Guardians of the Galaxy
The year was 2014, I was a senior in high school, life was pretty simple. I saw a trailer for a rather strange looking move. That trailer was for Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). By that time I had already stopped paying attention to the movies being produced by Marvel, and was actually a little shocked when I saw the Marvel logo. It had everything a 17 year old boy could want: humor, space, action, and rock music. Life in 2014 was relatively uneventful, and stable. Little did I know the upheaval that would begin with the 2016 election season. The idea of a fascist movement inside own country would have seemed impossible. The armed insurrection on January 6th was something I thought I would never witness in my lifetime. This film though, deals with the topics of white supremacy and multiracial democracy in a way that is not usually seen in Hollywood superhero films. However I do not maintain that this film is some sort of high art, I am impressed with its themes. Director James Gunn was able to infuse this film with ideals that I think are worthy of working towards, and enemies that are worthy of defeat.
We Are Groot
If we take a look back at super hero films going all the way back to Superman (1978), one thing is abundantly clear; super hero films are about a rugged one of a kind individual who saves the day. However, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) bucks this tradition. The filmmakers instead chose to focus on a team. The Guardians are a team composed of outsiders with no family, and no place in the galaxy. The film is constantly proving that rugged individualism doesn’t work. Teamwork is what will save the day. In act one we are given a glimpse into the lives of our main characters before they become a team. Each one has failed in their goals. Peter Quill is unable to sell the films McGuffin. Gamora can’t kill her father. Groot and Rocket are unable to catch their bounty, and Drax is imprisoned. The first goal accomplished in the film doesn’t happen until this multiracial (in-universe) team of outsiders escape from prison. The film shows negative consequences when characters don’t act as a team. Such as when they are all arrested at the end of act one, and even more so at the climax in act 2. In the latter scene Drax has grown impatient and decides he would like to fight the main villain, Ronan, by himself. He alerts Ronan to the location of the films McGuffin, and tries to take him on in one-on-one combat. Drax is sorely beaten. Even worse, Ronan then is able to possess the world destroying McGuffin. The filmmakers show the consequences of acting alone. Many other films in this genre would have portrayed this as a gallant effort. However, director James Gunn has Drax’s actions play out as stupid and selfish. In the end the villain is not defeated by a punch, a gun, or a novelty super power, no, he is defeated by Guardian’s love for each other.
In a previous blog I discussed the role of the superhero movie; this film does not fit that traditional role. This film bends the genre. The themes present in this film are the ones we should be promoting. Themes such as: non-violence over violence, teamwork, empathy, and anti-authoritarianism. I am not going to kid you, or myself, this movie is violent. It is just the nature of summer blockbusters. Though this film resolves many of its plot points through non-violent means. These non-violent means also result in more positive outcomes. For instance, there is a scene where Drax is going to kill Gamora. Peter steps in and is able to stop this, not with violence, but with persuasion. Resulting in Drax befriending the rest of the Guardians. Throughout the film Peter is being pursued by the Ravagers, who intend to kill him. When they finally catch up with him, he is able to persuade them into helping him defeat the films villain. Showing that persuasion creates allies. How do the filmmakers resolve the main conflict in this film? Once the Guardians violence is exhausted and is proven ineffective, they join together and hold hands resulting in the defeat of Ronan.
If superheroes are meant to be what we morally value, then villains should represent values we detest. In the first scene it is revealed that Peter got in a fight because other kids were killing frogs. This sets up the films good vs evil narrative, and mirrors his conflict with the films villain. Ronan is a fascist, nativist, and white supremacist (or rather, a Kree supremacist). In his introduction scene he spouts off white nationalist talking points. He is constantly talking about his ancient laws, and how those who do not follow them should be punished. Ronan believes that war between him and his rival culture is inevitable. He uses this to justify his villainous acts. His goal in the film is to wipe out non-Kree civilizations. It as rather easy to compare this to Hitler’s final solution. However, this idea of cultural superiority is taking hold in the United States. Recently a memo was leaked detailing the creation of the America First Caucus. The platform of this group is to “save” Anglo-Saxon political traditions. They even claim that Americas “unique” identity is at risk of being lost. Now what they mean by “unique identity”, I do not understand.