I finally had a chance to see Guardians of the Galaxy this weekend, and, oh wow, was it good.
I expected to enjoy Guardian of the Galaxy, but I didn’t expect to love it. And I really, really loved it. Though it was a film that—almost from its first moment—was fully committed to an absolutely and completely amazeballs crazy premise, it still managed to tell a story of incredible depth about human connections, how they develop between people, and why the development of such connections are so desperately important. Guardians of the Galaxy was a rip-roaring, tongue-in-cheek adventure, chock-full of exciting set-pieces and wry humor. But it was in the heart-filled moments that the movie really shined.
(“When’s the last time you cried during a Marvel movie?” my mother asked me.
“Uh. Cap 2,” I somewhat shamefacedly replied. “But I get your point.”)
One of the things I most enjoyed about Guardians of the Galaxy was the fact that each of its heroes had character flaws and/or disabilities of varying visibility. And I was especially pleased to see characters with problematic traits, whose problematic traits were consistently called out both through the medium of the other characters and the narrative itself.
The most notable example of this is Peter Quill, whose douchey tendency to womanize has been attributed by some moviegoers to lazy sexism on the part of the filmmakers. However, I would argue that Quill’s womanizing is never shown to be either cool or beneficial to him. His callous forgetfulness of a one-night stand results in his being unable to dodge a call from a man he needs to evade; his act of bragging about his sexual conquests results in his being given a nickname that he does not like by Drax in one instance and a disdainful putdown by Rocket in another; his clichéd attempt to seduce Gamora results in his nearly having his throat cut. His bad behavior consistently goes unrewarded—he certainly doesn’t get the girl in the end—and the reiteration of this sends an important message to viewers about the fundamental lack of appropriateness in his attitude. A similar argument could be made about Rocket’s ableism or Drax’s use of slurs.
Characters in films in general, and superhero films in particular, sometimes need to be problematic. And this is because viewers need to see real people, with real-world flaws, being checked by their peers and consequently learning to do, and be, better. The inclusion of negative character traits in the heroes of Guardians of the Galaxy enabled the filmmakers to more clearly underline the main theme of the film, which is that we all need people in our lives who are willing to call us on our shit and hold us to a higher standard just as much as we need people who will forgive us for our mistakes and offer us acceptance in their wake. On their own, Peter Quill, Rocket, Drax, Groot, and Gamora each possessed a plethora of emotional, behavioral, and social problems that were not being addressed. Only together were they capable of growing beyond, or at least starting to grow beyond, the flaws and/or disabilities that had held them back for so long. Only together could they be guardians of the galaxy.