Marvel has made a habit of using their superhero films to not only provide subtle nods or fan service to the diehard comic book know-it-alls, but also help offer hints and teases of films to come in the future. With Guardians of the Galaxy, they had the chance to do the same with the largely unexplored cosmic side of their comic book universe. And they certainly didn’t pass it up.
Besides the wealth of inside jokes, Easter eggs, and direct references to the source material, fans hoping to see even the more outlandish or world-shattering characters and storylines (that make “Planet Hulk” seem like child’s play) adapted to film have reason to hope. We can’t say they’ll be coming soon, but Marvel has planted plenty of seeds.
Needless to say, there will be SPOILERS in our list of Guardians of the Galaxy trivia, so read at your own risk.
It’s difficult to recognize actress Laura Haddock as the terminally ill mother of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Meredith, but she should be familiar to Marvel fans already. It was Haddock who previously played ‘Autograph Girl’ in Captain America: The First Avenger (one of several actors and actresses who appeared in Guardians after other films). We would like to think that Meredith’s eagerness to get Cap’s autograph is canon, but the timeline doesn’t add up.
The great mystery of Guardians of the Galaxy begins and ends with the nature of Peter Quill’s father; described by his mother as being “composed of pure light,” with Nova Prime (Glenn Close) positing that he is an ancient being, previously unheard of by the Nova Corps.
In the comics, the answer is less enigmatic (a sign of how much Marvel strayed from the source material). Peter’s father is J’son (Jason), who happened to be the son of the galactic emperor at the time he fathered Peter. The fiery symbol sported by Star-Lord is actually the insignia of the Spartoi – his father’s race – but the film makes the symbol that of the Ravagers. In other words: expect a few more changes to the story in the future.
The planet on which viewers meet the aged Peter Quill is shown to be Morag, a desolate wasteland covered by vast lakes which hide the treasure hidden beneath for centuries at a time. The planet plays a small role in the overall story, but its name is a famous one: named for Morag, the first leader of the Kree people.
When the Skrulls (yet to appear in the Marvel films) determined that the first Kree were less deserving of their guidance and technology than their neighbors, it was Morag who led the assault on their ship, slaughtering them all, and beginning the millenia-long war between the two races.
Speculation ran rampant when director James Gunn hinted that his dog, Dr. Wesley Von Spears, would be making a cameo in the film. While the top contender was Cosmo the Space Dog, Von Spears actually appears in the film’s sequence on Morag, as the holographic dog playing with a little girl.
Beta Ray Bill?
Take this Easter egg with a horse-sized grain of salt. When Peter Quill is first strutting through the ruins of Morag, he takes a brief moment to admire some strange remains. Specifically, the remains in question are a humanoid skeleton mounted on a stick, with a horse skull in place of a human one. It would seem at first glance to be a strange combination, but Marvel fans know that the alien race known as the Kymellians match that physiology exactly.
Yet horse-headed humanoids in Marvel Comics can’t be discussed without mentioning Beta Ray Bill. The ally of Thor isn’t likely to appear on film anytime soon, but despite that (or perhaps because of it), the filmmakers may have decided to include at least part of him onscreen (and no, not in The Collector’s showroom).
One of the biggest causes for fan excitement and speculation was the presence of Sakaaran soldiers in Gunn’s foray into the cosmic side of Marvel Comics – seen first in the accompanying toy line, and later in the film as the soldiers following Korath (Djimon Hounsou). While these aliens play a large role in the “Planet Hulk” story line, Gunn later explained that they were originally intended to be Badoon, but had to be changed due to rights issues.
The love that Peter Quill has for women of every species is made clear early on, when he forgets that he has a guest stowed away on his ship after escaping from Morag. That female is soon revealed to be ‘Bereet,’ and while the two may part ways almost immediately, the name may be familiar to avid comic fans. Bereet was the name of a Krylorian film star and techno-artist in the comics, most often seen in stories centering on “The Incredible Hulk.”
While the Star-Lord of the comics may have flown about the universe in a ship simply named ‘Ship’ (or, the intelligence that operated it), the big screen version flies aboard the Milano. It’s an eloquent enough name for a vessel, but a quick reminder that Peter Quill left Earth in his rear-view in 1988 – and his fondness for 1980s pop culture – provides a stronger hint of where the name originated.
Director James Gunn has since confirmed that the Milano is, in fact, named for child star Alyssa Milano – Quill’s childhood crush.
As evidence that sometimes it’s best to stray from the source material for the sake of the overall world, the character of Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) is included in the film, but totally re-imagined. Once a founding member of the original Guardians and famed archer in the comics, little is carried over besides the character’s skin color.
However, Yondu’s head fin and bow and arrow are reproduced in spirit; re-envisioned as something of a psychic/whistle weapon. All Yondu needs now is an arrow, as his metal mohawk begins to glow red, and his flying weapon threatens or kills at his command.
Ronan the Accuser
Little time is spent explaining the history or motivations of Ronan (Lee Pace) in the film itself, characterizing the villain as a Kree “fanatic” hellbent on destroying Xandar for its past violence against his people. In the comics, Ronan is an elite member of the Kree military, bearing the title of ‘Supreme Accuser.’
The film version combines elements from a few different takes on Ronan, but he does get to hint at his formal title when he informs the people of Xandar that they stand “accused” moments before he attempts to wipe them from existence.
Stan Lee Cameo
Continuing the tradition of comics legend Stan Lee being given a cameo in every Marvel movie, Lee appears here as the subject of Rocket Raccoon’s scorn, chatting up an attractive young woman on Xandar.
The prison facility dubbed The Kyln may not bear much resemblance to the version seen in the comics (functioning primarily as a power plant, while also housing inmates), but the nod to the original version won’t be missed by fans. Especially since Star-Lord did spend a brief time within its walls.
Little time is actually spent in the film to establish the ranks or history of the Xandarian Nova Corps, but the two most memorable members of the force aren’t simply tossed in haphazardly. First, there is Rhommann Dey (John C. Reilly), who comic book readers will know as one of the few remaining Nova Corps members of Xandar who inducted Richard Rider into its ranks.
Besides him stands Garthan Saal, who was driven mad with power and anger after Nebula destroyed the planet’s population. Neither characters gets their full story played out in the film (probably for the best), but it’s a nice nod to the fans regardless.
It’s no secret that Marvel has shaped several of their films around the age-old convention known as ‘The MacGuffin’ – an object that bears extreme significance, and drives the events of the film almost on its own. The debate of what does or doesn’t constitute a MacGuffin is never-ending, but even Marvel’s Kevin Fegie has admitted that the term applies to the many ‘Infinity Stones’ scattered throughout Phase 1 and 2 of the Marvel universe.
With Guardians, we get yet another item in the form of the purple gem sought by Thanos and Ronan (it’s not what the thing does that matters, just that someone wants it). But instead of ignoring the trope, Star-Lord himself describes the item as possessing “a real Ark of the Covenant, Maltese Falcon vibe” – two films driven almost entirely by MacGuffins.
Lloyd Kaufman Cameo
As a longtime idol of James Gunn, director/writer/producer and co-founder of classic horror studio Troma Entertainment Lloyd Kaufman is given a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in the film’s sequence in The Kyln. When the Guardians first enter the prison, a shot reveals a number of inmates angrily shouting at Gamora – with Kaufman unmistakable alongside them.
Nathan Fillion Cameo
The working relationship and collaboration between James Gunn and Nathan Fillion led many to suspect that the Firefly alum would appear in a key role (with some even claiming he would appear as superhero Nova). Gunn debunked that rumor himself, but confirmed that Fillion would have a cameo part. Fillion’s cryptic claim that those looking for his appearance should “check the credits” implied a voice-over role, and that is the case: he’s the large blue alien in the Kyln that expresses his desire to “lather up” Peter Quill in gravy and “go to town.”
The Other Returns
Once again, those wishing to serve Thanos are forced to endure the verbal assaults of the Mad Titan’s minion, known simply as The Other (played by Alexis Denisof). Apparently, Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) is even less patient than Loki, as he ends The Other’s life once and for all.
If there’s on thing we’ve learned from great fiction, it’s that a great ruler needs a throne just as impressive. It’s hard to imagine Thanos from the comics not seated atop his throne, grinning ear to ear, and the film version follows the same idea. While the throne was only glimpsed at the end of The Avengers, Guardians gives a full view of the (hovering?) chair, with Thanos looking as if he was recreated inch by inch off of the comic book page.
Giving Tree/Ranger Rick
The fact that Peter Quill left Earth behind in 1988 is a source of several jokes throughout the film, since his knowledge of pop culture effectively ended with Alf, Footloose, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Unfortunately, that also means that two of the more inspired jokes of the film may slip by younger viewers completely.
We speak, of course, of Quill’s nicknames for his non-humanoid comrades. First, he refers to Groot as “Giving Tree,” alluding to the children’s book by Shel Silverstein. But the best nod to his childhood comes when he refers to a bomb-building Rocket as “Ranger Rick” – the name of a children’s nature magazine first published in 1967. Aside from the magazine, Rick was also the star of illustrated short stories, revealing him to be an anthropomorphized raccoon.
To delve into the dark underbelly of galactic crime, the Guardians must travel to a mining operation dubbed ‘Knowhere’ – explained by Gamora to be the skull of a long-dead, enormous Celestial being. In the comics, the same origin story is carried forward. As out of control as life on the station may seem, it would become the base of operations for the Guardians, claimed to be resting on the very outskirts of the known universe.
It was expected that Guardians would blow Marvel’s Cosmic universe wide open, and the mere presence of Knowhere confirms it; or rather, the presence of the severed head of a Celestial. For those unfamiliar with the race of cosmic beings in Marvel Comics mythology, the Celestials are mysterious, armored, all-powerful beings who have made their influence known on human beings especially.
Having helped engineer human beings a million years in the past, the Celestial tampering planted seeds for more than a few important story arcs in Marvel’s history. We won’t go into too many details, but the existence of the Deviants, the Inhumans, and strong ties to the Kree and Skrull war are just a few (during the Collector’s explanation of the Infinity Stones, fans can even glimpse what looks to be a Celestial in the flesh).
It’s hard to say if Marvel will leap to those stories any time soon, but the presence of Knowhere provides a strong hint.
Ophelia Lovibond’s assistant may seem like little more than a background character, but her relationship to the Collector (and Marvel Comics) is a bit more complicated. Officially credited as ‘Carina,’ it’s safe to assume she is Carina Walters, daughter of the Collector, and future wife of Michael Korvac (the villain known as ‘The Enemy’).
Cosmo the Space Dog
The first word that Cosmo – the Soviet-era space dog member of the Guardians – could be appearing in the film elated many, although the story had enough to deal with without bringing a psychically-gifted canine in to the picture. James Gunn left the door for a future appearance open, choosing to include the dog in the Collector’s belongings, and making sure it escaped the disaster that (presumably) either killed or freed many other imprisoned specimens.
Not every entry in the Collector’s… collection points to the future, though: in the bottom-left corner of one shot, a Chitauri soldier is unmistakably recognizable. It’s unclear if the soldier was present during the attack on New York City seen in The Avengers or was captured by other means. But whatever reason the Collector has for keeping him locked up, he’s far from alone.
It’s impossible to miss the Dark Elf – one of the antagonists of Thor: The Dark World – as the Collector’s assistant (Lovibond) is shown cleaning its cage. This creature’s inclusion in the collection makes a bit more sense, as one of an ancient race believed to be completely eradicated by the Asgardians.
Proving that it wasn’t just elements of the Marvel universe that the Collector was keen on keeping safe, the alien parasites that acted as the villains of Slither – James Gunn’s directorial debut – can also be seen. During the first encounter with the Guardians and the Collector, several can be seen slithering across the inside of a glass display case.
Fan discussion was ignited when the mid-credits scene for Thor: The Dark World revealed some of the film’s characters traveling to see the Collector (Benicio del Toro) with one of the oft-talked about Infinity Stones. For contained in the character’s collection was a strange cocoon, bearing a strong resemblance to the one which housed Adam Warlock in the comics.
Given his prominent role in the original story surrounding Thanos and his Infinity Gauntlet, the inclusion was no accident. In Guardians, it’s once again featured (not quite as) prominently, but the devastation wrought by the gem’s detonation blows the cocoon apart. Could Warlock have escaped…?
Rob Zombie Ravager
After lending his vocal talents to James Gunn for both Slither and Super, rocker-turned-filmmaker Rob Zombie once again voices the role of the Ravagers’ navigator. It’s a small cameo that most will miss entirely, but clearly a tradition that Gunn is intent on keeping alive.
Fans of The Avengers will recall an early scene in which Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) tells Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) to take some credit for the creation of Stark Tower: “give yourself…12% of the credit.” The number is absurd to Pepper, later telling Tony that she was “having 12% of a moment” when they’re later interrupted.
James Gunn keeps Joss Whedon’s joke going, with Star-Lord informing the rest of his team that he has a plan for the film’s third act. Well, 12% of a plan. The idea is once again ridiculous to Rocket Raccon (Bradley Cooper), with Gamora (Zoe Saldana) explaining that 12% isn’t a plan – it’s “barely a concept.”
The dancing Groot seen in the first mid-credits sequence was an instant hit with fans, but few may realize that the dancing isn’t purely the work of animators. Director James Gunn has since revealed that while he didn’t perform the motion capture for the plant, those are, indeed, his dance moves used as inspiration.
Howard the Duck
We’ve already gone into great detail about the film’s post-credits button scene, but fans of comic book character turned film star ‘Howard the Duck’ had what is certainly the most shocking reference to the character seen in decades. Director James Gunn has already warned that fans shouldn’t put too much stock into his cameo though (apparently voiced by Seth Green) – it’s all in the name of fun.
It’s always hard to swallow when a performer on set ends up digitally painted over, with even their voice removed from the finished film. But with Bradley Cooper selected to give Rocket Raccoon a voice, the actor on set – James Gunn’s brother, Sean – did get a chance to show his (actual) face on film. He also plays Kraglin, the right-hand man of Yondu Udonta.
Gunn’s performance and chemistry with the crew is certainly preserved in some sense as well; for instance, he improvised the “jackasses standing in a circle” himself.
Given that the walking tree known as Groot would be a largely digital creation, the question of who would give the alien being its voice (and catchphrase) was one of the last to be officially answered. When director James Gunn finally confirmed that Vin Diesel – known for his action roles – had landed the part, fans were quick to point out that the actor had also lent his voice to the title character in Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant (1999).
Having one heartwarming role with few words to his credit already, the biggest surprise came when Diesel returned to the booth fifteen years after bringing a hulking robot to life, and came face to face with Doc Kane, the same sound engineer he had worked with on The Iron Giant. Clearly a strong omen, but what are the odds?
Besides being tasked with breathing personality into the words “I am Groot” (a task which, surprisingly, was more successful than expected) Vin Diesel was also tasked with performing the signature line in multiple languages. That means a delivery of the line with different emotions in English, French, Portuguese, Mandarin, and more – the actor’s first multilingual performance.
Those are all the easter eggs, bits of comic book trivia, and subtle references fans can look out for on repeat viewings of Guardians of the Galaxy, but if you have any that have been missed, please share them in the comments.
If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our Guardians of the Galaxy Spoilers Discussion.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.