We’re halfway there.
Well, sort of. We’re halfway through the Marvel movies that have thus far been released, but there’s also Captain Marvel and, of course, Avengers: Endgame on the horizon. I’m still not quite sure how I’m going to handle those since I won’t be able to use screenshots the way I have up until now, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
For now, though, let’s talk about Guardians of the Galaxy. Even more so than the Thor movies, this one is super simple, in fact, after only five minutes we’re given all the information we need to place it on the timeline.
And that’s it. We’ve got a prologue set in 1988, and then we flash forward 26 years to 2014, which gives us the setting of the film. After that there’s basically no other mention of dates.
But I’m not just going to leave it there. Because this story has Peter Quill abducted in 1988, it would follow that his understanding of Earth’s pop culture would all need to be pre-1989, and there are a lot of pop culture references in this movie. So let’s engage in some pedantic nerdery (er– more so than usual) just for the sake of having some reason to justify this being an entire article.
Note: Previously I’ve cropped the screenshots to match their original aspect ratio, but on the Blu-ray Disc for this movie, unlike previous film, the subtitles overlap with the letterboxing, so the rest of the images in this post will be letterboxed to accommodate the subtitles.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the subtitles on this movie are hot garbage. For a movie that uses music this prominently, it’s frustrating that an accessibility feature like subtitles doesn’t provide on screen lyrics or even the name of the song that’s playing. Anyway, the movie opens with a young Peter Quill listening to “I’m Not in Love” by 10cc on his Walkman, originally released in May of 1975.
When Peter arrives on the planet Morag, he plays Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love”, originally released in January 1974. When he leaves, he’s listening to the 1972 song “Go All the Way” by the Raspberries. He also references the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who first appeared in comics in 1984, but more likely Peter would have been familiar with the cartoon that began in 1987 and hit syndication in fall of 1988.
Also, TMNT originally existed to parody Marvel’s Daredevil comics, but even if we treat Marvel TV’s Daredevil as canon (which, to reiterate, we are not), Daredevil wouldn’t exist in this universe until after the events of The Avengers. Best not to think about it too much.
This one is a bit controversial. The Ark of the Covenant and Maltese Falcon are easy as they’re referencing Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and The Maltese Falcon (1941) respectively, but the “shiny blue suitcase” is where we get some hangups. Some have read it as an anachronistic reference to Pulp Fiction, but the briefcase in that film was very definitely not blue. IMDb pegs it as a reference to The Big Empty, and at least that suitcase is blue (and kinda shiny, I guess, but that’s hardly its defining feature), but even if this was a mistake, it wouldn’t make sense to reference a fairly obscure 2003 film next to two of the most well-known movies ever made. The most compelling suggestion I’ve seen is that it’s a reference to the radioactive box from the 1955 film Kiss Me Deadly. Again, that’s not a huge cultural touchstone the way Raiders and Maltese Falcon are, but at least it’s one that conceivably could have played on TV when Peter was a kid, and though it’s not specifically called out as blue, the movie’s black and white, so it could conceivably be any color.
References to the 1964 book The Giving Tree as well as Blue Swede’s cover of “Hooked on a Feeling”. The Blue Swede song was actually released in 1974, but according to Wikipedia it was recorded in 1973, so Quill’s music trivia is on point. “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” from 1979 also plays as Peter– well, escapes from the Kyln.
Peter makes references to Ranger Rick, the titular mascot of the children’s nature magazine first published in 1967, as well as Jackson Pollock whose most famous work (and the work Peter’s referencing) was made between 1947 and 1950. The David Bowie version of “Moonage Daydream” from 1972 plays as the Milano arrives at Knowhere.
On Knowhere, Peter makes references to Billy the Kid (whom he would have know through any number of films, books, or TV reruns), Bonnie and Clyde (most likely referring to the 1967 movie), John Stamos (who would have just started starring in Full House about a year before Peter was abducted), and the original 1984 Footloose. Peter and Gamora also listen to the 1975 Elvin Bishop song, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.”
No specific dates here, but we also get some backstory on the silly space rocks which are concentrated versions of powers that predate the creation of the universe and solidified as Infinity Stones once the universe was born.
Peter says Yondu’s been playing the “I didn’t eat you” card for twenty years, rounding down from the 26 years it’s been since his abduction.
Did I mention how the subtitles on this disc are pretty bad? Anyway, Peter’s display of bravado in the face of Ronan is set to the Five Stairsteps’ 1970 song “O-o-h Child” and when Peter finally opens the gift from his mom, the first song he plays on the Awesome Mix Vol. 2 tape is Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s 1967 hit “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
Outside of the weird blue suitcase reference, everything definitely checks out as far as internal consistency goes, but no one was really questioning that to begin with, so this article is an especially absurd entry in an already ridiculous series. So let’s try to reclaim it a little bit.
Thus far I’ve abstained from any real critical analysis in these articles because dumb, pedantic nerdery is kind of antithetical to nuanced critical evaluation, but in revisiting Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time since the events of this past summer, it feels disingenuous to not address the elephant in the room. James Gunn was fired from this movie’s second sequel and his involvement in the broader Marvel enterprise because Disney Chairman Alan Horn made a panicked reaction to bad faith attacks by Alt-Right conspiracy wing nuts while CEO Bob Iger was away on vacation. This whole thing played out in the dumbest way imaginable, but because of the politics and power dynamics at the world’s largest entertainment conglomerate, no one was willing to acknowledge how immensely stupid all of this was, so the slow-motion train wreck was allowed to play out.
I bring all of this up not in an effort to defend James Gunn – I think what happened was shitty and stupid and he didn’t deserve it, but he’s also an extravagantly wealthy white filmmaker who already has a lucrative movie deal lined up at Warner Bros. – but instead to reflect on the deeply ironic and frustrating way this whole situation is reflected in the themes of the movies he made.
Joss Whedon’s entire body of work is made up of explorations of broken people who have to come together in spite of their brokenness to do something good, but there’s rarely healing in his stories. His works are about the constant struggle to overcome your damage and your own worst impulses and how difficult that can be – and those themes are part of why I find Avengers: Age of Ultron so compelling. The Guardians movies are also about broken people coming together to do something good, but unlike Whedon, Gunn is interested in the transformative power of empathy and the way shitty, broken people can be healed and go through genuine, tangible change when they allow themselves to care about other people and be cared about by other people.
All of the Guardians are broken and angry and have built a life around keeping other people at arms distance. Quill is not just developmentally stuck as an angry kid, he’s actually regressed in his 26 years alone. In the prologue we hear that he got in a fight trying to save a frog from being squished by other kids, and then the next time we see him, he’s kicking weird space rats on an alien planet. Then you’ve got Rocket who builds himself up with macho bravado to hide his deep insecurities over being a freakish science experiment; Gamora who runs from intimacy since the only “love” she’s ever known was that of her abusive, genocidal, kidnapper; and Drax who channels the pain of losing his family into a quasi-suicidal quest for revenge, wanting nothing more than to end his suffering by dying in battle trying to avenge the people he loved. Gunn has talked at length about the autobiographical core of these characters, how they reflect his own experiences with anger and loneliness and abuse and loss and the way he channeled that into cynical posturing and crass shock humor. Each of the Guardians represents a facet of Gunn’s own brokenness and the hope that the movie represents is that by coming together and being able to feel empathy for one another as well as the broader world (or Galaxy, as it were), they’re able to begin the path to healing. It’s not easy, and it’s not all at once (something that’s explored heavily in the sequel), but by the end of the movie, these broken, fucked up people have become quantifiably better and have found a family in each other to replace the ones that were either stolen from them or that they never had in the first place.
And so it’s all the more frustrating and heartbreaking that in real life Gunn wasn’t allowed the same opportunity for healing and change that he gave his characters. Instead, he was fired over shitty joke tweets from years before he was even working for Marvel, that were resurrected in a bad faith smear campaign led by an actual rapist who was mad that Gunn was publicly outspoken against our nitwit president.
Again, Gunn is fine. He’s about to make the new Suicide Squad for Warners and will surely continue to be rich and successful. I’m not worried about him. I’m just angry that someone who has sincerely put in the work to be a better person is canned because the Pizzagate guy said so, meanwhile serial rapist Bryan Singer can still get a Best Picture nomination and a $10 million movie deal. I’m angry that a talking space raccoon is allowed to learn to be a better person, but an actual human being is not.
Anyway, there’s no good segue back into the dumb nerd stuff, so here’s the silly timeline graphic.