Prior to 2014, even the most hardcore comic book fans were scarcely aware of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, if at all. So there was little reason to think that James Gunn, a director who was far from a household name at the time, was going to manage to turn a team consisting of a talking tree, an aggressive alien raccoon and Chris Pratt, the chubby, funny dude from Parks and Recreation into one of the most successful and important comic book franchises on the planet. But that's exactly what happened with Guardians of the Galaxy, which remains one of the best examples of standalone filmmaking in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

As we approach Avengers: Infinity War, we're taking a look back at all of the movies that got us to this major event. So far, we've looked back at the entirety of Marvel's ambitious and groundbreaking Phase 1 slate, which culminated with The Avengers. Unfortunately, Phase 2 didn't start out so great, with the uneven Iron Man 3 and the painfully average Thor: The Dark World kicking things off. However, Captain America: The Winter Soldier signaled a change that continued and evolved beyond anyone's wildest expectations with Guardians of the Galaxy.

I distinctly remember the night that Marvel's Phase 2 lineup was revealed. I was downright upset that Guardians of the Galaxy, a comic book team I, a lifelong Marvel fan, had never even heard of, was getting made into a movie before Doctor Strange. How ridiculous it all seemed to me. My relationship with this movie started out on a bad foot. Even if fans didn't have a negative reaction to the idea, at best, they could have been intrigued. This is something that sounded truly outlandish, but Marvel had earned the right to take a risk. And we, as fans, were ultimately rewarded for that risk.

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That first teaser trailer for Guardians might be one of the most pleasantly surprising experiences I've ever had as a movie lover. My jaded mindset was instantly dissolved with delirious excitement for this bizarre movie. It's a rare example of a movie that is every bit as good and deliriously entertaining as the marketing campaign made it out to be. Guardians of the Galaxy is wholly original within the confines of not just the MCU, but comic book movies in general. It's inventive and brave. And also happens to be hilarious, as an added bonus. This feels like the moment where Kevin Feige's larger vision really started to come together. The moment where things, truly crazy things, that have captured the imaginations of comic book readers for years could now be translated to the big screen and have that very same effect on the moviegoing masses.

While there are a great many people who deserve credit for Guardians of the Galaxy, perhaps still more than any other MCU movie to date, and definitely more than any MCU movie that came before it, this feels like the perfect execution of a distinct voice and singular vision. That voice and vision came from James Gunn, who truly came into his own with this movie. The man who wrote the Dawn of the Dead remake and the live-action Scooby-Doo movies, in addition to directing the cult horror flick Slither, didn't seem like a man poised to turn the comic book genre on its head. But credit to Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios for reading between the lines and seeing that he was the right man for the job. Guardians of the Galaxy is the wonderful, weird and loveable move that it is because of James Gunn. Plain and simple.

Marvel movies haven't had particularly memorable scores and, while Guardians does have a score to hang its hat on, James Gunn made the brilliant decision to use pop songs prominently, as opposed to relying entirely on a score. This movie made a new generation fall in love with Hooked On a Feeling. That says a lot. The movie's soundtrack is the most obvious and distinctive decision that is indicative of a series of decisions made in regards to the approach for this movie that gives it the unique voice it has. Sure, there are movies like Star Wars that this draws from, but Guardians really was a fresh and new experience for moviegoers. Groot, a sentient tree that says three (well, four) words manages to become one of the most loveable characters in the Marvel universe. I think that says it all right there. How easily could something like that have gone off the rails?

Since we're leading up to Infinity War, it's worth talking about Thanos. His appearance doesn't hurt the movie, but it's not necessarily a big help either. Though, somewhat surprisingly, this is the most Thanos we've actually seen at once in the MCU thus far. It's something that simply needed to be here for the bigger picture, but not so much for the story at hand.

There are some elements of this movie that aren't perfect. Ronan is far from a great villain, for one. But the good so overwhelmingly outweighs the very little bad in Guardians of the Galaxy that a less-than-awesome villain almost doesn't matter. This movie broke the mold for Marvel and paved the way for movies like Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther. This proved that the Marvel Studios brand had earned enough respect with audiences to take some bold risks. But this risk, this huge risk had to pay off in order for more risks to be taken in the future. Guardians of the Galaxy is a risk that paid off in spades. It's admirable, excellent filmmaking that just so happens to hang its hat on a murder-happy raccoon named Rocket and a dude name Star-Lord. But excellent all the same.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of MovieWeb.
Ryan Scott