The first trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy, the dark horse of the Avengers Cinematic Universe is so much fun! (OOGA CHAKA OOGA OOGA) For those unfamiliar with the Guardians of the Galaxy comic book—and that’s most of us as the comics were never popular enough to stave off cancellation—the movie represents a quirky new direction for the Avengers universe, one only hinted at through the delightfully batty Thor films.
But for those who are familiar with Marvel’s cosmos line of books in the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s, the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer is hiding a lot of clues about a larger struggle that will consume the Marvel movies after Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Read on for a layman’s guide to Guardians of the Galaxy. (Warning! Spoilers ahead for pretty much every Marvel movie that has come out, plus some for Guardians of the Galaxy and one for Avengers: Age of Ultron.)
First we’ll start off with what we’ve already seen.
Thanos was the big post-credits surprise in 2012’s The Avengers. After watching Loki and his new pals the alien Chitauri get a severe pasting courtesy of the Avengers, we then found out that the Chitauri were answering to a higher authority, that of Thanos himself.
In the comics, Thanos is a member of the ruling family of Titan, a civilization situated on Saturn’s moon. While the inhabitants of Titan resemble humans, Thanos himself is a mutation, a shameful disfigurement. Perhaps because of his rejection from Titan’s society, he becomes infatuated with the concept of death at an early age (his parents naming him “Thanos” probably didn’t help) and he eventually kills and dissects his own mother as part of that fascination.
He’s not well, is what I’m trying to convey here.
Thanos is subsequently exiled from home for his unspeakable crime but, as a genius sociopath who can even be downright charming at times, he swiftly conquers other worlds, amasses armies, and leads lesser beings to ruin. Thanos is a brutal, death-worshipping nihilist, but he’s also a chessmaster on a cosmic level. You do well not to underestimate him.
His actions are governed by an obsession with piercing the veil between life and death, and towards this end he has repeatedly sought and gained the power of a god (Repeatedly.) to prove himself as a force equal to death. Or, in his mind, as a suitor worthy of death’s devotion.
Is any of this relevant to the movies?: We don’t know yet, but we’ve been given hints. In The Avengers Thanos only pays attention to Earth’s might when his Chitauri advisor phrases it as “courting death.” Thanos even smiles at that notion, as if that one girl he likes on OKCupid finally messaged him back.
Thanks to Thor: The Dark World we know one other thing, that the Avengers Cinematic Universe holds an item that Thanos obtained godly power with in the comics.
2.) The Infinity Stones
After the events of The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World, Asgard attains possession of both the Tesseract and the Aether, both of them devices (or forces, really) that have been used in attempts to destroy Earth and/or the universe.
Which is why after the credits for Thor: The Dark World Sif and Volstagg take the Aether to a fellow called The Collector so he can keep it safe within his galactic menagerie of rare items. Asgard can handle protecting one of the “infinity stones” but having two is seriously just asking for your civilization to get pancaked by every power-hungry wacko who tries to sneak past Heimdall.
The Collector all but rips it out of their hand and after they leave he mutters, “One down, five to go.”
In the comics there are six Infinity Gems that, when combined, essentially grant you the power of a god, with all the universe-creating-dominating-and-destroying which that implies. Individually those Gems—and they’re actually portrayed as gems—give you ultimate control over Power, Space, Time, Mind, Reality, and Soul. (The Soul Gem grants you power over, yes, souls, and is essentially its own weird fantasy afterlife. As places you can never escape go, it’s probably one of the nicer ones.)
In the comics, Thanos manages to gather them all together (in a handy gauntlet!) before anyone really notices. The entire thing actually happens in a short two-issue mini-series, so apparently the only thing really standing between anyone and godhood is buckling down and doing the fucking research. Then he spends a six issue mini-series titled The Infinity Gauntlet systematically destroying the Marvel superheroes, the Earth, the universe, and the gods that govern it, wondering all the while why the personification of Death just keeps frowning at him.*
*You don’t want to know why he loses.
Seriously, it’s not going to make you any happier.
Sigh. Okay. The living corpse of his supposed grand-daughter manages to steal the gauntlet then some rando by the name of Adam Warlock convinces the gems themselves that they like him better than her. Then everything gets mostly reset.
Is any of this relevant to the movies?: VERY YES. But not for a while. We’ve only just learned of the existence of the Infinity “stones” in the MCU and we only know where two of them are. A lot of dots have to get connected before Thanos is on the scene and wielding godlike power over Robert Downey, Jr. and the Chrises Hemsworth and Evans. (No one controls Mark Ruffalo. He is the wind, baby.)
The movies also seem to be departing from the requirement that the pieces of the Infinity Gauntlet have to be gems, or have to have direct control over aspects of the universe. You could argue that the Tesseract fits the bill for the Space Gem, but mostly it’s presented as an inexhaustible energy source. The Aether also warps space, but mostly it just breaks down the molecular structure of reality. Both of these MacGuffins are destructive enough that you don’t need to assign them names like “Space Gem” or “Reality Gem” to make audiences beware of the person who is wielding them.
It also allows the MCU a huge amount of flexibility going forward when assigning something the status of “Infinity Stone.” Which Guardians of the Galaxy looks like it’s taking advantage of.
3.) Guardians of the Galaxy and Star-Lord’s orb
We don’t know what the story of Guardians of the Galaxy will be until we see it, but we do have an official synopsis to draw from.
An action-packed, epic space adventure, Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos, where brash adventurer Peter Quill finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan, a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits—Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon; Groot, a tree-like humanoid; the deadly and enigmatic Gamora; and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer. But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last, desperate stand—with the galaxy’s fate in the balance.
Is any of this relevant to the movies?: An orb with enough power to menace the cosmos? Sounds like an Infinity Stone. This would also explain why Benicio del Toro is playing the Collector in Guardians. He’s most likely after the orb, as well.
So now we know the larger struggle informing these movies. And it looks like Guardians is going to start connecting those dots for us. In fact, it’s already started.
Let’s go in order of what’s depicted in the trailer.
We learn about our heroes as they’re being processed by the Nova Corps, the galaxy’s police force and wielders of the Nova Force (Glenn Close plays their leader!) which is unique to Xandar and which lets you basically rocket around the universe by yourself. Xandar itself consists of pieces of the old planet of Xandar, which was torn apart by its enemies and rebuilt in a series of interconnected domes in space. In the comics Earth itself houses a member of the Nova Corps in the form of teenager Richard Ryder.
Peter “Star-Lord” Quill is arrested on Xandar presumably for attempting to steal the Orb featured in the trailer and synopsis.
Is any of this relevant to the movies?: Quite possibly. The Nova Corps in the trailer are played as schlubs by John C. Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz and the cast list and story don’t mention Nova or Richard Ryder. Most likely they’re just there to give the impression that universe around the Marvel Cinematic Earth has its own long-standing status quo.
In addition, one of the movie’s villains is the one kind of sort of responsible for blowing up Xandar in the first place. Maybe the Guardians are released from prison in order to hunt this person down?
There’s still the question of what the Orb is doing on Xandar—and why it looks so easy to steal—so it’s possible that Xandar’s backstory and the Nova Force might come into play further on in the story. The Orb is supposed to contain serious power, so it might actually be the source of Xandar’s Nova Force. This is speculation, though.
Considering that we’ve only seen out-of-context scenes from the movie, though, there’s another clue that suggests the Orb might not be on Xandar.
Imagine a planet so harsh and jagged that the Hulk would feel comfortable settling down and raising a family there. What you’d get is the world of Sakaar and its inhabitants.
Sakaar made its first appearance in Marvel Comics in the “Planet Hulk” storyline, itself a result of Tony Stark deciding that since no one ever knows when Bruce will turn into the Hulk it would be better for everyone to just shoot him into space. Sorry, Bruce, but let’s stay buds, okay?
Although the trailer mentions Star-Lord being arrested on Xandar, it’s Sakaarans that actually stop him from stealing the orb. The most important of these Sakaarans is Korath the Pursuer (the one in the trailer who doesn’t know who Star-Lord is), who is a primary antagonist in the Guardians of the Galaxy film.
Is any of this relevant to the movies?: We don’t know, but Sakaar is an interesting element of the Marvel universe to bring into the films since it represents an ultimate betrayal of the Hulk by the same Avengers whom he thought were the only people on Earth who truly understood him.
Set reports from Avengers: Age of Ultron have revealed that the movie opens with the Hulk rampaging through South Africa. Has Bruce lost control again? Will the Avengers have to make a tough choice by the end of the film?
6.) Drax the Destroyer
Although Star-Lord is meant to be the only human present in the space-faring Marvel Cinematic Universe, Drax is actually human, as well. Specifically, he used to be a Burbank-area saxophonist before his family was killed as a side effect of a hostile alien’s escape from Earth.
The alien in question? Thanos.
Drax was resurrected and genetically fashioned into a warrior by Thanos’ homeworld of Titan, but the process was flawed and while Drax came out with enough power to level a planet, his mind was that of a child’s. Meaning that, sadly, Drax remained completely unaware of Thanos’ role in his family’s death. He was later granted (then lost) the Power Gem and also regained the ability to reason and function as an adult. Drax eventually recalled his past life, but the showdown between him and Thanos never quite materialized.
Is any of this relevant to the movies?: Partially. Although the details of Drax’s origins and state of mind are undoubtedly going to be different, the Xandarian states in the trailer that Drax’s default state is roaming the galaxy enacting vengeance on those he thinks killed his family. His species is listed as “unknown” so it’s possible that we’ll find out that he’s human, as well, which would provide some nice thematic resonance with Star-Lord’s desire to preserve things that connect him to Earth. (Like his walkman and the mix tape it came with.)
It wouldn’t be surprising to discover that Thanos is still responsible for the death of Drax’s family. The Guardians may not know it, but a lot of them share connections to the insane Titan.
Gamora is the sole survivor of an attack that completely wiped out her race, the Zen-Whoberi. She was found as a child, oddly enough, by Thanos himself, who then proceeded to train her as his assassin as she grew into maturity. While exploring a seemingly innocuous spaceport, Gamora was set upon by a gang and savagely beaten nearly to death.
Thanos reconstructed her, making her deadlier than ever. So deadly in fact that Gamora is often referred to as “The Most Dangerous Woman in the Universe.” The two eventually parted ways as Thanos’ ambitions moved on to grander schemes, and her very presence remains as the only sign of compassion that Thanos has ever exhibited.
Is any of this relevant to the movies?: Definitely. Gamora’s back-story solidifies the personal connection that this rag-tag bunch of space misfits have with Thanos (and thus with the Infinity Stones). Her prison profile also mentions that she’s the last survivor of her race, and points out her post-assault cybernetic implants. The details of how she got all of them may change, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the movie sticks with Gamora as essentially Thanos’ only progeny.
Especially when we take into account one of the other villains featured in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Nebula is the leader of a band of space pirates in the comics and insists that she is Thanos’ grand-daughter. Although Thanos denies this—and in his defense the idea of him reproducing is a fairly laughable concept—Nebula nevertheless insists that her claim is true. Most likely she claims this simply to make her appear more deadly than her origins would otherwise allow, but so far that tactic appears to be working. In the comics, Nebula has tangled repeatedly with Marvel heroes and even achieved god-like status for a moment.
She’s also mostly responsible for destroying Xandar in the first place.
But she didn’t always look like she does in the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer. Her current appearance is actually the result of a hackjob operation designed to restore her from a catatonic state after the events of The Infinity Gauntlet. The operation worked, leaving Nebula scarred but deadlier than ever.
Is any of this relevant to the movies?: Nebula claiming a connection to Thanos makes her fight against Gamora (hinted at in the trailer and stated outright by Nebula actress Karen Gillan) all the more enriching. There could be multiple reasons why they’re actually fighting, but having both of them claim a connection makes it...personal.
It’s up in the air whether movie Nebula will be responsible for the destruction of Xandar in the same manner as comics Nebula, but it would be a nice way to tie the character to the overall mythos of the galaxy and make her more of a threat to our heroes.
9.) Rocket Raccoon & Groot
Actually, these two are nicely uncomplicated. Rocket is the result of animal experimentation and Groot is...a living tree who seems to adore Rocket and utters one line...“I am Groot.” Neither of them have a connection to Thanos or to Infinity Gems/stones, which is kind of a breath of fresh air when you consider that almost everything else listed above does.
Is any of this relevant to the movies?: We’ll see! You know what would be really weird is if there was a Howard the Duck easter egg in Guardians of the Galaxy, retroactively making that movie part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
10.) Ronan the Accuser
Imagine Thor, but really mean and judgmental and blue-skinned, and you get a quick idea of who Ronan the Accuser is. Ronan is a member of the Kree race, giving us a tenuous connection with recent revelations in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and in the comics can usually be found hunting down people that the Kree have declared enemies of the state. He’s honorable, but always willing to let his duty supersede matters of honor, and brutal in his methods.
Is any of this relevant to the movies?: That remains to be seen. Most of our information about his role in the movies comes from director James Gunn, who confirmed at SDCC in 2013 that Ronan is the film’s main antagonist and that Ronan is linked with Korath and Thanos. Gunn provided another link upon the release of the movie trailer, stating that we see Star-Lord facing off against a fleet of Ronan’s “necrocraft.”
Is Ronan just as obsessed with death as his master, Thanos? Does the entire Kree race worship Thanos as a god of death unto himself?
Marvel film head Kevin Feige elaborated on the connection.
Thanos plays a part in Guardians as a mastermind. He very much exists at nearly another plane than any of the other characters. And we have big plans for him, over the course of a very long, long time.
11.) The Collector
The Collector, otherwise known as Taneleer Tivan, is a member of an immortal race of beings known as the Elders of the Universe. They were one of the first sentient races to evolve in the universe and over time have simply become known by their titles, not unlike the Time Lords of Gallifrey.
The Collector is obsessed with collecting and preserving the rarities of the universe, be they a book, an Infinity stone, or entire races. His is an exceedingly grey morality and you can never tell whether he will be friend or foe when you meet him.
During Thanos’ quest in the comics to collect the Infinity Gems, the Collector ends up trading the Reality gem to the mad Titan, pretty much dooming the rest of the cosmos. Nice one, Collector!
Is any of this relevant to the movies?: It wouldn’t be out of place for events in the movies to play out in somewhat the same manner as they did in the comics. Although considering the Collector’s statement in Thor: The Dark World—“One down, five to go.”—he might already be tasked by Thanos to assemble the Infinity stones. Or he might be assembling them for his own use. Since Star-Lord’s orb is most likely an Infinity stone, the Collector will probably be a key figure in Guardians of the Galaxy and the Marvel movies going forward.
It took five years for Marvel Films to assemble an onscreen Avengers, each piece carefully placed year after year so that by the time the movie itself debuted in 2012, mainstream audiences were already heavily invested in thunder gods, iron men, and supersoldiers.
Now that audiences have been trained to accept motley crews of superheroes and interconnected movie universes, Marvel is kicking off their next gamble in Guardians of the Galaxy. Can you accept that one universe can hold otherworldly aliens, gods, snide industrialists, magicians, ant-men, rebellious A.I.’s, walking miracles, and more?
You will by the time Avengers 3 arrives in 2018. And the pieces start coming together this summer.