Doc Zeus: Cosmic Fidelity And The Music Of “Guardians Of The Galaxy”

Doc Zeus lives in the Brooklyn building owned by Hawkguy One of the central stylistic traditions of Marvel Comics has been the company’s grounding of their universe’s super-powered residents in...
By    August 8, 2014

wdamjtdckf1ffitb02vsDoc Zeus lives in the Brooklyn building owned by Hawkguy

One of the central stylistic traditions of Marvel Comics has been the company’s grounding of their universe’s super-powered residents in the recognizable real-life world that their readers currently inhabit. While DC Comic’s Batman broods sullenly atop the gothic, gargoyle-infested skyline of fictional Gotham City, Marvel’s Spider-Man swings freely from the limestone of the real-life Flatiron Building in modern New York City. Marvel’s practice of placing their superheroes and heroines squarely on terra firma has given their characters a unique personal resonance to millions of comic book fans over the last five decades. Despite their powers and super-heroics, Marvel’s characters feel far more “real” than their chief competitors at DC Comics.

This tradition has extended from the comic book page to Marvel Studio’s wildly successful film franchises in their ever-growing cinematic universe. Starting from the studio’s breakout success with 2008’s Iron Man, the Marvel Cinematic Universe exists squarely in the same recognizable world of their audiences even as that world is torn apart by alien races and rampaging rage monsters. The characters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe reference pop culture, crack off-color jokes and listen to the same music as the rest of us all do. The colorfulness of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been mostly a refreshing change of pace for comic book movie fans as the rest of the Hollywood blockbuster industry has gotten bogged down in the dreary, “darker and grittier” self-seriousness of the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy. It’s nice to escape into a world where Tony Stark not only isn’t clueless about Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” but is savvy enough to make smirking reference to it.

Marvel Studio’s latest film, Guardians Of The Galaxy, is the first movie in the franchise’s canon that is not directly tethered to anything resembling a human Earth. The film, directed by James Gunn, is a grand space opera in the tradition of Star Wars following the story of a misfit band of space mercenaries including a sentient walking tree, a couple of alien assassins, a gun-toting anthropomorphic raccoon and Parks & Recreation’s Chris Pratt as an ersatz Han Solo-cum-Burt Macklin. The gang team up to attempt to stop the genocidal machinations of a fundamentalist alien warlord. The entire film is lethal dose of gamma-radiated fun, filled with action, humor and a surprising amount of genuine emotional pathos for a film that is largely anchored by a CGI woodland critter and a monosyllabic plant man. (Shouts to Vin Diesel!)

Despite all of Guardians’ cosmic DNA, the movie still remains in a universe that mirrors our own. This is accomplished through the film’s excellent use of pop music. Guardians Of The Galaxy’s emotional narrative is built upon the film’s glorious, cheesed-out soundtrack of 70s pop tunes. In the opening moments of the film, Peter Quill, the film’s primary protagonist, is given a vintage 1980s Sony Walkman and a cassette mixtape, whimsically dubbed “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” by his cancer-stricken mother before being abducted by marauding aliens and taken to the other end of the galaxy as a child. Throughout the film, Quill’s only remaining connection with his deceased mother and his Earthly origins is his cassette player filled with classic songs that he plays as the literal soundtrack to his galactic misadventures. Director James Gunn employs these tracks not only as both a diegetic and non-diegetic score to many of the film’s most memorable moments – Quill’s celebratory lip sync-and-dance sequence to Redbone’s “Come & Get Your Love” in the opening minutes of the film is particularly choice- but as a key component to Quill’s character emotional arch. If Guardians Of The Galaxy has ambitions to become this generation’s answer to Star Wars, then Peter Quill is something approaching Luke Skywalker as interpreted by John Cusack’s fanatical record collector in High Fidelity.

As for the film’s commercial soundtrack, Guardians Of The Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 is a pretty eclectic mix of memorable 70s pop tracks. The soundtrack provides a winning collection of some of the era’s best music; both classic cuts and some off-beat selections can be found in the mix. English art rock band 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love” rubs against the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” while teenage girl punk band The Runaway’s seminal “Cherry Bomb” shares track space with the über-cheese of the freakin’ “Pina Colada Song.” Meanwhile the film’s unofficial theme song, Blue Swede’s “Hooked On A Feeling” makes a strong case for the delightful tackiness of Swedish pop rock music. The soundtrack feels expertly curated and could easily be thrown at your next intergalactic keg party.

Ultimately, James Gunn and Marvel Studios has managed to craft an weird little pop experience that somehow manages to stay within the conventions of high-budget science fiction cinema and often completely transcends them. Peter Quill, Rocket Racoon, Drax The Destroyer, Gamora and Groot might not be strictly human but the world they inhabit is identifiably human as anything in cinema. It proves that even aliens and talking animals can appreciate Marvin Gaye and David Bowie as much as the rest of us.

See it twice.

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