When Marvel boss Kevin Feige first announced that Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) would be the 10th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was considered a risky proposition. Up until that point, Marvel Studios had found unprecedented success with a unified film version of the Marvel universe that had so far grossed $6.4 billion at the worldwide box office.
While Marvel’s blue-chip properties like Spider-Man and X-Men were gobbled up by other studios, Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios proved that they could find success with Marvel’s slightly more obscure characters — elevating the likes of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) into first-team cinematic icons.
But surely, lightning couldn’t strike twice. Could it? Once Kevin Feige was finished assembling the Avengers (2012), Marvel Studios looked to Phase 2 as an opportunity to expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe into cosmic territory. Enter Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).
Marvel Studios’ first foray into space, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) featured a team of characters much more obscure than Iron Man or Hulk. Chris Pratt had never opened a big-budget action movie before. He went from NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation directly to the cosmos to take the lead role of Peter Quill — AKA Star-Lord — the sole earthling in the motley crew of alien oddballs. He was joined by WWE Superstar wrestler Dave Bautista, as the always shirtless and extremely literal Drax the Destroyer. Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper were two bankable stars, but Cooper was set to voice a surly talking raccoon, Rocket, and Diesel would lend his vocal talents with only three now-famous words: “I am Groot.” Zoe Saldana rounded out the crew as Gamora, a deadly daughter of Thanos. These characters were not household names.
Charged with bringing the relatively unknown space squad to life on-screen was director James Gunn. Gunn was not exactly a sure thing either, having been primarily known as helmer of the super low-budget comedy Super (2011) and the only slightly higher-budget horror film Slither (2006). While fine movies in their own right, they were a far cry from a $200 million-budgeted Marvel Cinematic Universe tent-pole.
Yet somehow, it all worked out. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) was a huge hit out of the gate, earning $772 million in worldwide box office receipts. The sequel Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) earned even more –$864 million — and cemented the MCU Guardians of the Galaxy characters’ place as beloved generational pop culture icons. Following a brief, but very public ousting of James Gunn by Disney over past offensive comments, the director and the studio mended fences. James Gunn is back with the franchise and is writing and directing the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, due in theaters May 5, 2023.
Let’s break down the history of the Guardians of the Galaxy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and understand their place in the Infinity Saga and beyond. Who are the Guardians of the Galaxy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Characters that make up the Guardians of the Galaxy in the MCU
Who are the characters in Guardians of the Galaxy?
The main characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise Guardians of the Galaxy are Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel). The crew was joined in the sequel by Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and the former nemesis of the Guardians, Nebula (Karen Gillan).
In Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), the main antagonist was Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). In Vol. 2 (2017), the big bad was Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell).
What are the major characteristics of the main characters in Guardians of the Galaxy?
- Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord (Chris Pratt): Peter Quill was born on Earth, and abducted by the Ravagers — led by Yondu — following the death of his mother. Raised by the Yondu Ravager Clan as a thief and smuggler, Quill began going by the moniker Star-Lord as he built a name as a bona fide space outlaw. Equipped with quad-blasters, an enhanced helmet that allows him to breathe in outer space, and rocket boots, Quill uses his gadgets and enhanced durability as a Celestial-Human hybrid to survive encounters with powerful beings like Thanos and Ronan the Accuser. Quill was raised by his adoptive father Yondu, not meeting his real father — the Celestial, Ego — until reaching adulthood. Quick with a joke or sarcastic comment, Quill has a charming personality and a penchant for his mother’s favorite 1970s/80s rock and pop jams from his Awesome Mix cassette tapes. He pilots the spacecraft, Milano.
- Gamora (Zoe Saldana): Raised to be a deadly assassin — alongside half-sister Nebula — by Thanos, Gamora was adopted by the Mad Titan after he destroyed half of her race in his quest for galactic balance. Gamora came to hate her adoptive father Thanos, eventually becoming a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy after encountering Peter Quill while hunting the “Orb” — a container of the Infinity Stone, the Power Stone. Gamora has enhanced bionic abilities including superhuman strength, durability, and agility, and is highly skilled with bladed weaponry. As a hand-to-hand combatant, Gamora’s skills are on-par with some of the best in the Marvel Universe, like Captain America or the Winter Soldier. Gamora carried herself through much of her life as an emotionless assassin — a veneer that began to soften following her team-up with the Guardians and entering into a relationship with Quill. Gamora was killed by Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) as he traded her life for the Soul Stone. Gamora still exists in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Sacred Timeline as a variant, though she does not share many of the same experiences as the original MCU Gamora.
- Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista): The hulking Drax comes from a primitive planet inhabited by a fierce warrior race. Despite his brutal abilities in combat, Drax’s lack of pretense or understanding of metaphor and custom often leads to comedic situations. He hates Thanos and Ronan the Accuser for destroying half the population of his home planet and encounters the Guardians of the Galaxy during his quest for vengeance. Drax possesses superhuman strength, durability, and an advanced healing factor. He’s a highly skilled hand-to-hand combatant and marksman.
- Rocket (Bradley Cooper): Rocket is a genetically enhanced creature, the result of extensive lab experiments and cybernetic implants. Though unaware of what a raccoon is, he plainly resembles one and is thought to have been given sentience as a result of having undergone extensive experimentations in captivity. Rocket has a caustic personality and a love of machinery and big guns. He’s a skilled engineer with a facility for high-tech weaponry that enables him to quickly devise and enact clever plans to escape danger or assault enemies. He and his pal Groot traveled the galaxy committing crimes before encountering Peter Quill and joining the Guardians of the Galaxy.
- Groot (Vin Diesel): Groot is a highly intelligent, tree-like being of the species Flora Colossus. Groot is limited to a vocabulary of three words, “I am Groot,” though he’s shown the ability to communicate articulately within those limitations by those who with the ability to understand his language — especially his partner-in-crime Rocket Raccoon. Groot possesses superhuman strength and the ability to manipulate his body by extending or stretching any part of it with only a thought. Groot can generate vines which he can also manipulate and shield himself by growing additional stick-like projections. Groot sacrificed himself at the climax of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). A new Groot — the original’s offspring — was grown from his remains and continued his adventures with Rocket and the rest of the Guardians. Groot and “Baby Groot” are extremely popular with fans of the Marvel universe. Groot had the most screen time of any Guardian in the original film.
- Mantis (Pom Klementieff): Mantis is a powerful empath with the ability to detect and manipulate the emotions of others. Mantis first appears in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 under the employ of Ego but is recruited to join the Guardians of the Galaxy after revealing Ego’s plan to take over the galaxy to Drax.
- Nebula (Karen Gillan): Adopted half-sister of Gamora, Nebula was raised by Thanos to be a ruthless assassin after the Mad Titan slaughtered her family. Repeatedly subjected to brutal cybernetic testing and enhancement, Nebula lived to serve Thanos, before realizing he was the true monster. Nebula ended her rivalry with Gamora and sought to instead destroy Thanos.
Other notable Guardians characters
- Yondu (Michael Rooker): Adoptive father of Peter Quill, and leader of the Yondu Ravager Clan. He was originally commissioned by Ego to kidnap a young Peter Quill from Earth but decided to raise Quill to become a Ravager to protect him from Ego. Yondu sacrifices himself to save Quill from Ego at the climax of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017).
- Kraglin (Sean Gunn): First mate in the Yondu Ravager Clan, Kraglin has played a significant role in supporting the Guardians and leading the Ravagers following Yondu’s death. The actor, Sean Gunn is the real-life brother of Sean Gunn and is also credited as “On-Set Rocket” as he wears a chroma key morphsuit to act as Rocket’s stand-in and eventual CGI canvas during filming.
- Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace): A powerful Kree warlord and chief antagonist of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Ronan allied himself with Thanos to destroy the planet of Xandar, before betraying him once he came into possession of the Orb — the Power Stone. He was killed by the combined force of the Guardians of the Galaxy wilding the Infinity Stone, the Power Stone.
- Ego (Kurt Russell): An extremely powerful being, Ego is a Celestial — a living planet with a humanoid extension. In an attempt to remake the universe in his image, Ego sired thousands of children across the galaxy in the hopes of acquiring a child powerful enough to help him terraform worlds in the image of themselves. When Quill is reunited with his estranged father, he learns that he deliberately killed his mother to keep his plans for universal domination afloat.
History of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Guardians of the Galaxy
How do the Guardians fit into the MCU timeline?
The Guardians of the Galaxy have appeared in the following Marvel Cinematic Universe movies:
- Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – This is the first appearance of the Guardians characters and the tenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is the fourth film of Marvel’s Phase 2. It’s an origin story of sorts for the team, as the group forms an uneasy alliance with the mission of obtaining “the Orb,” the powerful relic encasing the Infinity Stone known as the Power Stone. The goal of the Guardians is originally to obtain the Orb for profit, but once they learn of its power, they use it to protect Xandar from destruction by Ronan the Accuser.
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 (2017) – In the Guardians sequel — the third film of Marvel’s Phase 3 — we pick up the action just a few months following the events of the first film. The Guardians overcome their dysfunctional family-style infighting as they uncover the secret history of Peter Quill and his powerful Celestial father, Ego. The Guardians save the galaxy, but not before losing Yondu.
- Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – This is the seventh film in Marvel’s Phase 3, and the third Avengers film, following Avengers (2012) sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). The Guardians encounter Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) as they attempt to stop Thanos from collecting all six Infinity Stones to assemble the unstoppable Infinity Gauntlet.
- Avengers: Endgame (2019) – This is the tenth film of Marvel’s Phase 3, and the fourth Avengers film, and the highest-grossing superhero movie of all time. Having failed to stop Thanos from eliminating half of all lifeforms in the universe, the remaining Guardians do whatever it takes to assist the Avengers with the Time Heist. In the end, the Avengers are successful in reversing the snap, bringing back all those that were lost, though Gamora was unable to be recovered. A variant Gamora now exists in the Sacred Timeline. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) allies himself with the Guardians, joining them in their ship, the Benatar.
Upcoming MCU projects set to feature the Guardians of the Galaxy:
- Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
- The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (2022)
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)
How Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy differs in the MCU from the original comics
How are the Guardians portrayed in the original Marvel Comics?
The original 1969 Guardians of the Galaxy in the Marvel Comics were a completely different line-up than the current Marvel Cinematic Universe adaptation. The Guardians were active in the 31st Century and consisted of Major Vance Astro, Matinex T’Naga, Charlie-27, and Yondu Udonta — and no, not that Yondu Udonta.
How are the Guardians portrayed in the MCU?
Director James Gunn helmed a 2014 Marvel movie Guardians line-up that was based on the 2008 relaunch of the Guardians of the Galaxy team in the pages of Marvel Comics. While the film incorporates a lot from these comics, it diverts a lot from the crazy source material. Below are some notable examples.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the backstory of Dave Bautista’s Drax is only touched on briefly. We know that his planet primitive warrior planet was attacked by Ronan the Accuser under the direction of Thanos, and that half of his race was wiped out, while the other half lived, created by Jim Starlin in 1973, Drax was born as a human being named Arthur Douglas. In Marvel Comics, Thanos comes to Earth and attacks poor Arthur’s car seemingly killing Douglas and his whole family. Then Arthur Douglas is resurrected by Thanos’ father, Mentor, and turns him into a blood-thirsty killing machine hell-bent on killing Thanos, just as Mentor intended.
The MCU Rocket Raccoon and his comic book counterpart are both trash-talking trash pandas with similar personality traits and a deftness for strategy and weaponry. In the comics, Rocket is born an anthropomorphic raccoon and fully aware of it. In the MCU, he’s given a much darker backstory of not really knowing who or what he is, with his self-awareness likely the result of years of cruel experimentation.
Groot in the MCU, as in the comics, hails from Planet X and is a tree-like entity of few words. However, in the comics, Groot was originally introduced in 1960 as a 25-foot tall villain who came to earth to round up humans for alien “research.” Groot was revamped into the much friendlier version we know and love him as today in the early 2000s.
The Guardians of the Galaxy have come a long way from disparate obscure comic book trivia into a box office and cultural powerhouse franchise.
If you want to catch up on other Marvel stories such as Doctor Strange, Black Widow, Thor, and Black Panther you can now find them all on Disney+. Marvel Studios is also bringing brand new series to Disney+ that further the storylines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe such as WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki.
Who’s your favorite member of Guardians of the Galaxy? Let us know in the comments! and Drax’s family was on the wrong side of that line. In the comics, Drax also has a tragic backstory, but there’s a lot more strange detail to it.