I saw Guardians of the Galaxy last Saturday night, and as of this writing the vast majority of media reviews I’ve seen, and the gushing of all my friends, seem to indicate that everyone else loved the movie as a fantastic, wonderful thing, best Marvel movie ever.
One thing I’ve heard said about it is that this is the ‘Star Wars’ for our generation.
I didn’t have quite that same reaction, and I’d like to talk about it because I actually know and enjoyed the source material, and I’m curious how that is tainting my viewing of the movie.
This is a discussion where I’m going to totally geek out. I loved the source comics for Guardians of the Galaxy, the Annihilation storyline.
Weaving that into normal Marvel comics would be hard enough, and for what they’re doing, I think they did a great job. Mostly.
I really liked the movie, don’t get me wrong. For an origin tale with tons of necessary exposition to introduce you to the characters, settings and motivations it did very well.
They have already announced there WILL be a Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and I’m glad of that. I think the second movie, dealing with established characters and setting, will have even more room to go nuts and have fun.
But still. No movie is perfect, and since this is based on some extremely good comics that I love, it left me wondering why they made some of the changes they did, because they definitely detracted from my enjoyment of parts of the movie.
SPOILERS below this point.
It should come as no surprise that every character was modified from the comics to fit as part of their new team movie.
Drax deviated the most from the comics, and not necessarily for the better, but Drax as a character in the comics had an insanely complex and in some cases WTF backstory with Thanos. I can certainly appreciate someone looking at all that and saying, “Oh, hell no.”
Every character was changed. The appearances were the same, the style, but even Peter Quill was very different.
That’s okay, the movie was strong and it came off very well.
If there was one thing I carried with me leaving the theater that left a bitter aftertaste, it would be the treatment of Gamora in the film. And such a small thing, but even after a couple days I’m still irritated.
The universe of the movie is organic and funky.
It’s the Jurassic Park writ large, life will find a way, and it has, packed in every nook and cranny that could support it.
Space is filled with ancient planets that have gone through ups and downs, and in our modern age younger races stand on the shoulders of giants, in many cases scavenging a living by picking the bones left by the decaying elder races.
And I mean that literally.
You don’t get a sense of light years separating each world from the other.
It’s more immediate, everything is in your face, the teeming billions of the galaxy are in an inner-city ghetto of world tenements, each stacked right next door to it’s neighbor. Close enough to pop over for a cup of sugar or to loot some artifacts from a temple and crack your skulls.
That’s a good thing. Organic is good.
Making the universe feel funky? Outstanding.
Totally stands out, anything can happen here, and probably is in some far off corner.
And there ain’t a thing you as a person in this universe can do about it. Chaos is happening, the universe is too big, too unknown, too unknowable, too wild, and all you can do in this galactic shitstorm is the best you can to get by in your little part of it.
You can’t CONTROL it. There’s too much shit you can’t comprehend.
Seeing how all of these characters and others deal with this kind of universe is so much fun, offers so much potential.
In the Annihilation comics, Gamora is the female Riddick.
Think about that. Picture in your mind everything you know about Riddick as played by Vin Diesel. That is Gamora.
Except if anything, Gamora is much scarier, because she actively seeks out excuses to kill people. If she isn’t getting paid for it, she’ll kill you for fun, or because she’s bored, or so people won’t forget her reputation. Cold, ruthless, absolutely fearless.
In a universe filled with scary things possessing cosmic power, she is a cause for terror if you’re on her list.
Overall, they did a very nice job with her in the story.
My problem comes from the scene in the Kyln prison.
Remember, spoilers. PLEASE don’t read if you haven’t watched the movie yet.
There comes a point where Peter Quill, Rocket and Groot are sent as fresh prisoners to the Kyln prison. They are loosely allied with each other, and Gamora is with them but an outsider.
Gamora was just there to take the macguffin from Peter, and hasn’t had a special moment with anyone yet.
On the shuttle to the Kyln, Rocket makes it clear he has escaped from 22 previous prisons, and sees absolutely no reason why the Kyln should be any different. You want to break free of the Kyln, he’s gonna be the raccoon with the plan. Stick with him, he’s going places.
Once in the prison, Peter Quill has a scene where someone BIG makes it clear he’s about to make Peter his bitch. Rocket and Groot step in and face everyone down, it’s pretty cool.
Gamora has a scene where it’s shown how universally hated and feared she is, and Rocket points out she really does have a galaxy-wide rep as a badass assassin. It’s pretty clear the other prisoners intend to kill her first chance they get.
Peter Quill is being set up in the story as a bumbling young Han Solo. This is a good thing, he’s a rogue, he’s charming, but he’s inexperienced and relies on luck and improvisation rather than experience and planning. And he’s got a gooey center, it’s cute.
Cool so far?
So here is the problem.
Late at night, Gamora is shown being dragged through corridors of the prison by a small group of like 3 or 4 dirtbags, who clearly plan on killing her in some dark corner.
They drag her past a crowded room of sleeping prisoners, except for Peter who is wide awake and having a tender moment. He sees the fair damsel being dragged off to her doom, and decides to leap to the rescue.
Gamora is set up as a helpless damsel in distress for Peter Quill to save.
There is no explanation for how two or three pissant dirtbags managed to overpower the deadliest assassin in the known galaxy. One moment you see her stoic in her cell watching the door, the next she’s being manhandled down a corridor by a small group of thugs from central casting.
Now, don’t get all ‘oh shit another feminist for Gods sake shut up’ with me. Hear me out.
Picture in your head for one moment Vin Diesel as Riddick being hauled through that corridor by three or four meatsacks.
It’s okay, right? It’s like one of Riddick’s defining things. He gets taken by a group of scum, and he’s all right with it because he knows that he can kill ALL of them whenever he feels like it. You may think he needs rescuing, but the truth is he doesn’t. If he’s in chains heading somewhere, it’s because they’re saving him the effort of stealing a ship and flying it there himself.
Sure it may look dire, right up until the point that he shows everyone he’s just messing with them, before freeing himself and killing everyone in incredibly awesome ways.
That should have been Gamora. That is who the character in the comics is. Even if she was overpowered and hauled off by a crowd of dirtbags, it would have been part of a larger plan. Or because she’s bored and looking forward to turning the tables on them and seeing the look in their eyes when arrogance turns to fear.
As a fan of the comics, when I realized she really was overpowered and being dragged to her death, it was a big ‘bullshit’ moment.
The actual rescue and Peter Quill and Rocket and Drax stuff was good, don’t get me wrong. They used it to set the stage for Drax becoming a part of the group, and as they did it I can see it being fine with most people, but it felt totally unnecessary.
I’ll give you an example of what I mean, I’ll lay out an alternative way to reach the same result without using the damsel in distress bit.
Exact same everything as before, and we leave Gamora alone in her cell, Peter Quill and the others in their room with all the other male prisoners, and Drax having seen Gamora and clearly interested in watching her.
But here is where we deviate.
Gamora has no friends, she’s been dragged into prison with these idiots, and she was close enough to the rest of them in the shuttle to hear Rocket talk about his previous escapes and his intention to break out.
She is in the same group, and sees Peter Quill get told what a pretty little boy he is, and she sees Rocket and Groot face the other prisoners down.
Gamora knows people well enough to know that a scared prisoner isn’t going to fight you face to face if they can stab you in the back later when you’re asleep. She also knows people hold grudges, especially prisoners faced down in front of their peers. Everyone has to sleep sometime. And she could use an ally to get her off the Kyln.
She has reason to want to get into Rocket’s good graces, and she has seen Rocket is soft on Peter Quill.
Gamora knows something is coming. She watches and bides her time.
She has no problems with the other inmates. Someone may mouth off, but she tears him a new asshole, and everyone else backs off, reminded how she got her reputation. You don’t fuck with Gamora or you’ll get bloody and sore.
Late at night, as everyone is asleep, Peter Quill is grabbed by big ugly and a few cronies, who gag him and drag him out of the sleeping chamber. Sure as hell they’re pissed off for being embarassed in front of everyone earlier, and it’s time to make someone pay. But they’re afraid of Rocket and Groot, so they’re gonna take it out on Peter Quill. Fresh meat needs to be taught a lesson, they need to get some face back.
This is what Gamora was waiting for.
Gamora shadows Peter Quill and his captors, and when they’re getting all ugly and Peter is getting panicked, she leaps in and takes them down in Riddick-style moves that reinforce the core concept – you don’t fuck with Gamora.
Rocket shows up attracted by the noise, sees Gamora save Peter, now she’s got in ‘an’ with Rocket. Now she can get into their group and take part in their escape plan.
In this scenario, Gamora stays true to her character and reinforces being a total badass. She cynically analyzed the situation, determined a course of action that would get her what she wanted, and took action. No sentiment, just the appearance of sentiment.
There is still plenty of opportunity for character growth later, when she explains to everyone else why she betrayed Thanos and Ronin, and to have her steel heart warmed a teeny, tiny bit when the others put their lives on the line for what she believes in, and try and save Xandar. Which is what happens in the actual movie.
So what about Drax?
The scene introducing Drax was decent, but it would have worked just as well if he was stalking Gamora, followed her, was in time to witness her saving Peter, and then overheard her tell Rocket and Peter that she was betraying Ronin and was trying to get to something that Ronin wanted, and stop him from destroying the planet Xandar.
This puts Drax in the same spot as in the movie, but with more cunning and patience to achieve his true goal, killing Thanos (adjusted for the movie to include Ronin and anyone associated with Ronin).
Give Drax just the slightest amount of cunning to think through a plan, and he could have held off on revealing himself at all until the rest of the group started their prison break. Then he could use it to his advantage… kill Gamora, steal the macguffin, or choose a moment to save the team and earn his way into their escape.
Why help? Because this group was already pissing off Ronin and they were sure to be chased by Ronin if they fled. Also, she wants to save the innocents on Xandar which would resonate with Drax.
This gives the movie a chance to really focus on Drax unexpectedly stepping in and being a badass, saving the mission. You get a chance to see he’s valuable, not just a kill crazy psycho on an uncertain leash.
My only problem with the whole film is that one moment when the story took Gamora in that tired direction and it didn’t need to.
Putting Gamora in the position of a damsel in distress needing to be rescued cheapens her character, and is totally unnecessary to the story.
She’s not the damsel, she’s the ruthless killer. She isn’t a soft center needing to grow a hard shell, she’s hard all the way through, cynical and brutal, and her character development is that she is finally, just the smallest bit, by the barest fraction learning to feel something for someone other than herself, and putting herself out there for someone else is the risky move.
That one moment really disappointed me.
I really liked the movie overall, but because of how well the rest of the film played that one moment stood out for me even more.
Did you see the film without reading the comics? What was your take on it?