Guardians of the Galaxy: How Marvel Can Do Better

There’s no denying that Guardians of the Galaxy is the space opera of the year. I’ve seen the film twice and thoroughly enjoyed it both times. A fun, spectacularly shot sci-fi with some great characters, it’s a real experience. But as much as I loved the film, there are a few things that really broke the immersion for me.

Spoiler warnings from here on.

The first big thing was, as expected, female representation. I’m not going to say much on the line-up of the Guardians as I’m not actually familiar with that particular comic canon, but whether or not comic canon states there should only be one woman shouldn’t dictate the film’s gender ratios. One girl, in a whole team of five? We already had this discussion after Avengers, I’m sure (I’m still bitter about the distinct lack of Janet van Dyne, founding Avenger). To top it all off, there were two very obvious butt-shots in the film (and another questionable one). As a bi girl, I definitely do notice those! And as a feminist I’m mad about them.

One of those butt-shots was heading into the Collector’s lair, which leads onto my next frustration about women in the movie: Carina. For one, it’s extremely creepy that James Gunn named movie Collector’s slave girl after his comic iteration’s daughter, but whatever, that’s digression. The Collector is creepy as heck, yes, but the subjugation of “sexy” girls by creepy men is a pretty common trope in science fiction and it’s one I’m increasingly sick of.

Leia's sick of this shit
Leia’s sick of this shit too

Neither the torture of Carina’s peer and then Carina’s own death sat well with me. Neither girl had any power at all, and neither girl got any kid of vengeance. Unlike Leia in her slave bikini, there was no strangling of any oppressor. There was just a gruesome death and then no recognition of what the Collector had driven her to.

Coupled with the girl Peter had forgotten about at the start of the film, the jokes the film makes about his womanizing, and the lines about Thanos “trading” Nebula and Gamora, the whole film gives the feeling of woman really being objects for the men of the film. Gamora, thankfully, was a strong enough character the majority of the time that this wasn’t a constant issue, but it all left a bad taste in my mouth.

The second large problem I had was use of language. Two words in particular stood out to me:  wh*re and b*tch. Yikes, Saf! Censoring? Well, yes. The first word is pretty despicable, the second depends. What’s so wrong about these words? Well, the short of it is both of them are used as derogatory slurs against women.

We're not into that kind of thing
We’re not into that kind of thing

Wh*re is a derogatory term for a female sex worker, a demographic that deals with a lot of discrimination and a huge amount of violence. It’s not a word that should ever be flung around as it helps to normalize the negative stereotypes of sex workers. What’s worse is that the word had no single reason to exist in the context of the line spoken. Drax, a character that only understands things literally, calls Gamora a wh*re. There is no reason for him to use this phrase for her — he’s never once seen her act sexually in any way towards anyone, and nobody around him has ever said anything remotely related to sex about Gamora to him. The word murderess would have worked just as well in its place, as well as being inoffensive and in character. Breaking character for an offensive laugh? Not cool, Gunn.

As for b*tch, that’s what Peter calls Ronan just before he kills him. The line definitely got a good laugh out of the cinema at the premier, but it was yet another reminder that women still aren’t completely welcome in comic fan spaces. While it’s a word that can be used by women in good ways, it’s pretty damn bad to use it as an insult for a man. While it’s drilled into the regular vocabulary of most English society, it’s a word that needs to be thoroughly stamped right back out. Equating women to animals — and then using a slur for women as an insult for men — is what’s implied with the use of the word. Whether or not it’s the intention, that is what the word entails.

And it’s the good guys saying these things. The guys that kids in the cinemas will want to be like. I don’t want my heroes to be the kind to fling slurs around. Captain Rogers would never say anything like that.

My last problem actually has nothing to do with feminism, amazingly. I hugely disagree with the amount of violence and death that was either 1. superfluous or 2. for humour. I’m going to contrast this with The Avengers, which did definitely have death, but didn’t show human casualties onscreen and made an effort to have the heroes stop people from dying.

I get it, the Guardians are a-holes, but this doesn’t justify Groot throwing that man from the prison control tower. It was for a laugh, but I didn’t laugh. Maybe I empathize too much with these poor folk, but hearing the crunch of his body made me cold inside. He had obviously surrendered. He would have left the tower himself. I completely understand that in big battles there will be a lot of death. But a huge number of deaths in the film probably could have been avoided, and the manner of some of them honestly appalled me.

Most of all, Groot spearing a whole group of men and smashing them against the confines of the hallway. Questionably character breaking, completely unnecessary and actually disturbing in the first place, the action continued for much longer than it should have. As a regular person with a pretty good set of morals, I was disturbed — as a person with thanatophobia I was actually distraught. It’s a weird disconnect that people who create and consume media seem to have between real humans and fictional ones. If they’re onscreen it’s almost as if you can do whatever you want to them. But doesn’t this normalize violence to the mass audience? There are conflicting opinions on the matter, but I’ve got to say I don’t think playing a scene like that off as a joke is a good influence on any of the young’uns who’ll be watching the film — or anyone else, for that matter.

Let’s not even get into the fact that the first main woman of colour in the Disney-Marvel films was painted green. Marvel films as a whole are becoming a huge influence in our society nowadays. They’re massive films with enormous audiences. Kids love and look up to the superheroes, and if they of all people aren’t setting a good example the kids are going to notice. I’m thinking about my nephew, who I would love to adore the MCU as much as I do, but whom I would not actually want to see this movie until he is much older (like my age, ideally). I’m thinking of the little girls who can’t find any merch of the only one like them and who will think it’s totally normal for there to be only one girl in a team (like seriously, it’s been over ten years since I grew up thinking that!) The little girls who will hear these negative slurs that may well be thrown against them one day used by the “good guys”.

Regardless of all this, I’m probably going to watch this movie at least ten more times. I’m going to go to every new Marvel film opening day for the foreseeable future. I loved Guardians and I love Marvel. Because I love it, I want so much better from it. Superheroes are about doing what’s right and inspiring good in everyone. Marvel‘s doing a pretty good a lot of the time, but it can do so much better.

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