Why Guardians of the Galaxy is like Firefly and Serenity
Marvel’s latest movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, is currently a big hit at the box office. While it’s in keeping with Marvel’s approach of making a film that’s true to its comic book roots while being very accessible to a wide audience, entertaining on many different levels, Marvel is not the only framework to look at the film in the context of.
In fact, Guardians of the Galaxy could be considered to be a bit like Firefly / Serenity with aliens. And a walking, talking tree. And a raccoon with a rocket launcher.
(For the purposes of this article, we will count Firefly and Serenity as one story, featuring the same world and main characters, though of course one could analyse the nuances further.)
For one thing, Guardians of the Galaxy and Firefly / Serenity both have a similar lived-in, used universe sensibility. While there’s spectacle, and it’s very visually shiny, the world has a certain visual texture which grounds it. Working together with this is the fact that the characters, as outlandish as they may be, are all multi-dimensional, believable characters who you really care about. In both cases, the story follows the characters and their emotional journeys, with the character-centred approach carrying the story as it goes from one genre to another.
Guardians of the Galaxy also features a couple of specific moments which could be homages to Firefly / Serenity. For one thing, there’s Nathan Fillion has a cameo (credited as “Monstrous Inmate”), though that could be attributed to Nathan Fillion being awesome in general.
When the crew land on Knowhere, the crowds of people recall the smorgasbord of people and cultures that the crew of Serenity encounter almost every time they land on a planet in Firefly. And Star-Lord’s speech rousing his crew to stop running, to stand up and be heroes in order to stop terrible things from happening, recalls Mal’s speech in a similar context in Serenity.
In the former case, the others each give their reasons for joining him, and then Rocket Raccoon deconstructs the moment by asking, “Why are we all standing? We’re standing…like idiots!” In the latter case, the traditional one-by-one accepting the call to be heroes is short-circuited by the least heroic character, the man they call Jayne, simply saying, “I’m in.”, and thus answering for everybody. These are examples of how both stories subvert but also reconstruct the heroic narrative.
Chris Pratt as Star-Lord is arguably the next Nathan Fillion as Mal. Obviously, Nathan Fillion is still Nathan Fillion, and Mal is still arguably the best character ever, but Chris Pratt represents the fine tradition of likeable, witty, funny, versatile, nuanced actors playing rougish, complex yet hilarious space captains.
Nathan Fillion, and the character of Mal, were themselves influenced by Harrison Ford as Han Solo in Star Wars. As awesome as Star Wars is, one could make a case for Firefly / Serenity and Guardians of the Galaxy being worthy of being put alongside Star Wars in the pantheon of space opera.
Guardians of the Galaxy and Firefly / Serenity are both space operas with a sense of humour, featuring a misfit crew of anti-heroes who come from different places in life, but find meaning, connection, and healing as a found family.
This love between the characters (and of the filmmakers for the characters), translates to the audience in a way which is almost, for want of a better word, tangible. The ship Serenity is considered by some fans to be a tenth main character, and represents the crew as a found family, and hence the love between them.
In Guardians of the Galaxy, there are several key heroic moments of self-sacrifice, driven by the love the characters have for each other, represented in such a powerfully visual (especially in 3D) and musical way, thanks to cinematographer Ben Davis and composer Tyler Bates, respectively.
Both Firefly / Serenity and Guardians of the Galaxy are textured and nuanced, working on many levels, but also just plain (as well as more complex) fun.
In both cases, audiences have responded to what makes these stories special. On one level, they’re about the combination of elements working together in some kind of unconventional yet effective synergy; but at their heart, these stories are about love. (And spaceships.)
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