It’s almost impossible to divorce the actual film of Guardians of the Galaxy from the story of it’s success. I mean, this one was the gamble. Nobody, and I mean no one had heard of these guys prior to this films development. Well, like maybe 3 people who worked on the comics and their moms, but this was the first time Marvel relied on it’s own name recognition and it’s own brand to sell a movie to the general public. People might not have known who Iron Man was prior to the 2008 movie, but you can guarantee they’d at least heard of him. But the Guardians of the Galaxy? It was a roll of the dice, and it paid off. Like a slot machine. But like, better, because slot machines don’t actually pay off, really, in the long run, I mean. Listen, bad analogy, especially paired with the dice metaphor; I shouldn’t have done that. The point is, it won the summer, and was lauded by critics, garnering a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
But is it really that great?
I said it. They’re coming for me now. But it’s true.
Now don’t get me wrong; this is still a great movie, and it’s only because we live in such a glut of quality sci-fi and comic book movies that I can even quibble, but quibble I will. I’m a little ungrateful that way.
I guess the first thing you need to know is that James Gunn is a misogynist, and there was a minor scandal during production when an old blog post of his surfaced… saying some not nice things about women and gay people. Not his finest hour, and he offered a pretty decent apology that may or may not have been mandated from the studio (hell, it might have even been written by them), and that was that. But it put me on alert going into the movie that I might not be about to see the greatest female representation in the history of cinema. And indeed, it was not. I don’t want to blow anyone’s mind here, but Guardians of the Galaxy does not pass the Bechdel test. Or does it? Does Gamora and Nebula having a sword fight count?
Doesn’t matter. Whatever. The Bechdel test is kindof bullshit, anyway. So is having a casual indifference towards women, which I think the film definitely does. It’s slathered in douche-stank, from the moment this chick shows up:
So the joke is that Peter Quill, space pirate, bangs so many women that not only can he not remember their names, but he actually forgets that he has one on the ship. And… you know, what? This one’s not bad. Chris Pratt is so amazing in this movie, such a lovable scoundrel, that the joke works in spite of its own laziness. But it’s also a warning sign of troubled waters to come. Space waters. In space.
Since the film is basically a boys club, it’s fair to scrutinize the one female protagonist we’re given: Gamora the Green, hot sexy assassin chick extraordinaire. In a few places of hurried exposition we’re informed that she’s an adopted daughter of Thanos, who raised her to be an assassin and like, gave her robot legs or super soldier serum or something. It’s not really clear, but the girl can jump:
But superficial nods to her badassery aside, her actual track record in the movie is pretty lousy. She gets beaten by Chris Pratt in their first fight, and yeah, I get it, you can’t have your hero beaten up by a girl, but later in the prison we see her being held at knife-point by three losers.
Seriously, it’s so stupid. And it’s all so the hero of our story can rescue her and feed this male power fantasy we’ve got going on. This is straight up character assassination of an assassin character. The only fight she’s allowed to win is against another girl, her sister Nebula, and oh yeah, let’s talk about that for a second, shall we?
In the past, Marvel’s gotten some good traction out of sibling rivalry.
From the backstory hinted at, Gamora and Nebula have a fascinating relationship: both adopted from parents whom they presumably saw murdered, both enhanced by Thanos, raised and trained to be his personal assassins; he says at one point that Gamora is his favorite and you can just see the envy and fury on Nebula’s face. Point is, this was a rich potential of pathos and drama that the film just blows by in favor of it’s male leads. And that’s incredibly disappointing. I mean, Karen Gillan shaved her head for this thing! Give her some material worthy of that sacrifice – but no.
Finally, there’s this. We’ll call it a joke, even though it satisfies none of the criteria of such. It’s not funny, and it doesn’t make sense in the context of the film. But we’ve got Peter, Gamora, Drax and Groot, breaking into the alien ship to defeat the bad guy and whatever. Doesn’t matter. They’re walking and Drax is reflecting on friendship, saying how grateful he is to them.
“You, Quill, are my friend. This dumb tree, he is my friend. And this green whore, she too-“
And that’s when Gamora shuts him down, while the brain-dead audience laughs because, haha, he called her a whore. And the “payoff” for this “set up” is when Drax shoots Nebula with a rocket launcher for calling her stupid. “Nobody talks to my friends like that,” he says, as the audience laughs. It’s funny, you see, because he just called her a whore. D’ya get it?
So obviously humor is a subjective thing, but the internal logic is where the joke really fails. Drax, we are told earlier, comes from a species that is entirely literal, to the point of stupidity, really. Which means that he must literally think Gamora is a whore. Except he can’t because she’s an assassin working for Ronan and he knows that, which is why he wanted to kill her to begin with. Which means the joke makes no sense, and is only included in the movie because the filmmaker is an asshole who hates women.
Yeah, I said it. Come at me, bro.
Here’s the thing about misogyny; it’s possible to think you have a positive and healthy view of women, while simultaneously reinforcing the attitudes and behaviors that have led to their repression for centuries. James Gunn has a mother, and possibly sisters; he dates women (even if his homophobia makes me think he jerks off to gay porn) and I’m sure he believes himself to be an advocate for their rights. But this film tells a different tale. The galaxy is alarmingly short of women – guards, prisoners, pirates, soldiers, it’s dudes as far as the eye can see – and even the one woman we have in a position of power (that would be the head of the Nova Corps whose name I can’t remember because I’m pretty sure it’s ‘Head of the Nova Corps’) doesn’t have a lot to do besides stand over a holographic table and look concerned.
Besides all that, I’m not sure James Gunn is as funny as he thinks he is, and a lot of the jokes in the movie are awkwardly phrased, like Gamora’s line about ‘pelvic sorcery’ or when Rocket is making fun of Xandarians.
“ What a bunch of losers! Always trying to get from something stupid to nothing at all. Can you believe they call us criminals when he’s assaulting us with that hairdo?!”
I don’t know, it is quibbling at this point though, because by and large, this is a very funny movie. And it’s a very funny movie thanks to the comedic talents of Chris Pratt.
It’s a tale as old as time at this point, Marvel casting just the perfect person for their lead, and it’s a good thing too. James Gunn is so gay for this character that it’s absolutely vital to the films’ success that we love him just as much, and happily we do. Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill is Han Solo meets Indiana Jones meets… Jack Sparrow? Tough call. But it’s mesmerizing to watch and, as an added bonus, Chris Pratt is charming and hilarious and genuinely touching in real life. Honestly, this isn’t near the best Marvel movie, but it’s doubtlessly the best press junket they ever had. This guy killed it in his interviews; the world fell in love with him like he was a male Jennifer Lawrence, they just could not get enough of this guy.
So between Chris Pratt and the killer soundtrack, you could have done anything with this movie and it still would have been decent; fortunately, a number of other happy accidents conspire to make this film more decent then it probably should be.
Some tone deaf line delivery aside, Rocket is everything I ever wanted in a computer generated talking raccoon. Groot, as voiced by Vin Diesel, brings a surprising amount of depth to the three words that comprise his entire vocabulary. Plus, there’s that scandalized gasp he gives, that just might be one of the best character beats of the film:
Rocket: Oh boo hoo, my wife and daughter are dead!
Honestly, the entire ensemble is great, sometimes in spite of the filmmakers attempts to have us secretly despise the character. The chief villain is Ronan the Accuser and he is tragically underused, in part because they had to lay some track towards Infinity War by including Thanos, but mostly because he’s not really supposed to be a person, but rather a situation that brings together our heroes and gives them cause to stay together.
This movie does have a lot of heart; from Peter’s coming to peace with his mother’s death, to Drax comforting Rocket after Groot’s sacrifice.
There are some really nice moments in here, and characters that I care about and want to see more of. Still, I can only award Guardians of the Galaxy 3 Infinity Gems out of 6.
I wanted to love this movie since the first amazing trailer, and I really did love it on the first few viewings. But there’s a dark cloud that hangs over the proceedings – sour notes in the sweetness – and a lazy disregard for it’s female characters that has no place in a modern movie franchise. Do better, Marvel.