Back in 2012, when Marvel first announced the development of Guardians of the Galaxy, I had a weird grin plastered across my face – prompting my colleagues to look on in bewilderment. To me, the fact that they were finally bringing the "space marvel" universe to screen, was a bold and audacious move – one that could fail miserably, or succeed so well that it opened the floodgates for something larger and bigger than the earth-bound adventures of The Avengers.
I had first picked up Guardians comic book when the new run started in 2008. Then of course, if you take to a comic character or series, you always go backwards in the catalog and read as much as possible.
Now let's cut to 2014. As Peter Quill put on the headphones, pressed play on the Walkman and started prancing across to 'Come and Get your Love' across a desolate planet on the silver screen – I was grinning from ear to ear once again. With that title sequence, I knew that director James Gunn had set the stage for a film that was going to be significantly more impactful and culturally relevant than the comics, for a new generation and the old.
Am I saying that the movie is better than the comics that came before it? At the risk of starting a war in the comments thread – in my opinion – the answer is YES!
Before I explain – let's take a quick primer on the comics first:
THE ORIGINS – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1
The original team of Guardians, started in the 60s was nowhere close to the version everyone recognizes today. Set in a future timeline, the series carried the signature 'pulp science-fiction' tone of the 60s and the 70s. The original crew that came together as the Guardians of the Galaxy (I'll be using the term GoTG hereafter) included Major Vance Astro, a space-time traversing astronaut; Martinex, a crystalline being from a race of Plutonian Earthmen; Charlie-27, again a strong human descendant from Jupiter and Yondu – who, I wager, is the only character you recognize from that line-up.
The series threw many things into the mix. It had heady sci-fi and time travel, a war for freedom against the reptilian race Bandoo, melee combat on spaceships, multitude of far-out alien races and the occasional team-up with members of The Avengers and Fantastic Four.
The storytelling was typically episodic, with the war with Bandoo as the overarching plot, and the series was generally fun. However, while reading Volume 1, one realizes that there is little sense of relatability to the characters, unlike the roster we know today – Yondu, with his Mohawk and whistling arrow, being the only exception.
Cut to 2008 – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
In 2008, after the events of Phalanx War and Annihilation, Star-Lord (Peter Quill) puts together the Guardians of the Galaxy as we know it today – to prevent universal threats. The series is set in the current timeline in comics, and brings together the core team we've come to love – Starlord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Racoon and Groot.
Over the years they have had their fair share of fun and epic adventures and played a significant part in Marvel's crossovers and major storylines as well.
The GoTG crew have taken on the Cancerverse, fought the big baddie Thanos and survived the Doomverse in Secret Wars recently. Personally, the new series (Vol. 2 onwards) has been much more fun – with tighter storylines, modernized wit and humour and usually good artwork – setting the stage for the characters we now love from the silver screen.
Now, back to why the movie is better.
A Google search might give you listicles which tell you point-by-point what's been done better in the movies, versus the comic books. But let me offer my take on it.
The main reason I'd rate the movie superior to the comics is the simple fact that it makes the story and the characters much more relatable – not because of the medium they exist in, but because of the scale, characters, and vision that James Gunn brings to the table.
1. Lightens The Space Baggage
The comic books, all the way from 1969 to now, come with the baggage of 'Space Marvel-verse', a universe that has its own myriad set of characters, alien races, and storylines. Some are memorable, some not so much and some downright weird. Which means that it's easy to get lost in this part of the comic-verse – let alone reconcile it with the Earth-bound heroes like Iron Man, Fantastic Four, Captain America and Thor.
The movie simplifies that load, makes the expansive world tighter and easier to grasp for the general audiences and in many cases, improves aspects of it.
2. Alien But Human
What James Gunn, the cast and the crew of the first GoTG movie managed to achieve was humanize the space adventure effectively. When you read the comics, you usually know you are in an alien place, far away from Earth – which to be fair, is mostly a good thing but it can be 'alienating' to many who are not too familiar with the comic book canon
By giving Star-Lord a solid 70s pop culture reference point; by making Gamora and Nebula's story that of sibling rivalry and acceptance; and that of Drax as a man on a path of retribution – Gunn and Co. manage to take very human tropes and amalgamate them with space-faring adventure.
3. I Am Groot
Which brings me to Rocket Racoon and Groot. Rocket Racoon and his early comic adventures are, how do I put, a bit 'different'. Rocket's character in the early volumes I read, represented the weird, trippy side of Marvel Comics. While it's easy to laugh at a fur-ball with anger issues and Bradley Cooper's voice in the movie; it's not that comfortable to digest in the comic books.
As for Groot – well, let's just say "Baby Groot", leave an image of him dancing to Jackson 5 in your mind. Let's also assume that many boyfriends the world over finally had a comic book movie that made their girlfriends go "Aww…". Humanity saved.
4. Capturing the Inner Child
The movie captures the awe and imagination of childhood – but enhances it for two separate audiences – one that's grown up, and one that's growing up. Most moviemakers adapting comics or animated works usually manage only one of those two. The tone, visuals and plot of the film resemble the far-flung, mash-up stories we would create during play-time as kids.
In short, the movie takes the best from the comic books and gift wraps it for it to be kept under the Christmas tree. It captures the large canvas from comics over the years and compresses it effectively into a two-hour capsule. Finally, it improves upon some of the characters, designs and motivations – to make a sci-fi epic that is truly human and enjoyable.
Take away the Nova Corps, the space mumbo-jumbo, the stellar visuals and set GoTG on Earth – it'll still be a fun movie to watch – and that's a stellar achievement on Gunn's part. Which is why the movie entertained and enthralled me far more than the comics.