Friday, August 01, 2014

The Oedipal Underpinnings of the Conclusion of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

4.1 of  the 5 Guardians of the Galaxy

James Gunn's GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY opens today - after last night's 7pm evening shows that will be added into the Friday total because hours don't mean anything to box office records any more - and it's a thoroughly entertaining summer movie that may be getting more love than most of this year's big tentpole releases simply because Hollywood no longer seems to understand that people like fun summer movies. And it is fun as it has a breezy atmosphere and incorporates pop music organically in a way that's been missing from the comic book genre (generally it's been of the Prince/Macy Gray variety, where it feels included for synergy).

That said, I was struck by two sequences at the conclusion of the film, which are - to put it mildly - a lot weird for a summer blockbuster (though not that weird for a James Gunn film).

The movie is loaded up with MacGuffins, but the biggest is the Infinity Stone, which Peter Quill/Starlord (Chris Pratt) finds at the beginning of the movie in a sequence that recalls but doesn't quote too directly from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

Side note: It's interesting to compare Harrison Ford (specifically his Indiana Jones) to Chris Pratt, who's now buffed up for his new role as action star and leading man. Ford was 38 around the time of filming RAIDERS, while Pratt was 34 when making GUARDIANS. As fits his character, there's a strong boyish quality to Pratt and a jock prankster spirit that recalls Channing Tatum, one of the summer's other best leading men. Call them apologetic ass-kickers or something infinitely more clever, but Hollywood seems split between these goofy but capable types and the Dwayne Johnson/Vin Diesel-styled walking parody action figures. This helps explains the ascendancy of Liam Neeson as an action star. There aren't a lot of young actors who have mileage. Culturally, in the sense that most American youths don't have to fight wars and may not drink and smoke as much, this is a good thing. Cinematically, you're on you're own.

Anyway, the Stone plays into the big finale, when the team confronts Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and attempt to get the Stone away from him. We've seen the destructive power of the Stone when one of The Collector's minions grabs it and blows up, so it's a dangerous proposition.

Oh, another side note: Benicio Del Toro plays the Thundercats character Exposition-O, who serves little purpose in the movie other than as an info-dumper who Marvel is planting seeds for his appearance in future movies, just as the scene with Thanos in the film is about setting up future adventures. Both sequences also feature odd cuts to people not talking. In the Thanos scene it's to Nebula (Karen Gillan) and in The Collector scene it's to Del Toro's minion. In the former, it seems to be about beefing up Gillan's scene time as she's fiddling with her arm in a way that adds nothing to the scene, and it's that that distracted me from paying attention to why Gunn was cutting to Del Toro's minion. It felt like Gunn shot coverage and was cutting to people to make up for what footage he had, which may be why I missed the emotional set up for the minion grabbing the Stone because of the earlier scene that conditioned me to expect pointless cutaways.

So Quill gets the stone, which causes him to start disintegrating, but then he flashes to his mother. In the opening of the film his mother wants him to take her hand. He can't because he's scared and knows she's dying (which she does moments later). But in the moment of his possible death Gamora (Zoe Saldana) repeats those words, connecting the two women (transference?) Which is weird because during much of the film Peter makes advances on Gamora. One can say this is a healing moment as he is able to finally take Gamora's hand (but then also that would make her a surrogate figure for his mother), and when they join hands with Drax and Rocket, they are able to defeat Ronan.

Side Note Tres: I told you this was about the conclusion.

This moment allows Quill the emotional closure to open the gift his mother left him - which he'd been holding on to for 26 years - a new mixtape. But in her note she reveals that she called him Starlord. It's unknown if that's a name Quill came up with for himself, or a pet name that his mother gave him, but it's obviously an affectation from his youth that was likely (since it was a single parent household) something that was important between them. As the film wraps up with the crew about to set sail on their five year mission course to find a new adventure, Gamora asks Quill "Are you ready Starlord?"

Now, if this movie was about emotional closure, one would suspect that he would say "my name is Peter Quill" or something actually witty as he would have outgrown the need to cloak himself in that identity. Instead, he responds in the affirmative, and that question of transference raises its head again. His possible future love interest is referring to him with his mother's pet name for him, after the film had linked the two women together.

Just saying, that's a little weird.