Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
“Women of color are either sexual objects or played off for laughs. Mantis, found by Ego and raised as his servant and ‘pet’, seems to be written explicitly for the film to indulge in submissive Asian stereotypes.”
Title: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Director: James Gunn 👨🏼🇺🇸
Writer: James Gunn 👨🏼🇺🇸
Reviewed by Monique 👩🏾🇺🇸
Full disclosure here: While there are select Marvel films I like, I am no hardcore Marvel fan by any means. In fact, most of the time I hate Marvel Studios’ way of overseeing film franchises, especially as of late. With films like Ant-Man and The Avengers: Age of Ultron in particular, the writing has become more dudebro and basic, and the Marvel “dudebro” voice writers seem to be instructed to indulge in limits exploration of characterization and inventive plot devices. Instead, what we’re left with is a paint-by-numbers style of storytelling. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 suffers from dudebro-ism ten-fold.
The film’s characters don’t speak in meaningful dialogue for most of the movie. Instead, witty banter or meaningful conversation is substituted for witless arguing that’s supposed to be funny. It feels like a good 75-80% of the movie’s script is a character saying, “I can’t believe you’re arguing about this right now!” or “I can’t believe you just said that!” In other cases, the jokes go on too long, such as when Drax needs Peter’s dig at Rocket Racoon explained. On top of that, the film injects humor beats where none are needed. What this leads to are the story slowing down unnecessarily and a lack of depth for characters we have come to know and expect more from. Since this is a sequel, you’d think we’d get more layers to these characters, but we don’t.
Also, if you’re someone easily affected by loud colors in motion, make sure to take some Aleve before watching this. I came away with my head feeling like it was underwater.
But despite these cons, there are some surprising emotional turns in this film. The way the actors dove into those moments with full gusto makes me wonder just how starved they were to explore their characters more than Marvel seemed willing to let them. If there were longer stretches of these moments, I might have enjoyed the film better and, frankly, perhaps the actors would have as well.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 10% of creative decision-makers were female
The women in this film do talk to each other on occasion, mostly when Gamora talks to (or fights with) her sister Nebula. But as a whole, the women do not stand on their own. The only woman in the film who does is Ayesha, the high priestess of the golden alien race The Sovereign. But because The Sovereign are played as a joke due to their uppity attitudes, Ayesha is played off as a joke as well.
Overall, the women in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 are utilized to aid in the emotional journeys of the male characters—the only glaring exception is Gamora finally understanding her role in Nebula’s pain and childhood trauma. Even still, Gamora—who is supposed to be a tough fighter—is primarily used as Peter’s antagonistic love interest. Mantis, the new member of the Guardians, is also underdeveloped as a character and used as both comic relief and a love interest for Drax. Even Star-Lord’s mom, who only shows up in a flashback, is revealed to be a frigid woman.
One woman we don’t see until the final moments of the film is Aleta Ogord, played by Michelle Yeoh. Aleta has a complicated backstory in Marvel Comics, and it’ll be interesting to see if any of this backstory is woven into future Guardians installments. But seeing how women were treated in this film, it feels like we’ll have to hope and pray to see Yeoh return again in any meaningful form in the next Guardians film, if she returns at all.
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 8% of creative decision-makers were POC
Marvel has gotten into a rut with its leading male characters as dominant, white male archetypes. Historically, comic books tend to showcase an overinflated sense of male fantasy for fanboys to live vicariously through, and Marvel Studios has brought this sensibility to its films. The “white Marvel hero” stereotype was its most egregious in Ant-Man, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 comes close.
The long-lost father of Peter (Chris Pratt) turns out to be Ego, the Living Planet (Kurt Russell), whereas in the comics, Peter’s father is J’son, Emperor of the Spartoi Empire. As to why the big change was made in the film, James Gunn said at San Diego Comic-Con that he felt having Peter be the son of an emperor would be too much like Star Wars, instead deciding to opt for Peter’s father being “an ancient, cosmic, incredibly powerful being who, just like Rocket, has problems connecting to other people because […] there’s nothing else like him.”
Sure, but one thing that Gunn failed to realize is that for all that Marvel does in glorifying white masculinity, this move takes things up a notch. Now, not only can white men be genetically-altered heroes trapped in ice, billionaire tech gurus, gods, whiz kid thieves-turned superheroes, and the keepers of time and space, but now they can also be beings calls Celestials that can destroy or recreate the entire universe in their image? Come on, now.
On the flip side, women of color are played off either as sexual objects or as laughs. Much has already been said about Zoe Saldana’s various acting roles, in which she’s usually being marketed as an exotic sexual fantasy due to her Afro-Latina background. Even though Saldana commits to the role of Gamora, there’s nothing in her character that chips at the fact that, indeed, she is the exotic sexual object in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. The film version of Gamora her has been drastically reduced from the comics to adhere to Marvel Studios’ limited view of female roles within its world. As stated above, she’s nothing more than eye-candy for the male audience and a hollow showcase of female empowerment.
Mantis’ characterization doubles down on Marvel’s practice of fetishizing women, but in her case, the added baggage of Asian stereotypes get thrown into the mix.
Mantis, played by Pom Klementieff, a Canadian actress of French, Russian, and Korean heritage, is a character that seems to be written explicitly for the film to indulge in submissive Asian stereotypes. In fact, Mantis is rewritten so heavily that the character’s creator, Steve Englehart, said he didn’t even recognize Mantis in the film as his own creation.
“Well, I was not happy with Mantis’ portrayal. That character [in the movie] has nothing to do with Mantis," he said to Polygon. “…I really don’t know why you would take a character who is as distinctive as Mantis is and do a completely different character and still call her Mantis.”
Again, Mantis has a much more layered history in the comics than she does in the film, a history that includes her, a biracial German-Vietnamese woman, becoming the Celestial Madonna. But that history is swapped for an origin story involving an alien woman who was found as a larva by Ego and raised as his servant and, as Drax so bluntly said, Ego’s pet.
On top of the film calling a woman of color a pet, Mantis’ submissive Asian role is overstated in her movements, actions, and reactions to other, more aggressive characters like Gamora. Even her accent, which is supposed to make her otherworldly, is based on a heightened stereotyped cadence. To quote Charles Paul Hoffman from Comic Book Resources:
“The Mantis in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, is largely drawn from stereotypes of submissive Asian women. She is taken from her home planet by a wiser, more powerful white man, who she then obedient[ly] serves and calls ‘Master.’ Mantis barely even questions Ego’s overtly hostile motives until another man—Drax—notices her. Intentional or not, Mantis’ portrayal feels very much like the trope of the wife a soldier brought back to the United States after the Vietnam War.”
Heterosexuality is large and in charge in Marvel’s cinematic universe, even in outer space. You’d think if it’s plausible for Peter to be in a relationship with Gamora, an alien, there should be some mention of same-sex attraction or asexuality. There was one explicit chance for different sexual preferences to be subtly brought up—a scene on a pleasure planet where sex robots available for touring ne’er-do-wells. There could have easily been male Johns paying for the services of male sex robots. Or there could have been women utilizing either male robots or female robots. But the film only shows us men with female sex robots. In fact, the reason we’re shown this planet is to reintroduce us to Peter’s questionable father figure Yondu, who is buttoning his pants after finishing a night with a female sex robot.
Mediaversity Grade: D 2.33/5
The film is fanboy-centric, giving the audience cameos of both David Hasselhoff and Sylvester Stallone. There’s also a character cameo of Howard the Duck, which makes me wonder if Marvel would be so offensive as to make a Howard the Duck film before a Black Widow one (even if Scarlett Johansson is still in the doghouse for Ghost in the Shell, you’d think Marvel would invest in her character since Black Widow is an Avenger, after all). Even the ending credits are overstuffed to meet fanboy expectations—there are five stingers on top of an expensive ending credits roll, complete with graphics of characters who weren’t even in the film, such as Jeff Goldblum’s Thor: Ragnarok character Grandmaster.
But for its focus on the fanboys, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 fails to endear its characters to other segments of its audience and Marvel finds itself with yet another failed opportunity to present meaningful characterization in conjunction with wham-bam action.