SPOILER ALERT: This article discusses plot points of "Guardians of the Galaxy" at length. Don't read it if you don't want spoilers.
Let me preface this by saying I really, really loved "Guardians of the Galaxy." I got tickets to see the 1:45 p.m. showing on Saturday. When the credits rolled, I turned to my friends and said, "That was great, and we need to see it again. Today." And we did. I was back in my seat a few hours later for the 8 p.m. show. It’s been a really long time since I've genuinely had that much fun at the movies. It made me laugh a lot and cry a little (ok, twice).
I’ll say it again — this a great movie and you should see it. But I do have one issue: Gamora should have been the main character. This was her story.
Obviously she's one of the main characters. The Guardians of the Galaxy are a team. But the only backstory we actually see belongs to Peter Quill / Starlord. We hear about how Rocket was a science experiment and Drax and Gamora lost their families, but we don't see it or really get any details beyond "so now they're dead." Quill's backstory matters to the plot, but not much more than anyone else's.
Gamora’s story, however, is really significant. Within one day of meeting Quill, she intimates that she wants the orb so she can roll over on her adopted father, Thanos, and his lackey (slash religious fundamentalist murderer with unclear motivations) Ronan. We learn Thanos killed her parents and adopted her as his own daughter (why?) and trained her and Nebula (also adopted? probably? but not blood-related to Gamora? it’s unclear.) to be living weapons.
So she's served Thanos as his loyal underling for years in a very visible role. One visible enough that literally everyone in the prison knows who she is. And now she's betraying him. Why? What made her realize that all the murdering she'd been doing for him was actually kind of wrong? She is giving up her whole life and her adopted family to do this. There had to be some kind of trigger moment for that decision, but the audience isn't privy to it. Furthermore, how did she find the Collector and decide to sell the infinity gem to him? What was she going to do after she handed off the gem? She's the thread holding a good portion of the plot together, but almost every scene is about Quill and what he's doing.
Of course, it's not surprising that a sci-fi movie — even a good sci-fi movie! which this is! — sweeps a female character to the wayside in service of the white guy who decides he's in charge of things. Overall, the treatment of women in this movie wasn't great. It passes the Bechdel Test when Gamora and Nebula are fighting, but that's hardly a high bar. Nova Prime leads the massive, high-tech Nova Corps and allegedly has some pretty awesome powers of energy manipulation, but she spends the whole movie shuffling around her war room with her eyebrows raised.
People of color get roughly the same treatment: They're there, but barely. Gamora is played by a woman of color… who is painted green. Vin Diesel is in the cast… as the voice of a tree. (A tree who turns out to be the heart and soul of the entire team, but still, a tree.) Djimon Hounsou is the only person of color who gets to stay that color. Naturally, the alien planet Xandaria has pink people, yellow people, and blue people… but no black or brown people. The prison houses people of every gender and species, but all the guards are white guys, save the one big blue dude who jacks Quill's Walkman. Curious.
And then there's the curiously abrupt misogynist language: Why did Drax call Gamora a "green whore" when he was talking about how much he loved being buddies with everyone? And why did Starlord have to call Ronan a bitch? Come on, people.
I cannot emphasize this enough: I loved this movie. Mercifully, Gamora has a role in the film beyond "sexy love interest." She kicks ass left and right and makes valuable contributions to the team. While the story of Quill's mom dying of cancer and making him a mixtape was very sweet and only a little emotionally manipulative to the audience, this movie should have been about Gamora.