“When I look around, you know what I see? Losers. I mean, like, folks who have lost stuff. And we have, man, we have, all of us. Homes and our families. Normal lives. And you think life takes more than it gives. But not today. Today it’s giving us something. It is giving us a chance.” –Peter Quill
From its first trailer, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY promised to be a Marvel Cinematic Universe film unlike any of the nine other films in the franchise. And it delivers. With only threadbare ties to the MCU as a whole, the film works as a standalone piece and keeps a zany, goofy tone throughout. Sure, each MCU movie has its share of one-liners and sight gags but GATG is the first full out comedy.
The film boasts a strong set of unique, quippy characters: Peter Quill, not that well known as Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (sci-fi franchise queen Zoe Saldana), Drax (Steve Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (voiced by barely recognizable Bradley Cooper) and lovable Groot the tree (Vin Diesel). The film is at its best when it’s just these loons snapping at and arguing with each other. Even with such a strong comedic flair, however, the film does have a rather poignant emotional backbone.
The theme of loss and longing is a major part of the reason why GOTG works so well. Because this isn’t some Parks and Recreation “everyone loves each other” story but one of “losers” who have no one else to turn to. A thief, two thugs, an assassin and a maniac, they are rejects from society who have to fight to build their own family, their own place in the world. The script does a great job in setting up their antagonistic relationship and then showing how it breaks down once they start working together.
As tender as the underlying emotions are in the film, its comedic elements are glorious. One of my favorite scenes of 2014 is the scene that brings together Quill, Gamora, Rocket and Groot for the first time in a three-side fight scene. It is a brilliantly directed action-comedy scene where one person takes someone down and then is immediately taken down by someone else. And what I love most about the film is that it doesn’t get too bogged down with Serious Plot Elements; it keeps its irreverent tone throughout its running time. The primary focus is the jokes and the characters, not the MacGuffin.
The film works well enough as a whole that my complaints are too minor to mention. If there is one thing worth bringing up, it is the character Gamora. Saldana’s performance is quite strong but it’s a glaring example of the bland “Strong Female Character” that so many blockbusters feature. Righteous, determined, sexy but not sexual, humorless, Gamora gets lost among the overpowering male characters, which have many quirks and unique voices. Gamora is the one who has to keep the guys in line when they go off into a funny exchange. As the only character that actually cares about the villains and the plot devices, she awkwardly sticks out among the more enjoyable and well-written comedic aspects of the movie. I’d love to see a gritty character drama about Gamora but the way her character is written here makes her feel perfunctory. She’s the female character that gets written by writers forced to include a woman. (Writer Nicole Perlman and director James Gunn are both credited but Gunn has vehemently refused to acknowledge Perlman’s efforts, claiming to have done a page one rewrite.)
There’s nothing inherently wrong with a boringly resolute female character, but Gamora isn’t balanced out by other female characters with differing character traits (her sister Nebula is a mirrored copy and there’s little screen time with Carina Walters). So not only does the film fail the Bechdel test, but also the only two prominent female characters are exactly the same, just on opposite ends of the spectrum. While I try not to hold the institutionalized sexism in Hollywood against a single movie, it’s a little hard to reconcile Gamora with the textured characterization Black Widow and Pepper Potts received in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER and IRON MAN 3 respectively.
Even so, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY has emerged as one of the stronger efforts in the MCU. The movie studio has made an effort to shape its comic books films into different genre films. Now the studio has succeeded in making a thrilling, funny space comedy. With a thriving comic sensibility, a stunning neon-colored space aesthetic and a sensitive emotional core, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is a really fun entry into an already exhilarating film franchise.