Only long time comic book fans can truly appreciate the strange, alternate reality in which both The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy have become bigger brands than the X-Men among the general public. This is the world in which we live. And to be clear, this is exactly what Marvel was trying to accomplish when it started making its own movies.
No one can argue that Guardians of the Galaxy hasn’t earned its chance to become one of Marvel’s top franchises. The feature film directed by James Gunn was one of last year’s biggest hits. Now, Guardians of the Galaxy has its own animated series on Disney XD, and the tone and the flavor of the show does everything that it can to evoke the movie. Right off the bat, Star-Lord (Will Friedle) a.k.a. Peter Quill puts on Blue Swede’s cover of “Hooked on a Feeling” as the newly formed Guardians of the Galaxy infiltrate a fortress.
That song and the other one used in the episode actually do help Guardians recapture some of the swagger from the movie. And from a purely visual standpoint, the animation style of the show is really good. But the first thing that threw me out of the pilot episode was Will Friedle’s voice as Star-Lord. Friedle’s not trying to do a Chris Pratt impersonation, but Quill sounds just like Will Friedle on every other animated series that he’s done and it’s kind of distracting.
Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t actually share continuity with the movie, but certain events must have happened the same way. According to Quill’s dialogue, the team was formed fairly recently, but nobody seems to be that shocked when Korath (James C. Mathis III) shows up later in the episode, so he obviously didn’t die in their origin story like he did in the movie.
The opening sequence does a nice job of depicting Quill’s laid-back attitude compared to the other Guardians and it was amusing when he accidentally got his team doused by sewage. But the fast edit away from the shocked and angry reactions of the other Guardians almost ruined that joke completely. There’s only so much time in each episode, but that gag really could have used a few more seconds to play out.
Fortunately, the first action sequence is pretty well done as each member of the team gets a brief moment to shine. And credit where it’s due, Quill’s “that’s a really old photo” line was genuinely funny. Kevin Michael Richardson also seems to have a good handle on giving Groot’s “I am Groot” a different subtext each time he says it. Aside from my misgivings about Friedle’s voice, most of the main cast members seem to capture their characters well.
For their first mission on the animated series, Quill tricks the team into helping him free Yondu (James Arnold Taylor), his former mentor with the Ravagers. Quill intended to turn Yondu in for a bounty, only to learn that the bounty had been placed by Yondu himself. It’s a fun sequence that sets up the series’ MacGuffin and Yondu’s successful attempt to fool the Guardians into helping him recover his jacket and arrow.
If this episode gave us nothing else, it would have been worth it to see Groot with a jet pack saving Rocket (Trevor Devall) during the episode’s second major action sequence. But Groot’s injuries from that scene lead to the return of Baby Groot. Somehow, I suspect that this will become a recurring theme in the Guardians animated series.
Vanessa Marshall does a good job with Gamora’s voice in this episode, but Drax (David Sobolov) was really annoying at times. And it had nothing to do with Sobolov’s voice. He’s fine in the role. But it would really help a lot if Drax didn’t mention wanting to pursue Thanos every time that he opened his mouth. So far, it seems like Drax’s brand of unintentional comedy hasn’t fully made the transition into this show. As a one-dimensional vengeance machine, Drax is a lot less interesting. The only time that Drax even gets to play a comedy beat is when he saves the Guardians’ ship from a hull breach. Your mileage may vary with the resulting fart joke.
When Quill and Yondu sneak into Korath’s ship, the inevitable double cross by Yondu briefly leaves Quill as Korath’s prisoner and exposed as the key to the box that holds “the Cosmic Seed.” It also gives us the first glimpse of Thanos (Noah Nelson), who will apparently play a much bigger role in the animated series than he did in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie.
After easily escaping Korath, the team finds themselves back on Knowhere, the space station in a Celestial’s severed head that was prominently featured in the movie. Again, the team alludes to nearly blowing up Knowhere the last time they were there, but it’s just a nebulous reference to the events of the film. This is where the best addition to the Guardians of the Galaxy animated series comes into play. Meet Cosmo (James Arnold Taylor), the telepathic and telekinetic Russian cosmonaut dog who played a large supporting role in the Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s Guardians of the Galaxy comics that inspired the movie. Just giving the Guardians a fresh personality to play off of would have been enough. But Cosmo’s accent and his sense of humor instantly made the episode more enjoyable.
Once on the station, Quill is informed that the box holding the Cosmic Seed is keyed to his DNA because he’s half-Spartax, which lines up with his most recent comic book origins. Although that scene could have done without the flashback to Peter’s mom on Earth. Sometimes, this episode treads a little too hard on its references to the movie.
For the climax, Quill and Gamora find themselves cornered by Yondu’s Ravagers and Korath’s forces before the Cosmic Seed seemingly brings the Celestial’s head back to life with tentacles that attack everyone. As cliffhangers go, it’s not bad…but it doesn’t entirely land as a dramatic moment.
Overall, this was a pretty solid introduction to the Guardians of the Galaxy animated series. Of course, there’s always room for improvement. If Guardians of the Galaxy is really going to be a standalone franchise, then it needs this animated series to keep going all the way up to the next movie in 2017. This show might be good enough to do that.
Nerdist readers, what did you think of the first episode of Guardians of the Galaxy? Let us know in the comment section below!