Chris Versus the Movies: Guardians of the Galaxy

Posted: August 12, 2014 in Threat Quality
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Fine!  It was fine.  A fine movie.  It had some exciting space adventures, people flew around in ships and shot each other with lasers.  There was some kind of power-exploding MacGuffin, that was great.  The character stuff was for the most part exceptional.  Groot was there, he was awesome, Rocket Raccoon was awesome.  My favorite was actually Drax the Destroyer!

(“We just established that blowing up the ship I’m on isn’t saving me.” “When did we establish that?” “Like three seconds ago!” “I wasn’t listening to that part, I was thinking about something else.”)

Hahahah.  Excellent use of Dave Bautista, finally we’re seeing him live up to the potential he revealed as Bronze Body Man in The Man with the Iron Fists.

A good time was had by all.  I am going to write a few things here, because it is in my nature to be a Debbie Downer, and a natural enemy of all that is good and fun, so if you HATE FUN, by all means, keep reading.

Some Thoughts on Writing

I realize that it’s largely pointless to say, “here’s some things I think the movie could have done better.” It made a gajillion dollars and is the Freshest Tomato imaginable, obviously the movie is perfect; by all quantifiable measures, it cannot be improved, and therefore certainly no one at a Major Motion Picture Studio gives a rat’s ass what some guy with a blog thinks about the script. But it is my belief that, somewhere in the intricate engine of movie production, there are human beings, and those human beings care about the things that they make, yea, even unto the very word, unto the jot and the tittle, and I want them to know that some things here were careless, and that carelessness is noticeable.

I can see you motherfuckers.

For the most part, the writing of character is pretty good here; largely when it comes to the characters that the writers (I’m including Nicole Perlman and James Gunn in this, but ALSO what I suspect are a horde of invisible hands that have reached in to tweak things) actually care about: Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Drax.

But there’s a lot of things going on in this movie that just feel…I don’t know how to say it. “Hinky” I guess is the right word. Like they just sort of don’t belong here. A lot of it is attributable to studio intervention, I expect — studios are notoriously uncomfortable with the intelligence of their audiences, and demand additional explanations for things.

For example, Rocket Racoon’s origin is explained three times: when Star-Lord sees Rocket with his shirt off, and sees the evidence of his cyborg modifications; when Rocket has his drunken outburst and we learn how difficult it is for him to be the only thing in the universe like himself; and when John C. Reilly just straight up explains the deal with Rocket Raccoon.

(Weirdly, when I saw the trailer that was mostly the lineup scene, I thought it was an awfully clunky way of delivering a lot of information, but the actual scene in the movie turned out to be even clunkier — at least in the trailer, John C. Reilly is talking about the crimes that they committed, which makes sense for him to do as an officer of Space Police.)

Well, you can see, based on my Three Things Theory, how the first two of these explanations are okay, because they also reveal at least one other thing (in this case about character):  Star-Lord is observant and compassionate; Rocket carries a deep sense of personal violation and pain all the time.  But what the hell is that third one?

Similarly, the thing about Star-Lord’s father is also explained three times:  his mother very clearly hints at it in the first scene (like, actually all but says it, it’s not even a subtle hint); Yondu reveals it again with his throwaway, “It’s good we didn’t really deliver him to his father” (an excellent example of layered exposition — it’s a line that reveals multiple pieces of information about both Star-Lord’s background and Yondu’s nature at once), and that weird scene where Glenn Close is just straight-up, “Your dad was a space alien.”

And then!  Gamora says, “Oh, THAT explains why you were able to hold the Infinity Stone,” but we already knew how he could hold the Infinity Stone! It was because of the Power of Friendship!  The thing is, Your Dad Was a Space Alien has absolutely ZERO bearing on the entire rest of the movie at all in any way it is completely superfluous, and The Power of Friendship is the actual literal point of the movie.  So, why does that climax have two explanations, when it only needed one?  Why would you take the important element of your climax, the thing that the whole story is based on, and then dilute it with a second explanation that actually explains nothing else that happens, motivates no action in the movie, reveals nothing about the characters’ inner lives?

That’s where things get really hinky I guess — it’s hard to parse for sure, but it really seems like that there were two or more movies that were somehow combined, irrespective of where they overlapped or were redundant.  Like they just either crammed two scripts together, or just crammed some extra stuff in to their pre-existing script.

For example:

Star-Lord: [something, I don’t remember exactly, about being good at fighting]

Gamora:  My father didn’t stress diplomacy.

Star-Lord:  You mean Thanos?

Gamora:  He’s not my father!

Well, wait.  You mean your real father didn’t stress diplomacy?  Was he ALSO training you to be an assassin?  Up until a second ago, that line about your father not stressing diplomacy, which was really an oblique reference to the fact that you were trained by Thanos as an assassin, made a lot of sense; but now you’ve introduced a whole bunch more information that I kind of don’t know what to make of.  Were you from a planet of assassins?  Was your family just an assassin family?  Or does “not stressing diplomacy” actually mean something else?  Was your dad, like, a longshoreman or something, and he just didn’t care about being polite?  What’s going on here?

Simlarly, remember when Gamora is floating out in space, and Rocket is all, “We can’t rescue her, even though her cyborg implants will keep her alive, just long enough for us to have this conversation and also for you to fly out to rescue her and put your face thing on her and then you can both get picked up by a spaceship but not a second longer“?

We literally just ONE MINUTE AGO saw that the pods they’re in have robot hands, with enough fine motor control that Star-Lord can actually just fly a spaceship around with them.  And no one even thinks to just grab her and fly back to the…the thing, the whatever that thing was?

Here’s another example.  At the end they’re talking about how they’re going to have to fight their way into the Dark Aster and there’s going to be a million badguys and Drax says something about how he thinks of them as “paper-people.”

But…guys.  Guys.  The joke that you have been running with for the entire movie (a very successful joke!  I thought it was hilarious and you got a lot of mileage out of it!) has been that Drax does not understand metaphors.  So, wait, does Drax think that these guys are ACTUALLY made of paper?  Why would he think that?  ARE they made of paper?  What?

(“Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too fast. I would catch it.” Ahahahahaha!)

Remember at the very end of the movie, when Star-Lord is all, “What should we do next?”  And Gamora says, “We’ll follow your lead”?

That’s the thing that you say to a guy at the end of a movie about him learning to become a leader.  This was a movie about the Power of Friendship!  Star-Lord doesn’t become the leader of the group; he barely even becomes the de facto leader, just because he was the guy with the plan.  Rocket Raccoon also came up with a plan, he is as legitimately the leader of the group as Star-Lord.  Hell, Drax came up with a plan at one point!  It was a terrible plan, but this is clearly not a group in search of a guy to come up with plans.  This is about a bunch of weirdos becoming friends, so what is that line doing there?

Speaking of.


What the HELL guys?  What in the actual hell?  Gamora kicks five people in THE ENTIRE MOVIE.  We get four pieces of exposition about how she is a living weapon trained to be the ultimate assassin and that is almost as many people as she actually kicks.  As much time is spent telling us that Gamora is dead serious as she actually spends being dead serious!  What is that?  Black Widow kicks more guys in Iron Man II, and that wasn’t even her movie!  That scene wasn’t even a necessary scene!  They added in an extra scene that was nothing but Black Widow kicking guys, just to make sure that she got to kick a lot of guys!

What does Gamora ACTUALLY do?  Well, she gets taken hostage twice (both times by a couple of guys with knives, come on, are you fucking kidding me?  GUYS with KNIVES are holding Thanos’ legendary invincible space assassin hostage?), she gets rescued by Star-Lord twice.  She has a bunch of feelings.  She fights the Evil Girl.  (When there are two female characters in a movie, and one is evil, the Good Girl and the Evil Girl have to fight each other, that is the rule.)  At the end of the movie she wears a sexy space mini-dress and tells Star-Lord how great he is.

She doesn’t even get a CHAIR.  She has to STAND next to Star-Lord so she can tell him he’s great.  Rocket Raccoon gets a chair and HE IS A RACCOON.  He could sit on Drax’s head!  Drax gets a chair, and what idiot even decided to let that violent space maniac into the cockpit in the first place?  I guess it’s good that he’s strapped down, but still, I think this is kind of a safety hazard.

(It is pretty hilarious that Gamora is like, “No, Nebula, YOU can’t get the stone, you are too dumb and terrible, only I can get the stone!”  And her plan to get the stone is, “Hang out by a building until Star-Lord comes by, then grab it from him and run.”  Hahah, good plan.  But wait.  Why wouldn’t she have tried to grab it BEFORE he went to see the broker?  I mean, the broker didn’t take it, but Gamora couldn’t have known he wouldn’t take it; wouldn’t it make more sense to try to steal it on the way in?  I guess maybe her plan was, “Wait for Star-Lord to unload the stone, then steal it from that other guy.”)

Nebula is actually even worse, because ALL she is there for is the Girlfight.  Ronan even has a second second-in-command (Djimon Honsou’s…Korath?  Kargath?  Krakkagar?  I don’t actually remember if they said his name), and if Guardians of the Galaxy is like Star Wars, then this is like Grand Moff Tarkin having two Darth Vaders.  Why are there two Darth Vaders?  Why does Djimon Honsou lead the team on Abandoned Planet Morag to get the Infinity Stone, and not Nebula?

It’s ALMOST like they just crammed Gamora into the story because they needed a girl, and then they were like, “well, if we put one girl in, we should just put another one in so they can girlfight”, and then wrote the rest of the movie and forgot they were both there until the end.  Was she supposed to be a different character?  Like, Mantis or something, who has psychic empathy but maybe makes a better hostage?  She is ALSO green, I guess.  Except wait, Mantis can also do karate, I’m not sure this makes any more sense.

And I mean, they put Joss Whedon in charge of all the Marvel Universe Movies, and this interpretation of Gamora is like a literal checklist of “Strong” Female Characters — described as tough and hardcore, check; does not eclipse the main (dude) hero in terms of heroics, check; touch exterior is penetrated by dudely charm, check; turns out to have a soft heart full of feelings, check; gets rescued by the dudely hero, demonstrating that he is EVEN MORE hardcore, check; fights the Evil Girl, check.

What is this, guys?  What happened here?  “It’s complicated,” someone in my imagination is saying, “There’s a lot of characters here to juggle, we didn’t have room to make Gamora a badass,” he goes on, “We just couldn’t find the room for it, the movie is also two hours long already.”

You know what?  Bullshit.  Bullshit on that.  I wasn’t going to do this, but dramaturgery, right now, RIGHT FUCKING NOW.


First things first, let’s change the plan at the end.  Groot, Drax, and Gamora fight all the guys, while STAR-LORD is the one who has to [BREAK THE SPACE FRABIN].  (It was disabling the power core or something, right?  Whatever, who cares.  Let’s just have him open the locks on the security doors and shoot Ronan with the Space Gun.)  This makes sense because:  1. Star-Lord’s actual power is breaking into places using gadgets and stealing things; this is literally how he is introduced to us.  Having Star-Lord be the guy who [BREAKS THE SPACE FRABIN] actually makes more sense based on the things you already spent the entire movie telling us about him, and 2. Gamora is a legendary space assassin whose special power is KICKING A MILLION GUYS.

Star-Lord gets to the door and Nebula fights with him.  This is a good moment for Star-Lord to be all, “I don’t want to hurt you,” and then Nebula just wipes the fucking floor with him.  Elsewhere, Gamora realizes what’s happening, Drax and Groot tell her they’ll hold the badguys off (“There are too many!”  “I AM GROOT.”  “The tree-beast is right!  We will hold them!  You must help Peter Quill!”) etc.  Gamora shows up and we can have this big confrontation with Nebula, very good kicking fight.  It’s also great that it happens while Star-Lord is trying to [BREAK THE SPACE FRABIN], because their battle keeps getting in the way, he has to duck under their laser blasts, avoid getting karate-chopped, &c.

The rest of it can run basically the same way; Groot and Drax surprisingly wreck the badguys, Nebula gets blown out the airlock or whatever happened there, they all end up in the room with Ronan the Accuser.  Rocket flies the ship in, Groot saves everyone by becoming a…tree ball, I guess is what that was.

I’d say let’s give Drax, Nebula, and Ronan a three-way battle while Rocket is fixing the space gun and before Star-Lord attempts the dance-off — I like the idea that we’ve already seen that Infinite Karate Power fails when Star-Lord tries his, “Well, since we’re basically fucked, maybe this will work plan.” — aside from that, everything else can proceed apace.

(Question:  Where do we get the run time for this?  Answer:  cut that dumb scene where Glenn Close tells Star-Lord he’s half-space alien.  Who cares?  Actually, if it’s up to me, I have Glenn Close say that these guys need to be taken back to jail anyway, John C. Reilly helps them escape out of charity, partly because it adds some suspense to the last few moments, partly because it makes the Space Police an ambiguously-good organization.)

(Question 2: But how does Star-Lord know how to [BREAK THE SPACE FRABIN]?  Answer:  Look, take that scene where Star-Lord and Gamora are talking about Footloose and move it to Yondu’s ship.  Give the two of them a nice quiet moment together before the shit goes down, going through video files about different kinds of Space Frabins that Gamora is identifying on Ronan’s ship, and Star-Lord is taking notes.  These kinds of feelings scenes are always better when the actors have something to do in them, anyway.)

Now, that gives Gamora a little more to do physically, but right now, Nebula is still just there to fight the other girl, so let’s actually cut Korath out of the movie entirely (sorry, Djimon Honsou, I really do want you to have a job; you can have Peter Serafanowicz’s part) (sorry, Peter Serafanowicz).  That part in the beginning can be with Nebula, instead; she can basically just be the Darth Vader of this movie.

So, actually let’s change the backstory to this:  Gamora has already left Ronan the Accuser, and Thanos sent Nebula as a kind of second-rate replacement.  Ronan wants the Infinity Stone, but Nebula is just after Gamora (this gives some nice conflict between the badguys, too), Nebula can still hate her dad and everything, that’s fine.  Gamora should be the one that gets herself out of the fight with Drax by explaining that it wasn’t Ronan but Thanos who was behind all the killing, and that she hates him and wants to destroy him.  This lets Gamora dropkick some more guys in the prison, and makes a nice moment when she and Drax have made common cause and then turn their attention to Star-Lord, who basically shits himself.

Gamora can also just want to fuck off out of the galaxy the way Rocket Raccoon does, so that she can also be the one who is convinced by Star-Lord’s compassion (Star-Lord’s Element Gun has the power of the elements, but Star-Lord has the power of Heart); I feel like it makes more sense if Gamora’s feelings take a lot longer to come unstuck than “basically right away”.

(Similarly, it makes sense to me if Gamora’s discovery that Thanos actually killed her parents — instead of just finding her orphaned — is either a recent discovery or happens within the run-time of the movie; that Nebula knew Thanos made her an orphan and so she respects power and cruelty, but is ultimately weaker than Gamora, who believed that Thanos saved her and so she respects loyalty and friendship, that all seems a lot better than “Nebula is jealous because Thanos keeps making some passive-aggressive comments about her”.)

And what else?  Oh, when they’re in Yondu’s spaceship, let’s have Gamora just kick the fuck out of all of those guys, and Yondu can hold Star-Lord hostage with his whistling arrow thing (incidentally: whistling arrow thing was a great touch, that was awesome, A+).  Gamora has just learned that she has feelings, Star-Lord has touched her heart by rescuing her, and she discovers to her dismay that she can’t just let him die in order for her to kick a bunch more guys.  This is a good character moment!  Gamora is struggling with how her compassion can also be used against her, but it is still better than being a merciless murder-machine!


Wait, That’s It?

No, wait!  Also, there are four chairs in the spaceship, so that Gamora can sit down in one.

So THAT’S all?

You know, I’m glad you asked that, me.  The thing about this is that it feels like such an easy correction, and that it proceeds very naturally from the base principles of the movie (“Who is in this?”  “Gamora.”  “What does she do?”  “She can just kick a million guys.”  “Oh, well, we better put a scene in there where she kicks a million guys, then.”) that I honestly don’t fucking get what went wrong here.  “What makes Star-Lord a unique hero?”  “Well, he’s clever and sort of a softy, and a rapscallion and is actually not notably good at fighting, he is better at picking locks.”  “Well, we better put in a scene where he fights a bunch of guys, and Gamora has to open the locks.”  What?

This goes back to what I was saying in that previous section, where it really feels like they were writing one movie and then, for reasons that are completely opaque to me, swerved off into this second movie and only made a kind of half-hearted attempt to reconcile the two.

Anyway, I mean.  The movie is fine!  It is a good time!  It’s like Firefly, except instead of saying, “Let’s make an awesome space adventure, only we’ll take out everything that makes space adventures awesome!” they said, “Let’s make an awesome space adventure, only we’ll keep everything that makes space adventures awesome!”  (i.e., talking racoons, lasers, spaceship battles, mining colony in the head of giant dead space-god, a million different aliens, Groot.)

But there’s actually an even better movie lurking in there, and for me, I can’t help but see that other movie, and the gap between the one that I can see and the one that’s really there, that gap is always going to gnaw at me.  Also, I think this is the 21st century, I don’t think we should need to have conversations about how female characters are supposed to have roles in stories that are good and relevant roles.  That’s not something that should even come up anymore.


  1. John Jackson says:

    Point of contention: they put Whedon in charge of the entire Marvel MovieVerse? When did this happen? I assumed Feige was in charge of the overarching story plot. My assumption dropped all the responsibility for the flaws at Gunn’s feet. This is the best film he’s ever done, and the only story about his directorial style I’ve read explicitly says he relied on the 80s soundtrack played on set to help get every actor into character. I know that some people use this method, i.e. Alfred Molina in Boogie Nights, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t the zenith of directing ability.

    As for the script? I would like to read that original first draft by Perlman. Cause it really smacks of a Studio “just crammed some extra stuff in to their pre-existing script”. Which, is apparently, SNAFU for all tentpole blockbuster movies. Conceivably this one had more freedom because all the suits assumed it would fail.

    “(sorry, Djimon Honsou, I really do want you to have a job; you can have Peter Serafanowicz’s part) (sorry, Peter Serafanowicz)” Give Serafanowicz Sean Gunn’s part?

    Yeah, your dramaturgery is pretty spot on. Oh, is that a portmanteau of dramaturgy and surgery? Cause that’s pretty genius.

    Unfortunately, even with Glenn Close point blank saying “you’re a space alien” and Gamora saying “that’s why you could hold the stone by yourself for so long!” etc, people still asked that question! “Wait, so the stone in her hand blew up the maid woman/slave/alien, but Quill could just grab it? What was his plan? To die?” I had to reply, “Well, yes. In movies with action heroes, they “make the suicide play” as Whedonesque Captain America would put it. I mean, Quill already does it earlier when he leaves the ship to save Gamora…even though she is half robot and would likely survive longer in vacuum than he would.”

    Amazingly, I guess I “defended” this movie. Not it’s concept or lack of female characterisation, but I spoke out against people who pointed to supposed plot holes because the movie did not explicitly explain things enough, even though it explained too much.

  2. braak says:

    Oh, well, I guess these stories just read as him “Contributing Creatively” to the movies in Phase Two, I guess to make sure everything harmonizes with Avengers 2: the Avengening. Still, though, you’d think someone would have at least dropped him a line. I guess maybe I was just assuming that Whedon was the Secret Script Doctor on everything these days.

    I agree that Gunn’s direction here is not peak direction; I think it’s pretty serviceable at best (I could tell everything that was happening, anyway). Some of the character scenes feel like they were mostly improvised, and if that’s the case, it’s always to a director’s credit when he lets actors do that.

    It does seem pretty weird that people were asking that question about grabbing the stone. Yeah, he jumped up and tried to grab it so Ronan couldn’t. What else was he going to do? “Leaping before you look” is like, characteristic number one of action heroes. Guys, what?

    But this is my feeling of why the explanations were too much and too many. Some knuckleheads are ALWAYS going to ask questions like that, because they basically are not paying attention or thinking at all. Leave the explanations to the Tumblr kids and their gifs, that’s my opinion.

  3. […] even like – hell, love – Guardians of the Galaxy. But there’s no denying they missed a big opportunity with Saldana’s character Gamora. While the men are away killing nameless henchmen by the […]

  4. fe2many says:

    Did anyone else notice, They had to wait for Gamora to shut down the security door to get in. However, when she got it shut down, she simply blasted a hole in the floor and got in that way?

  5. braak says:

    I actually do remember thinking that when I watched the movie.

    “Wait, why did they have to go to all this trouble shutting down the power and unlocking the door, if they could have just gone to the level underneath and blast a hole in the ceiling with a gun?”

  6. […] those traditional forms should be ignored – I think it is pretty valid to just, as I did in this Guardians of the Galaxy bit, that a movie can be improved simply by that kind of Formalist manipulation; plots can be […]

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