film review: guardians of the galaxy
If you live in a hole in the ground and haven’t seen the latest Marvel film Guardians of the Galaxy yet, then I highly recommend doing so soon. I checked out a preview showing of the film last Friday night because I am a comic book and superhero nerd, and I love Parks and Rec star Chris Pratt and his ridiculous sense of humour. I also wanted to see how the movie portrayed its female characters. Marvel has a history of being a bit lacklustre in terms of having kick-ass female characters — that do something more than just act as eye candy. Recently, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige excused the company for not having a strong female-led film due to commitments to other films. There’s more than enough resistance from audiences, too: angry fans have lashed out at a female film critic who wrote a negative review, prompting this article to be written in her defence.
Guardians of the Galaxy is one part silly and immature jokes, one part dumb comic book action, and they combine to make a film that’s laughable and enjoyable. The film hasn’t received wonderful reviews from some of the industry’s top critics, but the vast majority of moviegoers and reviewers have responded positively, with four-star plus ratings. That’s pretty good for a film with a talking raccoon and a star that’s only just bursting onto the scene.
Guardians of the Galaxy follows a gang of outlaws and jailbirds as they form an unlikely alliance against Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). All you need to know about Ronan is that he is not a happy cookie and dislikes the recent peace treaty that has been signed by his people with the people of Nova. Ronan is seeking a mysterious orb, that has unbridled power, in order to take over the universe. The orb falls in the hands of Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), and fellow-bandits Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket the genetically-altered raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and the humanoid tree-creature Groot (Vin Diesel). You instantly fall in love with the outlaws as they take you on a rollercoaster ride of space action and comedy.
Gamora is definitely a strong, rough-edged character. She can fight just about anything and anyone that gets in her way. She has a complicated love-hate relationship with her foster-father Ronan, who subjected her to a series of body modifications and raised her to be a fighting machine; he did the same to her sister, Nebula, played by Karen Gillan. Nebula is part human, part machine, and has been brainwashed by Ronan to act as his protector and slave.
Taking a closer look at these characters, I realised they had many shortcomings. The film does not pass the Bechdel test; although the girls are both physically strong, their lives are still tied up with Ronan. For Gamora, there is hope because she is trying to defy him and revenge her parents, but she doesn’t talk about anything other than Ronan during the film. The film doesn’t lack physically strong female characters, but it’s lacking in what we, female audiences, need – female characters that live their own lives, free from restraint by menacing men and slavery. One could argue that, in Gamora’s case, we should celebrate that a female character chooses to and is able to break free from her male controller — Marvel may be on its way towards making female characters that we can aspire to be.
Guardians doesn’t fall 100% short of being a feminist film. Unlike most superheroes, who are motivated by the loss of a father/strong male mentor to become the gritty, revenge-filled hero they were always meant to be, Star-Lord’s central relationship is with his mother, whom he loses to cancer in the opening scenes. For Quill, it’s revenging his mother that drives him, and his strong connection to her is prominent throughout Guardians.
Drax the Destroyer, brought to life by a real-life wrestling champ, is much more than he appears (you’ll know what I mean — cue awesome 80s soundtrack — when you see the film). The tough-guy redeems himself as a big softie in this film, making us re-think what so-called tough guys are really like. It’s also awesome to see Glenn Close make an appearance as the head of the planet Nova, showing us that females can indeed be the president of a planet in the near future.
Don’t expect to be blown away by extreme feminism in this film, but also don’t discount some of the efforts that are made towards feminism – hopefully this bodes well for future superhero films. We can only hope that Marvel makes time in its busy schedule for such a film.