PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

'Guardians of the Galaxy' Has Lots of Boys and "The Girl"

Gamora's role as The Girl is key to the appealing formula of Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie that delivers to expectations like nobody's business.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Director: James Gunn
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, Josh Brolin
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Year: 2014
US date: 2014-08-22 (General release)
Hello Daddy, hello Mom

I'm your ch ch ch ch ch cherry bomb.

Hello world I'm your wild girl

I'm your ch ch ch ch ch cherry bomb.

-- The Runaways, "Cherry Bomb"

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is mad. She's got her reasons: her adoptive dad's a monster, her maybe-half-sister's resentful, and her mother's nowhere in sight. Plus, with her green skin and skin-tight-suit-accented curves, she's the sort of alien-exotic-sci-fi girl who tends to get hit on by cocky lunkheads, as happens in her first scene with Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) in Guardians of the Galaxy.

It's not a surprise, exactly, that Gamora so adeptly takes out Peter Quill, who calls himself Star-Lord and fancies himself irresistible. It's also not a surprise that their expertly choreographed combat serves as its own sort of foreplay to other acrobatic and sometimes verbal foreplay, which continues for the rest of the film, as they bond over a mission to save, you know, the galaxy, along with fellow misfits, that is, Rocket, a genetic experiment of a raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), his Chewbacca-like sidekick, Groot (Vin Diesel), and a battering ram in humanish form named Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). That Gamora is The Girl in this crew marks her difference even among their differences. It also makes her the same as so many other girls in so many other movies.

That sameness is key to the formula of Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie that delivers to expectations like nobody's business. One of many comic book movies -- indeed, one of many Marvel Comics movies -- it does what it needs to do, offering up the usual fine effects (Star Warsy battle scenes, Groot's face), along with a charming soundtrack ('70s hits ranging from “Hooked on a Feeling” to I Want You Back” to "Cherry Bomb," all, apparently, Peter Quill's mom's choices) and a series of wisecracky asides less interested in creating characters than gratifying viewers. It's cute, it's colorful, it's cluttered.

Moreover, and despite/maybe because of its eventual focus on the multiculti team, Guardians of the Galaxy begins with a common heroic origin story, as little white human boy Peter Quill's mom dies of cancer (but not before she tells him he's like his dad, "an angel") and then he's adducted by spaceship. As origin stories go, this one is pretty traumatic, though it seems to shape Peter Quill into that cocky lunkhead who hits on Gamora 26 years later, a lunkhead with excellent plundering and fighting skills, as well as a Walkman with mix tapes from his dead mom. Peter Quill has grown up to be a Ravager, meaning, he's a sort of Indiana Jones, stealing stuff for hire. When at the start of this episode he steals an orb of tremendous and imprecisely known powers, he makes himself a target for many who want to rule or destroy everything, including Gamora's adoptive dad, Thanos (Josh Brolin).

Thanos is mad, too but in a way very unlike Gamora. Being a villain, he's the sort of mad that wants to rule or destroy the galaxy. Gamora's the sort of mad that emerges when a child begins to rebel against a parent, only more so: she's coming to see his violence as excessive and to wonder about the morality of the missions he assigns to her, including the one to recover the orb. This makes Gamora's anger of a different order too, than that of her maybe-half-sister Nebula (Karen Gillian), whose glowering commences as soon as you see her, resenting Thanos' announcement that Gamora is his favorite. This sets up for another predictable element, the girl fight that will come up amid the jumble of climaxes that prolong the film's run time.

What may be slightly less expected, though, is Gamora's enduring elusiveness. Certainly, she fulfills the roles she must, becoming, by turns, a target of her father's rage, a damsel in need of rescue, a love object for Peter Quill, a buddy for any of the guys. But she also remains different, a misfit even within the misfits. Like Rocket and Groot, she's a product of remaking, shaped by Thanos as a Bourne-like assassin. Before that, she was the only survivor of an attack that wiped out her race, the Zen-Whoberi, and left her scarred in any number of ways. "I've lived most of my life surrounded by my enemies," she says. That seems about right.

Many of her scars are visible on Gamora's cheeks and forehead, though not directly discussed by anyone. The movie, however, makes a point to show her scars, repeatedly, with shadows that accentuate the damage, close-ups that draw your attention to her ever fierce face. So yes, she's mad, like everyone else in Guardians of the Galaxy. But where you see Peter Quill's trauma, listen to Rocket's frequent complaints about his laboratory genesis ("I didn't ask to get made!"), and you hear a sad story about Drax's horrific loss, the film offers few details about Gamora's background (it does offer one brilliant, standalone moment, when the inevitable slow-motion shot of the heroes striding into battle comes, she yawns). Gamora's story is her face, the scars and the fierceness.

This story might have to do with the obliteration of her race. It might be connected to her bad dad. It might be related to all the dead moms and wives who haunt boy heroes in comic book movies. Or maybe it has to do with all those many years of images of exotic women, green and blue, voluptuous and sinuous, dancing and desiring. It might even have something to do with "Cherry Bomb." Whatever it's about, Guardians of the Galaxy doesn't quite tell it.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.