So I attended my second screening of Guardians of the Galaxy the other evening. While the genre press has spent the better part of the last six days strip mining every possible angle regarding the surprise success of the film like the organic matter of Knowhere, I came away with some of my crystalized thoughts on a few topics that haven't seemingly gotten much attention. One such thought was how an Avengers/Guardians of the Galaxy movie crossover has to happen. But we’ll get to that subject in a future installment. We’re going to tackle these one at a time, starting with:
Part One: The Somewhat Disturbing Part of GUARDIANS That No One Seems to Mind
And we're going to get into some SPOILERS here, so be warned.
In another, earlier era, Guardians of the Galaxy might have been called the “feel-good movie of the summer,” and deservedly so. No other recent tent pole studio blockbuster has worn its frankly corny heart on its sleeve quite like Guardians. Marvel Studios should have approached Hasbro and The Hub to borrow a subtitle and officially named the film Guardians of the Galaxy: Friendship is Magic (if you’ve seen the last act, then you know it is, literally).
But make no mistake, that corny, simple sentiment is exactly why Guardians works as effectively as it does. Well-situated pop tunes and characters you like bonding with one another is perhaps the surest way to make moviegoers feel good about the two hours of their time you’re asking for, and director James Gunn and Marvel Studios deserve an enormous amount of credit for keeping it simple stupid and applying the winning formula to their latest franchise bid.
But for as flat-out a genial an experience Guardians is, something has been nagging me since the Collector’s trippy mid-credits scene in last year’s Thor: The Dark World that played out again in Guardians and was really emphasized during its own post-credits scene.
What am I talking about? The Collector is a cruel slaver owner/trader who keeps intelligent, sentient subjects who are clearly suffering in tiny glass cages. But more importantly...
…no one seems to give a sh*t.
Now I already know the counter arguments here: ‘It’s just a summer escapist popcorn movie’ ... ‘You shouldn’t think too hard about such things,’ etc. etc. And yes, it’s high-concept science fiction not set on Earth so the rules are different. But are they?
As we already detailed, Guardians is at its core about making friends – about people who have lost and suffered finding comfort in one another. It’s about the emotional power of radio hits from the 1970s. High-minded allegorical sci-fi Guardians is not.
It’s a movie about simple human emotion. Whether she’s green and lost her parents and was molded into a monster by her ‘father figure’… Whether he feels completely alone and out of place because he looks like a small rodent… Whether he’s green and red and channels the grief of losing his family through vengeance… all of the films "aliens" couldn’t be more relateably “human.”
Honor and loyalty (even among killers and thieves) are also significant themes of the film, which are all reasons why beginning with the Dark World there is something very oddly out of place with the indifference shown over Taneleer Tivan's “collection.”
Whether it’s the Asgardians Sif and Volstagg or the Guardians themselves, everyone exchanges distasteful glances as they enter the Collectors showroom, but it never seems to occur to anyone to do anything about it and both times the ‘heroes’ of the scene conspire to do business with him anyway, as if he’s simply a distasteful eccentric. The Collector is regarded like your drunk uncle who makes mildly racist remarks during Thanksgiving dinner rather than the out-and-out monster that he is.
Gunn and Marvel ask us to feel Peter in the film's opening moments, to feel for what Thanos has done to Gamora and even Nebula, to feel for the cruel origins of Rocket, and the sacrifice Groot makes for his new friends. He even goes so far to establish the space prison Klyn by briefly showing a female inmate crying while receiving a holographic message, presumably from her family. Apparentlty, being locked up is no picnic in far-flung space either.
But at the same time we have to ignore that living souls like Howard the Duck are forced to live in 2.5x2.5 foot boxes and to ignore that it never occurs to our burgeoningly-heroic main characters that what they're seeing is wrong and that they should do something about it.
And again, the movie-verse Gunn has created isn't too far removed from our own. Like the space-faring Asgardians before them, the Xandarians in particular display a recognizable moral center, which is all the more emphasized in the celebratory final moments of the film when John C. Reily's Nova Corpsman Rhomann Dey embraces his wife and daughter and then comically explains what things are still considred serious crimes to Drax and Rocket. If theft and murder are serious crimes within the scope of the Nova Empire, wouldn't slavery would be frowned upon as well?
The Collector doesn’t even suffer any traditional supervillain comeuppance (at least not yet). He's found alive just a little worse for wear sipping a cocktail in the post-credits scene and even his now-infamous captive doesn’t seem too angry with him. We bet Steve Gerber’s 1970’s Howard would have something more to say about being held captive in a cage than a snippy comment about a dog licking the Collector’s face.
Now don’t mistake this observation. This doesn't ruin the film and it’s still a movie I enjoyed and would recommend readily. Marvel and Gunn deserve all the accolades they’re receiving. All I’m saying is this: Mr. Gunn, Mr. Feige, with all due respect - could’ve done without the slavery.
And perhaps you can rectify it in the sequel? If the opening moments of 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy 2 deal with the crew heading back to Knowhere and making sure Howard, Cosmo, and everyone else is freed and that the Collector is brought to justice, that’ll be fine by me.
Back soon with part two - thoughts about genres and the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.