As the dopiest bandit in the known galaxy jaunts through a damp cave, his Walkman blaring the sounds of Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love,” the Guardians of the Galaxy tile card pops onto the screen in giant, blocky letters. From this second on, I knew my ears were in for a treat. It’s not often that the music in a film can be called a character in its own right, less so for a giant blockbuster. But just like Rocket, Groot, Drax, or Gamora, the soundtrack playing throughout Marvel’s latest adventure adds its own personality to the film.
It’s particularly surprising, since the films in Marvel’s ever-expanding universe have never stood out for their musical choices. The company can sure bring in the proper talent to put together a witty script, or deliver dazzling action at the drop of a hat, but the scores backing Marvel’s efforts have always felt like a means to an end: Insert generic flourish here, conjure heroic horns there. And while Guardians of the Galaxy had its own cinematic score that’s currently slipping through the cracks of my memory, each and every pop songs peppered throughout the film is still ringing through my brain on repeat: The spacey sounds of David Bowie as the Guardians cruised toward Knowhere, the propulsive punk sounds of the Runaways as Quill and crew get suited up for their upcoming brush with death. Who knew the Piña Colada song would fit so perfectly in galactic prison break orchestrated by a raccoon?
Guardians of the Galaxy was already a film brimming with character, but the music, a wondrous collection of ’70s rock, punk, and Motown really gave the film a consistent theme, its own distinctive style that showed a willingness to do things just a little bit differently. It seemed odd, running up to the release of the film, that James Gunn’s space opera had such a reverence to the rock titans of the ’70s and ’80s, but it all makes perfect sense in context. The film, whose plot follows the story of a boy ripped from Earth in 1988, is appropriately jam packed with winks and nods to Troll dolls, Full House, Kevin Bacon, and the classic space sagas of the decades in question. But it’s the soundtrack that really brings everything home. The music is fun, nostalgic, and wonderful, just like the film surrounding it.