Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Hooked On A Feeling: Guardians of the Galaxy Hits Some Sour Notes

Guardians of the Galaxy is the first big-release movie in a few years I've actually managed to see on opening night (and don't worry, it was at a theater that knew the difference between Guardians of the Galaxy and Rise of the Guardians), and last weekend, hundreds of thousands of people saw GotG too. It pulled in over $94 million last weekend. I really enjoyed it-- it has a fun, spry tone throughout the entire movie and reminded me of one of my favorite movie series when I was a kid-- the Indiana Jones series. It was a movie that had a sweeping scope and lots of action sequences, but it didn't attempt to take itself overly seriously. One of the best examples of it skewering an action series trope that's been done to death, The Overly Dramatic Slow-Motion Group Walk... by showing one character stretching and yawning and another character adjusting his jumpsuit.

And like most Marvel movies of the past few years, it passes the Bechdel test, so it seems like a problem-free win, right? Not exactly. As Gavia Baker-Whitelaw points out in an article for The Daily Dot entitled "'Guardians of the Galaxy' passes the Bechdel Test—but it fails women":
...[W]e have Rocket Raccoon suggesting that Gamora seduce someone to get them all out of space jail. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense because she already has a way more useful skillset—plus, everyone in the prison is terrified of her or wants her dead. Then toward the end, Drax just straight-up calls her a “whore.” This makes even less sense because Drax’s gimmick is that he takes everything very literally, indicating that he actually means every word he says. The coup de grace is when the final battle scene ends with Peter calling Ronan a “bitch.”
Drax out and out calling Gamora "that green whore" threw me for a loop, but before I could think about it too much, there were more confrontations and explosions. Later on, I found myself a little puzzled-- hadn't Nicole Perlman written the GotG script? Again, not exactly. As Baker-Whitelaw points out:
Guardians of the Galaxy is the first Marvel movie with a woman as one of the credited writers. Nicole Perlman drafted the original screenplay while on a two-year writer’s contract at Marvel Studios, before handing her work over to James Gunn for rewrites in 2012. After that she had little to no influence on the outcome of the film, and my theory is that among various other edits, Gunn’s additions included that handful of weird and jarring attempts at sexist humor.
I agree. I enjoyed the hell out of GotG, but the weird bits of misogynistic humor were like hearing a talented orchestra delivering a stirring performance... with a few noticeable notes played way out of tune every so often. It took me out of the perfomance unfolding before me for a few moments each time.

Now, fellow fans, please keep this in mind-- it's okay to like things with problematic elements. Critques on a movie aren't an attack on the movie, or an attack on you for enjoying it. To engage with media and stories, it's also important to know why they have problems. It's also important that you do not dismiss someone’s feelings, or get ticked off that someone pointing out a problem in media you like could ruin your enjoyment. Your wanting to enjoy a thing is not more important than someone discussing how it affects them.


Anonymous said...

I agree with all of this.

Does the movie actually pass the Bechdel test? Apparently Karen Gillan has claimed it does, but I can't find mention of a specific example. The closest thing I can think of is Nebula and Gamora discussing defection from Ronan/Thanos, which obviously doesn't count as a pass.


Shawn Struck said...

James, that's a good point. Leaving aside the idea that the Bechdel test is more of a guide and it's a low-set bar in the first place... I can't really think of any substantial conversations between two women in the movie aside from the Gamora/Nebula conversation either. :/

Anonymous said...

I think that's the best way to consider it - the incredibly low bar that is so rarely cleared, even though clearing it means so little.

The example cited on bechdeltest.com is better:
"Gamora and Nebula have an argument in the beginning over which among the two can effectively recover the MacGuffin from Xandar"

I guess I'd grudgingly accept that as a pass? Definitely clipping the bar as it goes over, though.


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