Guardians of the Galaxy is the very definition of a fun movie. It’s extremely entertaining while you watch, exciting, funny and if you get into it even a little touching. It doesn’t completely hold up when it comes to its plot and all of its characters, but that’s not something you’re really aware of until after the movie. Most of the characters are brilliantly written, acted or animated, which is one of the best aspects of this movie. Rocket Raccoon and Groot alone would make a great movie, but in connection with the other characters, they work even better. Even Drax the Destroyer is surprisingly successful. The pop culture references are enjoyable and the jokes are really, really funny, which is not something you find often nowadays, where attempts at humor in a blockbuster movie are often cringe-inducing or infantile. But I couldn’t imagine another movie making a joke about Jackson Pollock and sex and getting away with it. The worst part of the movie is its boring villain, Ronan the Accuser and his scenes are the only parts of the movie that drag.
Two things stood out to me here. The first is somewhat obvious, since I talked about it already when discussing the poster: the character of Gamora (Zoe Saldana). She is the only major female character in the movie and is treated as an equal to all the other male or tree characters. She is a tough woman, but is also allowed some variance and nuances in her character. But is it enough? As the panelists at The Incomparable point out well, her main problem is that her background is so convoluted and not done well enough. Her character falls a little flat because she has to be tough, supposedly evil, good-hearted, slightly attracted to Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), but not enough, worried about her future and determined to stop her adoptive father. Which are all interesting character motivations, but she isn’t given enough time to develop all of it adequately. Which wouldn’t be such a problem, but she is the only character with these problems besides Ronan, so the only female character is one of the two weakest characters in the movie. That singles her out as opposed to all the cool male characters. They get amazingly funny lines, she is always serious. Even Ronan (Lee Pace) gets at least one laugh, but no one will remember her for making you laugh. The problem is not only that this happens to the only female in the movie, but that Gamora is actually an interesting character in the comics, where she has much more shades and is very often fascinating and intriguing. Here’s she mostly a bit boring. The other female characters don’t fare much better. Her sister Nebula (Karen Gillen) is just evil and has an odd head and Glenn Close plays the leader of the Novas, but doesn’t get more than three lines, it seems. So, better than many, many other movies, but certainly not a success for women in movies. Especially compared to even minor male characters who get great moments (like Yondu or the Collector).
The other, much more positive, aspect of this movie that makes it special to me is its tendency to dip into metafiction. It’s not much, mind you, but just seeing it leaning there in this kind of movie is amazing to me. It mostly stems from the characters who act in surprising ways and avoid the typical clichés while knowing that they do. Peter Quill often acts as if he really was that standard hero with a good heart and then destroys the same tropes by being a jerk. Rocket is even better and there is this one scene, that really stood out to me. Everyone has given up and then Quill gives a dramatic speech, until everyone rises and is willing to fight again. But Rocket is still reluctant and when he joins them, he says:“Well, now I’m standing. Happy? We’re all standing now. Bunch of jackasses, standing in a circle.” I know, it’s maybe a stretch to call it metafictional, but Rocket makes clear that this standard trope of the heroes gathering for their final fight is just that, a pointless gesture. It is impressive to look at, but it doesn’t mean anything and Rocket knows that. The audience should know that, too, but in a way there sitting in a cinema to be elevated by such a moment, so Rocket making them aware that it doesn’t mean anything follows a metafictional formula. There are other moments that break the conventional elements of a movie like this, like Peter dancing for Ronan or Gamora yawning during another hero shot (her single coolest moment, which seems out of character).
While Guardians of the Galaxy is not a perfect movie that falls short on its potential to show an interesting female character, it offers a glimpse at what popcorn movies can achieve once they have reached their millions of viewers.
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