Guardians of the Galaxy part 11

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Peter’s, Drax’s and Groots victory in the innards of the Dark Aster gets a narrative comeuppance as Ronan decides to show his strength. He wields his mighty hammer, like Thor one might say, and blows a hole in the Nova Corps defenses. At the same moment, Rocket’s Ravagers become overwhelmed by Ronan’s kamikaze fighters. Mint-sucking Nova Corps dude, and thousands more, are killed as his team’s chain-of-fighters strategy crumples under Ronan’s wrath. The “first chapter” of Act III is complete, we’ve established that the goofballs can really fight once they’ve admitted that they’re in love, and now the opposition makes its case for hate.

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Gamora’s job in all this craziness is “to open the door,” appropriately enough, since she’s largely responsible for opening the door to Peter’s heart. In the course of doing so, she much battle with Cordelia-to-her-Goneril Nebula, who, in addition to being apparently indestructible, has her own complicated relationship with her adopted father. Both she and Gamora hate Thanos, but Nebula stays with him rather than be destroyed, and Gamora betrays him and risks his wrath (again, this would have been so much more tidy if all of Thanos’s plot-points were given to Ronan). As for Ronan, Nebula, when given a choice between his insanity and Gamora’s, chooses neither — she cuts off her own hand, steals a Ravager ship and takes off into the wild blue yonder — some sibling rivalries are too intense to be resolved in a gigantic mid-air battle sequence.

But Gamora gets the door open, and Peter and company storm the bridge and blast Ronan with everything they’ve got. Which, as it happens, is not enough. Peter’s will to love is not (yet) enough to bring down a mania as strong as Ronan’s. And perhaps it’s worth noting that, in this movie of favorite objects, Ronan did not start the narrative looking for the Infinity Stone, but only the orb containing it. Ronan’s goal is the destruction of Xandar, he doesn’t have an object to pursue at all, at least not directly. He has no favorite object, no tape, no tchotchke, no gun, no favorite knife. Maybe that’s why he’s so intent on the destruction of things.

So Ronan rebuffs Peter easily (although he does not bother himself to destroy them immediately), giving Drax a second chance at revenge. Ronan gives Drax part of his wish — he does remember killing his family after all — and his comic-book moment of gloating is undercut by Rocket crash-landing his ship into the bridge. (Ronan, as a character, seems to be the most at home in a comic-book world. He’s so purely “bad,” and filled with such overwhelming self-importance, that he seems made to be drawn by Jack Kirby, clutching his fist and glowering as he lays waste to civilizations, a Galactus in a teacup.

Rocket knocks Ronan down, but also wrecks the Dark Aster (which appears to be made out of stone — pretty metal, Ronan). As the enormous ship plunges out of the sky, Groot makes one last gift of himself: he wraps his arms around his friends as a shield and says “We are Groot.” Groot, who was chided earlier by Rocket for not knowing his pronouns, has achieved his goal, to not be unique, to not be one-of-a-kind. By literally embracing this band of oddballs, he has found a family and can die happy.

The Dark Aster crashes into downtown Xandarton, with at least as much property damage as visited upon Metropolis in Man of Steel. The ship is totaled, but Peter’s tape deck aboard the Milano is still intact and working, “Ooo Child” by the Five Stairsteps playing (somehow) in the ruined air. Xandarians, dazed but still alive (even the Broker wanders the wreckage), gather around. But was the city not evacuated? Ah, but there is still threat to come, and an alien threat without a populace is no threat at all.

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And, right on cue, here comes Ronan, still alive in the wreckage of his ship/home (I wonder if he’s given thought to how he’s going to leave Xandar after he’s destroyed it), with his now super-powered hammer. He roars at the Xandarians in high comic-villain dudgeon, a speech beginning with “Behold!” Here, Ronan is finally having his moment, is finally getting the thing he craves, which, in a dark reflection of Peter, is “respect.” Which is why it’s altogether fitting that Peter steps on Ronan’s big moment with a gesture of supreme disrespect. He combats Ronan’s Wagnerian rage with the sweet soul crooning of the Five Stairsteps, that is, he matches Ronan’s fatherless rage with his own mother’s tender legacy, her Awesome Mix. The fact that his insolence is a mere distraction so that Drax and Rocket can blast the Infinity Stone from his hammer is a side note; his “love of the dumb thing” is the action that saves the day.

Peter seizes the Infinity Stone, in a kind of reverse Indiana Jones, and the world shrinks down to a swirling purple storm of chaos as he teeters on the edge of disintegration. Gamora reaches out to him. “Take my hand!” she implores, and Peter sees her as his dying mother, her hospital bed now in a cosmic landscape full of planets and moons and nebulae. In his moment of truth, Peter does the thing he couldn’t in 1988. He reaches out and connects. Gamora is not his mother, but it doesn’t matter: the truth of the moment is the same. Peter can no longer pretend he’s too cool to love; he now belongs to a group. No matter how small or messed up, Gamora and the others are, finally, his family.

The four principals all link hands, and while it’s humorous to think what power a raccoon could bring to the circle to cool the destructive power of the stone, the script has taken care to note, more than once, that Rocket is not an ordinary raccoon, just as Drax is not an ordinary meat-headed strongman, Gamora is not an ordinary green-skinned alien, and Peter, after all, is only half-human. Separately, the four of them are uncategorizable losers, without family or place in the universe. Together, they can withstand the power that would destroy a planet. And, suddenly, the power that Ronan was able to wield in his hand, when turned against him through the lens of the Guardians, disintegrates him handily and the stone is tucked back into its orb.

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Yondu steps forward to take the orb off of Peter (we still don’t know who he intends to sell it to) and Peter, we soon learn, hands him a ringer — a troll doll from his dashboard. Yondu’s bark/bite ratio may be open to interpretation, but it’s hard to believe he expected Peter to give him the genuine orb. In fact, the delight on his face when he sees the troll doll suggests that — given his love for tasteless tchotchkes — that what he really wanted from Peter was a declaration of love. Which, in a way, is exactly what Peter gives him. He allows him to save face in front of his men, and gives him a piece of his Earth childhood as a souvenir.

On the sidelines, Rocket sobs over the loss of Groot, and Drax sits down and pets him. The moment is startling for Rocket. One would expect him to bristle at being treated as a plaything, but of course the narrative is not complete until Rocket, too, can admit that he’s capable of love.

John C. Reilly dude informs Peter that his family is alive, because of Peter’s actions. It’s not a cheering throng, but the impact is greater. I’ve often wondered if it would be better, narratively, for Peter to risk his life defending, say, Earth instead of Xandar, a place he knows nothing about and doesn’t feel comfortable, but in some ways the fact that Peter has no connection to Xandar makes his sacrifice stronger. John C. Reilly dude’s personal admission seals Peter’s achievement on behalf of the planet: in saving my family, you found your own.

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We leave Peter where we met him, alone, holding a tape his mother made him. This is a new one, the package he couldn’t open the night she died, an Awesome Mix Vol II. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” starts the new tape — his mother’s love will reach Peter even across the span of the galaxy. It goes on forever, or at least for the length of another cassette tape, has saved entire worlds, and given Peter his new family. Nostalgia is a kind of homesickness; we love anything that brought us happiness as a child, unconditionally, whether it’s a pop song from the radio, a mother’s love, or a space opera from a comic book with unlikely heroes and cartoon villains. Or, as Leonard Cohen put it, “There’s a blaze of light in every word, it doesn’t matter which you heard, the holy or the broken Hallelujah.” Once upon a time, a movie based on a piece of source material like Guardians would have been a rush job created by hacks for a quick buck in a passing phase; now, our best talents are drawn to this material and bring their deepest inner lives to it for the sake of love. All the Marvel movies are based on that love, but Guardians is the first to make it its true subject.

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7 Responses to “Guardians of the Galaxy part 11”
  1. benjaminjb says:

    When Yondu smiles at the troll, I read it also as happiness that he has a reason to chase Peter down again–the comic book equivalent of “forgetting” your jacket at someone’s place so you have a reason to see them again.

    Also, after listening to an interview with screenwriter Nicole Perlman, I really like that Groot’s sacrifice is in creating something of a home for the team, not the typical “I’ll hold them off” sort of sacrifice, but a creative sacrifice. It was a nice design choice to have Groot feather his nest with leaves, creating a cosy counterpoint to the stone Dark Aster.

  2. Curt_Holman says:

    I’m going to mention the post-credits stinger, which has a banged up Collector being licked by a dog and addressed by Howard the Duck. The dog is possibly Cosmo, who’s a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy in the comic books. Howard the Duck is beloved by comics fans for Steve Gerber’s satirical/countercultural comic book of the 1970s, and derided by movie fans for the terrible feature film of the 1980s. It’s almost like Howard is filmmaker James Gunn’s own favorite “silly pop thing” that he includes for no real reason.

    While it’s king of pointless to engage in this kind of speculation, I think Howard the Duck would make a great comic relief character in the upcoming Dr. Strange movie. Howard the Duck’s origins (involving an alternate dimension) fit in the ‘mystic’ side of the Marvel Comics universe, and the Dr. Strange comics are really short on comic relief/reader surrogate characters, so it’ll need something to humanize them. Even if it’s a talking duck.

  3. Marco says:

    Well done (Awesome*, even). One of the things that struck me about the movie was the Yondu-kills-everyone scene. I didn’t think he was a push-over but I was surprised at how easily he just took down everyone. Inline with your metaphor, I think it’s because he’s very much authentically in touch with who in this battle he loves.

    * Mix.

    • Mark says:

      Up to that point, Yondu was “all bark, no bite.” That take-down scene definitely made it clear that Yondu was capable of more than bluster, if he really wanted to hurt Peter.