Blog: Nerdfight! Ashley picks the best MCU movie

The Story Geeks blogger Ashley Pauls responds with an additional perspective to the same topic discussed in this week’s podcast – what’s the best Marvel Cinematic Universe film? Want to share your own take? Join the conversation in The Story Geeks Facebook group!

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So, at the beginning of The Story Geeks’ MCU series, I talked a lot about how much I loved the first “Iron Man” movie. Tony Stark is my favorite MCU character, Robert Downey Jr. is my favorite actor, and the original “Iron Man” is my favorite MCU film.

However, for this week’s Nerdfight topic — “What’s the best movie in the MCU?” — I’m actually NOT going to pick “Iron Man.”

I haven’t changed my mind about how I feel about “Iron Man”; it’s still my favorite MCU movie. But for the purposes of this Nerdfight, I’m going to argue that the BEST MCU movie is actually…“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1.”

“Guardians Vol. 1” sits at No. 2 on my favorite MCU films list, and I think a strong case can be made that it’s actually the best film in the MCU in terms of story, characters, and overall filmmaking. Here are the three main reasons I believe it deserves the “best in the MCU” crown:

1. “Guardians Vol. 1” has the best soundtrack.

While I love the MCU, the scores for these films don’t necessarily stand out. The soundtracks, for the most part, aren’t as iconic as John Williams’ music for Star Wars or Indiana Jones, or Hans Zimmer’s music for Pirates of the Caribbean, for example.

Far and away, the best soundtrack in the MCU is the “Awesome Mix Vol. 1,” a carefully curated list of throwback songs like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Come and Get Your Love.” In fact, I’d argue that the background music is a big part of what makes this movie so great.

Filling the soundtrack with retro pop songs could have easily come across as too cheesy or gimmicky, but director James Gunn weaves them into the film so authentically that the soundtrack is almost a character in and of itself.

The songs matter to Peter Quill because this music was introduced to him by his mother, who died when he was young. His mixtape is one of the few tangible items he has left to remind him of how much his mom loved him.

The soundtrack works on a surface level because it’s super fun (and catchy), but it’s also meaningful due to the personal connection Quill has to these songs.

2. “Guardians Vol. 1” is the funniest — and most heartfelt — MCU movie.

No other movie in the MCU has made me both laugh and cry as much as the Guardians movies.

“Guardians Vol. 1” is packed with so many genuinely hilarious moments, and it would take too long to list them all here. The sense of swashbuckling fun is so infectious that despite all the crazy stuff happening onscreen (A walking tree! A giant, floating Celestial head in space! A dance battle!), viewers are happy to go along for the ride.

However, there are also some very poignant and tragic moments in this film, which help to ground the zaniness and make the story feel more “real.” The themes of family, redemption, and sacrifice in the Guardians movies give these films a surprising amount of emotional weight, despite the emphasis on humor.

3. “Guardians Vol. 1” has the best lineup of characters.

In a review about “Guardians Vol. 1” I wrote back in 2014, I said that if the Avengers were the polished rock stars of the Marvel universe, the Guardians were more like a scrappy garage band. The galaxy sees them as a bunch of misfit rebels and failures. They don’t really fit in, and they don’t have a lot of friends.

Peter Quill covers for his insecurities with his swagger and the nickname “Star-Lord.” Gamora is hated by the galaxy because she’s the daughter of Thanos. Rocket is a genetic experiment with a major chip on his shoulder. Groot is a walking, talking tree. Drax is so single-mindedly focused on his quest for vengeance that he puts the rest of the team at risk.

Nobody really believes in the Guardians, so seeing them come to believe in themselves — and find a sense of belonging and family with each other — was such an incredibly powerful moment in the film. I always get a bit teary-eyed in the scene where they all grab hold of each others’ hands and help channel the power of the Infinity Stone, a feat they never could have accomplished alone.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1” resonates with me on such a deep personal level because I can relate to all these characters. I struggled a lot as a teenager, feeling like I was a misfit who didn’t really belong anywhere. I didn’t like the person who looked back at me in the mirror. I felt like a loser, and I wanted so badly to be someone different.

Yet thanks to family and friends who continued to believe in me and support me, I have a much better self image today. “Guardians Vol. 1” reminds me of my own personal journey and shows that it’s okay to be a little quirky and embrace who you are. You’re not alone in the galaxy.