Guardians of the Galaxy is wonderful fun because it has no pretensions about being anything other than goofy, pulpy space opera. It’s unabashedly weird, colorful, and cheeky. And it’s one of those rarest of all animals, a movie where the trailer tells you exactly what you’re going to get:
So yes, if you looked at that and thought hell yeah I want to watch a bunch of sarcastic aliens and a sassy white dude save the galaxy from a guy whose body paint can’t manage to hide his major pout, then you will be very, very satisfied with your movie ticket purchase.
I’ll say there are light spoilers below. Very light. Links mostly go to animated gifsets, FYI.
After one viewing, I think what makes GotG work so well is it has managed to find a good balance between making fun of its tropes and embracing them. (With the leavening mockery most often voiced by Rocket Raccoon.) It would be way too easy for this movie to fall into schmaltzy losers becoming winners by teaming up territory (backed up, no doubt, by a montage featuring Smashmouth’s All Star) if it weren’t for the fact that Peter Quill’s ‘we’re all losers’ speech is punctuated by Drax’s inability to pay attention and Rocket being 100% done with the entire process.
While many of the characters have the requisite angst-riddled background we see in comic book movies, when the manpain starts to get particularly thick Rocket makes the point that everyone has lost someone, and so what? The pain doesn’t make anyone special and you still have to just keep going. (This after having a drunken rampage in which he speaks about his own unpleasant origins.) There’s actually a lot of dark and grit in the setting of the movie—it starts with a young Peter Quill watching his mother die of cancer and then immediately being abducted by aliens whom we later find out were planning to eat him! The galaxy that the team of misfits wants to save is an inarguably scary and dangerous place. But what sets GotG apart from, say, the recent DC movies is that the characters do just what Rocket talks about. They keep living in the most technicolor way possible, and obviously have managed to find joy, hope, friendship, and family.
While I found all of the heroes likable, my favorites were the aliens: Groot, Rocket, and Drax. I know that early on, Groot and Rocket were considered potential tough sells just because they’re very weird when you compare them to the general “conventionally attractive white person” that fills out most of the primary and secondary parts in the MCU movies. Heck, I wouldn’t call Drax conventionally attractive either, even if he looks pretty human. While Rocket’s bottomless well of snark is undeniable, I liked the fact that all of them were very much not human. (Hell, I loved Drax’s inability to understand metaphors way more than I should have.)
And it’s a good thing that the heroes are likable and their coming together as a team has such good chemistry, because it’s those characters that have to drive the movie. The plot is standard “there is a bad guy that wants to kill a lot of people!” comic book fare, and Ronan (the pouty villain) is a particularly unexciting villain from a universe that’s previously given us Loki and Alexander Pierce. Ronan’s best moment is right at the end when he’s being utterly confused by the antics of Star Lord, and trust me, it’s still not much of a moment for him. Nebula felt very underutilized as a villain (though presumably we’ll be seeing a lot more from her in the future), but I appreciated her and Gamora providing the requisite Marvel movie daddy issues.
I swear to god, the entire MCU runs on sass and daddy issues.
GotG has apparently done very well in its opening weekend, and I think it’s well deserved. Marvel’s earned its reputation for putting out fun popcorn movies that don’t actively insult your intelligence while you’re watching them, and this continues the trend. I see in the linked article, there’s even been an uptick in the female audience numbers.
Well, GotG has a female hero, and a female villain, and I’ll say I loved the fact that Nebula was a stone-cold murder machine and not the general evil sex kitten trope. And Gamora was also pretty anti-use your sexy wiles. I could have done with less Star Lord hitting on Gamora (and the bit where Drax called her a whore flat pissed me off) but in the grand scheme of action tentpoles, GotG did pretty well. Hell, the leader of the Nova Corps, Nova Prime, is played by Glenn Close. Marvel’s been giving us better and better female characters of all sorts (though occasionally still fridging them) and the spin-off television show Agents of SHIELD has gone leaps and bounds beyond, with 50% of the main characters being women.
But they can do better. What Marvel has already done only serves to highlight the fact that they are still making a very conscious decision to not do a female superhero-headed movie, and that Janet Van Dyne seems to have been just wiped from the MCU, and that makes it all the more frustrating.
Marvel, we trust you enough that we made a movie featuring a fucking talking tree and a cyborg raccoon explode August box office opening weekend numbers. How about you trust us enough to give us a movie where the center of the poster isn’t a totally ripped white dude?
See also: Chuck Wendig’s totally academic review of GotG, which sums up my feelings completely before I took twelve hours to become coherent again.