I saw Guardians of the Galaxy*, and I liked it, but not nearly as much as I wanted to like it. Spoilers ahead.
First, the things I liked:
– Chris Pratt. Let’s just take a moment to appreciate the adorable awesome that is Chris Pratt. Seriously. Put me in a Chris Pratt/Aubrey Plaza sandwich and I’d have all kinds of recreation if they were into it. (That’s terrible, Tiffany. Stop trying.)
– Groot. Challenging humanoid-centric representations! Being awesome!
– Rocket. Challenging human-centric representations (ish – unlike Groot he gains his value by being made more human than he previously was. But I still loved him.)
– ‘Splosions! Battles! Music! Rollicking good fun!
I really did enjoy the movie.
Now, the things I didn’t:
– Race relations. I’m still thinking this through and I am looking for writing by Indigenous bloggers, so I recognize that I may be way out to lunch here, but it really rubbed me the wrong way that Ronan, a genocidal Kree, was introduced in what seemed like such a tribalized manner – was it meant to gesture towards a “dangerous savage” trope? Is the homonym relevant at all, paired with the introductory scene? I don’t know. I do know that the whole film had a strong thread of coloured skin = more likely bad, white skin = definitely good. I found it incredibly frustrating that the first part of the film laid out so clearly that white folks are the good guys, whether they’re human or not. I also find it suspect that Gamora is coloured – she is subjected to misogynist insults multiple times in the film, and I think the fact that she is not white is what allows those “jokes” to play. Imagine Drax calling Black Widow a whore – it wouldn’t be played for laughs, I don’t think. It just seemed to tie in, again, as so much media does, to tropes of the sexually available/dangerous/hypersexual woman of colour.
– Gender representations throughout.
- Drax’s dead wife and daughter – I understand that a fridged family is insta-motivation for a character. I get it. But I’m irritated by the heteronormativity, by the fact that it reinforces an idea of aggressive/potent masculinity and vulnerable/disposable femininity. I also think that this ties into the harmful representations of masculinity that Manisha Aggarwal-Schifellite has noted in the film.
- Star Lord’s treatment of women. I’m just so done with the frat boy trope and the disposable women they sleep with. Gavia Baker-Whitelaw nails it when she said, in her recent article, “Peter flees back to his spaceship to discover an old one-night-stand camping out onboard. He’d forgotten she was there: hilarious. So, what are we supposed to take from this? That he’s an idiot who leaves near-strangers onboard his beloved spaceship? That this woman is too much of a non-entity to do the interesting thing and try to steal said spaceship?”
- The treatment of Gamora’s sexuality. First when she’s asked to seduce someone to get them out of jail (wtf, Rocket?!) and when Drax, a person who “doesn’t understand metaphors” calls her a whore. Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, linked above, talks about both issues. I wanted Gamora to be a less earnest Black Widow, but instead she was subject to this gross misogyny throughout. Even though she kicked ass, she was “put in her place” multiple times. It was disappointing.
- Andé Morgan over at BitchFlicks brings up three more reasons gender relations in the film are fucked, and the one that really resonated with me was the “tortured pink girl” in the Collector’s scene. As Morgan notes, “We see that the Collector has enslaved at least two women; both are displayed in pigtails and pink jumpers. One is forced to wash the glass cage of the other. The woman in the cage is on her knees, bound and gagged with electric sci-fi ropes, a clear look of pain and fear in her eyes.
Quill and crew are less concerned with the fate of the women than with money and exposition. When the uncaged woman, Carina (Ophelia Lovibond), desperately attempts to use the power of an ancient artifact to free herself, she’s immolated instead. We’re left to assume that the other captive woman is also killed in the subsequent cataclysm (though a dog and an arguably misogynistic duck survive).”
– Ableism. Like whoa. I mean… I guess it’s funny that Rocket wants to take all the prosthetics? I guess? No, you know what, it’s not. It’s not funny at all. I laughed, because it’s written to be funny and it’s acted well and it fits into the film, but it is not funny. It’s not okay that there was so much ableism throughout the film. (I’m really noticing ableism right now – I seem to have become sensitized to it in the last weeks.)
– The “whore” issue. As one of the friends I saw the film with pointed out, a character who “can’t understand metaphor” calls a woman he has not seen engage in sex work or had any indication of a sex working past or present, a whore? Misogyny, the metaphor that transcends species’ socialization? Gross. Christina Vasilevski writes about that specific issue on her blog.
I left the theatre feeling kind of happy to have seen another superhero film, and mostly disappointed that it fell so short of what it could have been. It doesn’t take that much to challenge the harmful systems of oppression that ended up being replicated in the film – fridge Drax’s husband instead, skip the misogyny, make Rocket’s requests for the prosthetics tie to a desire for shiny things that isn’t linked to ableism… you can keep the film almost exactly as it is, and get rid of the oppression. (I mean, ideally I’d like more female characters, but I would be happy just to not have active oppression!)
* It doesn’t meet my requirements for the Year of Curated Media but a friend was seeing it for their birthday so I used one of my passes.