Performed by: Josh Brolin
Strengths: Super evil, has a nifty space throne, father to multiple resentful adopted, augmented daughters.
Weaknesses: Guardians of the Galaxy is blissfully free of most obligations toward laying groundwork for future Marvel installments, but Thanos really doesn’t have much to do in the movie other than remind us that he’ll eventually be coming down the pike as a Big Bad.
15. Nova Prime Irani Rael
Played by: Glenn Close
Strengths: In charge of Xandar’s Nova Corps, and played by Glenn goddamn Close. Also, she has quite the futuristic updo — what is even going on there?
Weaknesses: Only there to deliver typical (space) police chief lines.
14. Korath the Pursuer
Played by: Djimon Hounsou
Strengths: Pursuing. Also has neat eyes and head implants, and gets to complete one of the movie’s best ongoing jokes regarding Peter Quill’s would-be outlaw name, Star-Lord.
Weaknesses: In the end, Korath is just one of Ronan’s lackeys.
Played by: Sean Gunn
Strengths: Director James Gunn’s brother Sean was an offscreen MVP during Guardians of the Galaxy’s filming, so it’s only fitting that he get a small but memorable on-screen part as Yondu Udonta’s first mate.
Weaknesses: It may be inspired by his boss’s biomechanical head fin, but that hairstyle’s just not flattering.
Played by: Ophelia Lovibond
Strengths: Who can’t relate to the idea of snapping after years of abuse and simpering, then burning yourself up with uncontrollable power in an effort to avenge yourself on a nasty boss? Also, pigtails.
Weaknesses: Were there really no better employment opportunities to move on to? Does Knowhere not have a Craigslist?
11. Denarian Saal
Played by: Peter Serafinowicz
Strengths: Cool British snarkiness, ability to deliver “What a bunch of a-holes” so smoothly that a line intended only for the trailer ended up in the movie, well-earned weariness about trusting the Guardians.
10. Rhomann Dey
Played by: John C. Reilly
Strengths: Family man, has John C. Reilly’s innate lovability, surviving face of the Nova Corps and — through his wife and child — the billions of Xandarians who could have been wiped out. Also got to deliver some valuable exposition about the Guardians, ensuring him prime placement in the trailer.
Weaknesses: Less snarky than Denarian Saal, but also more alive.
9. Taneleer Tivan, The Collector
Played by: Benicio del Toro
Strengths: Fashion sense, fabulous wealth, owns Howard the Duck.
Weaknesses: Despite suggestions in the stinger for Thor: The Dark World that the Collector’s collection is secure enough to safely store the Aether, he’s pretty quickly taken down by a justifiably disgruntled employee in Guardians of the Galaxy. He could stand to be a little less Miranda Priestly and a little more concerned about the future of some of the more universe-destroying objects he’s been gathering.
8. Ronan the Accuser
Played by: Lee Pace
Strengths: Growly voice, extremist devotion to war everyone else seems happy to leave behind, gothic-chic spaceship and outfits.
Weaknesses: Easily distracted by Earth music/dancing. Also, Ronan’s simply not given enough development or backstory to be a memorable villain, aside from the interesting flicker that is his Kree fundamentalism. Sharing bad-guy duties and screen time with Thanos and Nebula certainly doesn’t make him any more prominent, and by the end it’s easy to forget why he’s trying to destroy Xandar in the first place.
Played by: Karen Gillan
Strengths: While Guardians of the Galaxy is weak, overall, on the villain side, Nebula’s the most interesting of the main trinity of blue baddies in the film, given her toxic relationship with her adoptive father Thanos and her rivalry/resentment of sibling Gamora. (And Gamora’s the sister she hated least, which is apparently what passes for affection in her terrible life.) Also, she gets a scene in which she slowly undents herself after taking a bazooka blast from Drax.
Weaknesses: Given how much personality the Guardians have, Nebula, like Ronan and Thanos, just doesn’t register much beyond her distinctive patchwork look.
6. Yondu Udonta
Played by: Michael Rooker
Strengths: In a movie in which even the good guys are rough-and-tumble, Yondu cheerfully occupies the grayest of gray areas. The bounty he places on Peter Quill’s head unites him with Rocket and Groot, and the scene in which he finally shows off the deadly potential of his whistle-controlled arrow was enough to earn a round of applause in the theater where I saw the film. Rooker brings a gruff charisma to the Ravager leader without making him cute. Plus, Yondu showed a real sense of humor when he was betrayed, once again, by his surrogate son — and got to drop that bomb about Peter’s real father.
Weaknesses: Not letting his crew eat Peter really wasn’t all that generous a favor.
Played by: Zoe Saldana
Strengths: As another of Thanos’ cybernetically enhanced, rage-filled adopted daughters, Gamora’s an incredibly tough cookie, and Saldana plays her with precise confidence. And, considering that Gamora’s the Smurfette of the group, she’s not overly sexualized, her outfit’s not insanely revealing, and her storyline doesn’t depend entirely on needing to be rescued (just a little). Plus, her nascent romance with Peter Quill is cut short when she accuses him of “pelvic sorcery,” which is one of the best lines in the movie.
Weaknesses: Though she does get that Kevin Bacon bit, she’s pretty much the straight (wo)man of the group, which isn’t the most fun of roles. As Rocket says, “You just wanna suck the joy out of everything.”
4. Drax the Destroyer
Played by: Dave Bautista
Strengths: In a happy convergence of performer and role, pro wrestler Bautista’s slightly stilted, thundering delivery turns out to be perfect for the revenge-set Drax’s literalism and overconfidence. Drax is formidable, grief-stricken, and covered in snazzy tattoos, and the idea that his race can’t grasp metaphor is a surprisingly resilient and entertaining joke that he’s never quite in on: “Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too fast — I would catch it.”
Weaknesses: He’s not the brightest bulb in the basket, and he calls Gamora a “green whore,” a line that, even when it’s followed up by an affirmation of their friendship, feels sour.
3. Peter Quill
Played by: Chris Pratt
Strengths: Pratt may never get another leading role this enjoyable, but he’s such a gleefully likable combination of muscly action hero and intergalactic goofball as Peter Quill. No one has as good a time bouncing around the galaxy as the would-be Star-Lord, a womanizing, not entirely trustworthy guy packing a solid soundtrack and capable of some impressive moves when the occasion calls for it. And Peter has the added ability to fold in endless vintage pop-culture references no one but the audience understands, as the lone (half) Earthling out the far reaches of space — he’s still an ’80s kid at heart.
Weaknesses: The one complaint you could lodge against Peter is that the movie never really connects with his arc about grieving for his mother. He doesn’t seem to have given a lot of thought to her until it brings back the bit about taking her hand during the big finish.
Voiced by: Bradley Cooper
Strengths: Cooper’s comparison of Rocket to Joe Pesci in Goodfellas is a solid one. Rocket should, by all right, be the toughest character to realize on screen, given that he’s a fast-talking, technologically advanced, bounty-hunting raccoon. But he works, and improbably well, in large part due to how he’s kind of a dick, and also kind of a hothead, kneading his face in exasperation and sending Peter off to retrieve a prosthetic limb solely as a joke. Whether he’s giving Drax some hard truths, arguing with Peter over the sincerity of his laugh, or getting drunk and having a moment of genuine pathos, he’s a wonderfully drawn, layered character — even though he’s a talking space animal.
Weaknesses: His ability to construct weapons is a little magical, but whatever.
Performed by: Vin Diesel
Strengths: He’s a sentient tree! He’s terrifically violent and utterly sweet at the same time! He can make glowing lights that offer an unexpected moment of poetic beauty in the midst of Guardians of the Galaxy’s bounding action. He sacrifices himself to save everyone, and yet lives on as, basically, an alien version of one of those dancing flower novelty gifts. And despite having an extremely limited vocabulary, Groot is marvelously expressive, and has the best comedic timing of the movie, intended and otherwise. The smile, the eating of the leaf on his shoulder, the gasp, the exchanges with Rocket in which the latter seems to perfectly understand him — all gold. Groot’s the big wooden heart of the movie.
Weaknesses: None. He’s perfect.