There are many things Guardians of the Galaxy has.
— It has a great story about believing in who you are and what you can accomplish.
— It has a bunch of cool aliens you’ve never seen before.
— It has a fantastic lead hero whose charisma radiates above and beyond his intergalactic ass-kicking skills.
— It has a Rocket Racoon and a Groot — two of the most unique, exciting and memorable characters we’ve seen in years. I’m talking instant-classic kinda characters. How many of you already own their toys and haven’t even seen the movie yet? See. Exactly.
— It has a director (James Gunn) whose passion for the material and love for his main characters is not only shown, but felt. A lot.
— It has this scene.
— It has a lot of nerdy comic references. And cameos.
— It has Michael Rooker, whose character Yondu is such a refreshing addition to the Marvel movieverse because he’s shifty and shady and you never know whose side he’s on, but at the same time he’s such a fun character to watch and root for.
— It has strong female characters whose personal relationship with each other drives much of the film forward.
— And it has everything you want in a movie: thrills, chills, humor, heartbreak, romance, betrayal and really cool action sequences.
But most of all– like if you want to know what really kicks it up a notch from one of the best Marvel movies to quite arguably the best Marvel movie— it’s the soundtrack. The perfect movie soundtrack.
As Guardians of the Galaxy opens, our hero Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) sits quietly in a hospital hallway, lost in a mix tape his mother made for him long before she was stuck in a bed, clutching to the last moments of her life. He’s just a kid at the time, and the song he’s listening to is “I’m Not in Love” by 10cc. Quill isn’t at his mother’s bedside, and he’s not sure if he even wants to be there. He’s mad at his mom, you can tell. Maybe not mad, but hurt. He’s hurt that she’s all he has, and he’s hurt that this is the way it’s ending up. And while she’s kinda the last person he wants to see right now, all he wants to do is listen to the music she gave him. It’s his everything.
And, in this particular moment, it’s about this song.
And it’s about these lyrics.
I’m not in love
So don’t forget it
It’s just a silly phase I’m going through
And just because I call you up
Don’t get me wrong, don’t think you’ve got it made
I’m not in love
I like to see you
But then again
That doesn’t mean you mean that much to me
So if I call you
Don’t make a fuss
Don’t tell your friends about the two of us
I’m not in love, no no, it’s because..
It’s a song you probably know or heard at some point. One of those that make you go, “Ahhh, yeah, that song. I forgot I liked that song.” But in this moment its lyrics play directly to the conflicted feelings trapped inside this little boy. He doesn’t want to admit that his mom is the most important thing in the world to him right now, so he plays disinterested and unaware, mindlessly fiddling with his Walkman.
The end of this sequence is the most important part of the movie and what drives our hero forward (I won’t spoil it) , and from it we cut to an adult Quill who’s still listening to his mix tape (now it’s “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone), only this time he’s doing it while dancing through some alien cavern in search of… something. Maybe it’s a part of him he still hasn’t found. Maybe it’s one of the most powerful forces in all the galaxy. Maybe it’s both.
Unlike before, now he’s funny, jokey and overly confident, and we’ll learn that this part of his personality sort of masks the past issues he’s refused to confront. If we don’t already know that yet, these lyrics tell us:
Hey (hey) What’s the matter with your feel right?
Don’t you feel right, baby?
Hey, oh, yeah, get it from the main vine, alright
I said-a find it, find it, darling, love it
If you like it, yeah-eh
Hey (hey) It’s your business if you want some
Take some, get it together, baby
The lyrics of this song all sort of conflict with one other. At times its confident and fun, but it also knows things aren’t right. “What’s the matter with your mind?” it asks. “Don’t you feel right, baby?” Quill isn’t right and he has a lot to learn, but that’s what makes his hero journey so compelling to watch, not to mention he’s a guy you desperately want to root for.
And it’s not just these two songs that play directly to the movie’s plot as well as inject themselves through its characters’ personalities. The whole soundtrack is like this. It’s full of songs you’ve heard–songs you know; songs you’ve danced to at weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. These are the kind of songs that get stuck in your head and stuck in your life, drilling themselves into the part of you that compulsively listens to a movie’s soundtrack long after it ends.
It’s the perfect movie soundtrack. It takes concepts and characters that might be risky or unfamiliar during a time without many straight-up space-adventure movies and immediately endears you to them. It personalizes the fantasy. Humanizes it.
It’s pretty awesome, too.
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