Joy Buzzer #1: Guardians of the Galaxy

Joy Buzzer #1: Guardians of the Galaxy

Not so great things about things everybody thinks are great.



Lets first start off by saying that I liked this movie.  I really did.  Ive seen it twice in theaters.  Ive only done that with two other movies: Avengers (also twice) and Winter Soldier (thrice).  I can fondly recall the thrills of seeing Star-Lord and his band of semi-merry misfits on a rollicking space adventure.  I thought the casting was perfect: Chris Pratt, of Parks and Recreation, perhaps the most on-point casting in a Marvel film since Robert Downey, Jr; Cooper and Saldana excel in their roles and the writers actually found a way to make Dave Batista Bautista watchable when he opens his mouth.  (Also, if Vin Diesel doesnt get some kindve Academy nod, the Heavens are indeed empty).  The soundtrack, a character in its own right, is flawless.  The humor and the special effects are great.  All-in-all, Guardians is a positive entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


There are some things about the film that I picked up on my first viewing that became more problematic upon my second.  A year ago, these things wouldnt have bothered me so much.  Oh, well, its just a comic book movie.  Im just happy it wasnt terrible.  That was a legitimate state of mind for anyone who lived through the early dawn of superhero films.  But then, in April of  2014, Captain America: The Winter Soldier arrived in American theaters and showed everyone what superhero films could actually be if they tried: smart, action-packed, nuanced, emotionally-gratifying, compelling, earnest and whole.  Weve been shown that superhero movies shouldnt settle for good enough.  We now live in a post-Winter Soldier world. Obv. the Dark Knight and Avengers were more colossal undertakings than this and had a significantly greater impact on cinema in general i.e. an unpredictable thrill ride that soils the pants of many a viewer, and an ensemble, franchise-uniting movie that doesnt crumble under its own weight, respectively.  But those films were more the exception than the rule: one was about DCs only (apparently) marketable superhero, and the other was about ALL the Marvel heroes.  Winter Soldier was a follow-up to a film that was decent, but not noteworthy.  Few expected it to be as enthralling as it was.  CA:TWS set the bar for how great superhero movies that werent about a bat or more than five heroes at a time could be.  So, as should be obvious at this point, every superhero film I watch now is set against Winter Soldier.  Im less likely to let things slide because its just a comic book movie.  So, as this is a potshot criticism of Guardians of the Galaxy and not Jakes Favorite Superhero Movies, lets get on with the flaws.

#1: Friendship is, Apparently, Magic
The Guardians all meet because they want something for selfish-ish reasons.  Peter Quill wants to use the Orb to make a payday; Gamora wants to use the Orb to keep it out of Thanoss reachand make a payday; Rocket and Groot want Peter Quill, and later the Orb, to make a payday; and Drax wants to kill Ronan by way of Gamora out of revenge.  None of these characters are united out of a sense of comradery or justice (Groot excluded because Groot is the best and a sweetheart and is pulled along by Rocket).  The only one who performs selfless gestures for the others is Peter, who does so because hes the hero.  Point being, for a significant part of the movie, these characters are merely acquaintances at best.  And then all of a sudden, theyre the bestest friends in the spaceways, apparently because Christ Pratt said the word friends at one point.  Theres no moment of emotional connection or understanding.  There almost is, when Rocket tearfully reveals his tragic past from behind a loaded gun.  But its quickly dismissed with Rocket, suck it up for one more night.  Youre drunk.  And the dismissal is mutual: I cant promise Im not going to kill all of you once this is all over.  (Rockets ableism is a discussion for another time). 

Theres no reason for anyone to befriend or even trust Gamora.  Hi, Im an assassin working for a genocidal maniac, but dont worry, I was totes planning to betray him just now, and you totally believe me because Im telling you this in such a forthright manner.  Yes, we totes believe you.  Drax only gets brought along because he touched the walking tree on the shoulder and agreed he had been an idiot.  In summation, the film at a certain point arbitrarily makes all of the protagonists friends without organically showing us it on screen, because they have to be friends at the end of the film. 

Replace love with friendship and youve basically got the sentiment of GotG. 

#2 Ronan the Underused
Who is Ronan?  I bet if you asked the average movie-goer this, the response would be the bad guy.  Ronan is the latest victim in the Marvel movies to suffer from what Im now calling Malekith-itis.  Named so for the would-be antagonist of Thor 2 (the real villain was the lack of a credible antagonist to outshine the Thor/Loki drama).  For whatever reason,  the Marvel movies occasionally have a problem of not making their villains more than A) evil, B) crazy, or c) Crazy evil.  Loki seems to be the exception to this rule, much to the delight of fangirls and fanboys everywhere.  I suppose the first instance of this would be the Red Skull, but thats Johanns schtick: hes a Nazi and the evilest of the evil, so he gets a pass.  Next to fall for this pitfall is the eponymous Malekith who, while just as banally evil as Skull in the source material, is more underutilized and is thus given to the name of the diseased.  And then along comes Ronan the Accuser who, for all intents and purposes is Judge Dredd in space.  He is the (Kree) law.  Rolling Order Neutral on the alignment chart, Ronan is oft an antagonist but not truly a villain.  The film, however, has other intents.  Which is fine.  Its its own story and characters are shuffled around, sometimes not even resembling their original incarnation (lookin at you, Yondu).  But the film never does anything with Ronan.  Hes just there to be Kree Dredd, sit in his scary ship, act scary and maybe kill an entire planet.  But Ronans motivation for doing so, is explained away in his not-even ten minute introduction.  Hes rebelling against a system that no longer holds his ideals.  Hmm doesnt that sound like someone we met again in April of 2014?

Thats right! The Human Torch! 
For more on this comparison, go to the post I stole this idea from here:

They didnt have to role with that, of course, but any attention to Ronan after his initial monologue wouldve done wonders.  Ronan is such a rich and complex character that reducing him to the Big Bad was a bit of a letdown.  This movie need an additional 30 minutes: 15 for protagonist bonding, and 15 for antagonist focus.   

#3 His Species is Completely LiteralExcept When It Comes to Insulting Women
Hopefully by the title you all know what Im about to refer to.  Draxs character is described as being of a species that has no concept of metaphors; everything they say is completely literal.  Its used several times throughout the film to humorous effect.  During the final assault on Ronans ship, Drax is declaring how everyone there is his friend (because the plot says so).  After declaring Star-Lord and Groot, the dumb tree, as his friends, he turns to Gamora and calls her a whore.  Even on my first viewing, I was perplexed by this scene.  Why would the literal Drax say that?  To the audiences knowledge, Drax hasnt witnessed Gamora plying her femininity for money at any point in the film.  In fact, the only time in which shes vaguely seductive is when she meets Peter Quill and semi-flirts with him to steal the Orb from him.  Which Drax wasnt there for.  Unless theres a deleted scene of Gamora exchanging sex for currency, Draxs mind, as defined by the rules of the film, wouldnt fathom to refer to her as such.  All roads of inquiry point to it being misogyny in the most casual and lazy way, so much so that its disheartening.  There are a myriad of other insulting things that Drax couldve called her that dont go for the dumb cheap shot of hurrr durrr promiscuous woman bad; similarly promiscuous man is stud and Peter Quill durr hurrr.

Its a small thing in the grand scheme, but I think it was the initial tick that made me take a closer look at the film.  Dont get me wrong.  I like this film.  But I wanted to love it.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself watching it both times.  But just because I like something doesnt mean it doesnt have flaws.  This was good, but Marvel has shown that it can do much better.

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