monsters, but we all have suffered loss or made mistakes or have been underestimated at some point in life. Remarkably, I have more in common with a talking raccoon than any of the (more human) Avengers characters.

Alright, but what about the Hulk – he was the Avengers’ secret weapon with one of the funniest sequences of the film when he turned Loki into a rag doll and smashed him around Avengers tower. Well, Guardians raised the bar with an unforgettable scene in which Groot dispatches some goons in a hilarious manner and then mugs for the camera. The bar was also raised when it comes to the soundtrack, which masterfully matches 70’s and 80’s rock with the action on-screen through the brilliant introduction of Peter Quill’s walkman. Though the Iron Man films come close, no other Marvel movie has this caliber of a toe-tapping soundtrack perfectly blended with the film itself.

Look, I really loved the Avengers. I would have to turn in my Iron Man decoder ring if I said otherwise. But after laying out the two films, examining the characters, the music, and the amount of groundwork that the films had to lay before reaching an audience, I can honestly say that Guardians of the Galaxy is Marvel’s best film to date. Verdict: Yes

Luke Kalamar: This is not an easy question to answer. The Avengers has been my favorite movie within the Marvel Cinematic Universe since it came out in 2012 and I fervently believed that nothing could top it (except, maybe, Avengers: Age of Ultron). It was the product of several years of planning and it came through with flying colors. To me, The Avengers was an insurmountable wall of superhero movie greatness. But then I saw Guardians of the Galaxy, and that wall received a massive crack. With perfect casting across the board, humor that felt completely organic, and a galactic conflict epic in scale, Guardians was a movie that left me with a huge smile on my face. So when this question was floated by me, I knew I had a tough decision to make. Can Guardians really be better than a movie I spent literally years waiting to see? Perhaps it’s because I only saw it less than a week ago, but I’m ready to say that yes, Guardians of the Galaxy is better than The Avengers, and is subsequently the best MCU film out there…right now.

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What exactly makes Guardians better than The Avengers in my eyes? It really boils down to their rampant similarities. Both feature a team that doesn’t initially want to work together, both teams are trying to stop the destruction of a planet, both are lead by a hero with some swagger, and both feature plenty of comedy. In a lot of cases, the movies really are the same. But where I feel Guardians gets a leg up is that everything simply works a bit better. It takes a long time before the individual heroes in The Avengers are actually able to get together and fight in unison, despite the clearly present danger, while the individual Guardians put aside their differences mighty quick for the greater good. They quickly realize that being thieves and murderers doesn’t stop them from simply doing the right thing, and other issues are simply petty compared to a galaxy in danger. It took a fan-favorite character’s death before Earth’s Mightiest Heroes were able to do that.

It also helps monumentally that the humor in Guardians is so natural. One big complaint people had of the Avengers was that it was too goofy for its own good. While I personally loved the gags, I can’t deny that they never actually fit with the overall story. Captain America commenting that he knows an old reference? Iron Man wanting shawarma? A S.H.I.E.L.D. tech playing Galaga? Laugh generators, yes, but totally useless to the story. The humor in Guardians works with the story though. The main characters use it to connect with each other and detail their personal identities. Star-Lord even uses his goofy antics to literally save the day. Humor for these characters isn’t just comedic relief. It’s a weapon, and that’s amazing.

So in conclusion, if a friend were to come to my house with The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy on DVD, but we only had time to watch one, I’d likely choose the latter. It gets a narrow edge. Verdict: Yes

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Al Mannarino: When I left the theater after seeing Marvel’s Guardians if the Galaxy I had the biggest smile on my face. I had just seen the best movie of the summer. James Gunn crafted a blockbuster filled with amazing action sequences, heartfelt character moments, and plenty of laughs. It was everything you would ever want in a movie, let alone a Marvel film.

Marvel has been on quite a streak since it began it’s cinematic universe with Iron Man back in 2008. The only studio that has ever made this many consecutive quality films was Pixar. Joss Whedon was tasked to take all of these established characters and bring them together in one film. The Avengers was both a critical and commercial success and laid the groundwork for Marvel to expand into other lesser-known properties.

Which brings us to Guardians. This group of characters doesn’t contain a household name like The Hulk or Thor. They don’t posses a huge comic book fan base. Nor have they been introduced in any of the previous films. To say that Guardians of the Galaxy was a gamble is an understatement, but it paid off in the biggest way possible. Guardians broke box office records, was adored by fans and critics, and made this writer question what his favorite Marvel movie is.

Where as Whedon took a group of heroes that didn’t need anyone’s help, Gunn took a rag tag team of thieves, murderers, and outlaws and turned them into heroes. Combine that with one of the best movie soundtracks of all time and you get the quintessential summer blockbuster. Take all that into consideration and you would think the choice would be clear; but my favorite Marvel film is still The Avengers. Whedon’s dialogue, character moments, and relentless action make it the best Marvel film. Gunn has signed on to make a sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy so he still has time to change my mind. Verdict: No

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

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