Well, I decided that perhaps I ought to see Guardians of the Galaxy. I had a number of issues with it: James Gunn is Troma alumni (watch out for the Lloyd Kaufman cameo, if you do see it!), but he also scripted the abysmal Dawn of the Dead remake (which failed mostly with regard to its script and its direction, so…). Anything surrounding it made explicitly clear that the nature of the characters–in all senses–was going to be ignored. Now, if you haven’t heard this before, let me address it clearly: I do not take issue with liberties taken with character history and storylines, so long as the reasons do not reek.¹ Something interesting has to be done to justify those changes–either it’s an absolute inability to address the history that brings a character to the modern incarnation (Rogue…) or it’s an expansion past a good ol’ Lee/Ditko/Kirby “This is how this guy got powers” explanation that doesn’t deal much with character. Making Max Dillon a humiliated loser nobody isn’t really out of range for 616 Electro (nevermind that it was crossed with 1610 anyway). But Lady Deathstrike’s rich motivation and background was traded for…well, literally nothing. In X2, she’s a cardboard bloody cutout–a nothing, a non-entity, and most obviously a stand-in for Sabretooth, as she doesn’t even retain anything of her factual origin. So, from here, we have some kind of trickle-through-the-cracks bits and pieces of SPOILERS.
If you’re the kind of person that would be upset at someone telling you about how a movie opens, or about the nature of characters in it that don’t involve surprises or twists, or that kind of thing–stop reading. Accept that I think honestly the movie kind of sucks, and be annoyed or pleased or whatever reaction you may have to this news. So, seeing the obnoxious approach taken to Drax, Gamora, and Quill (to say nothing of Thanos–let’s not even get into what a shitty version of him this movie has) was just off-putting. Saldana and Bautista, to make matters worse, were not up to the characters they did have (poor shadows of their origins, or even current incarnations, that they are). The Deadliest Woman in the Galaxy is shockingly, miserably helpless at almost all turns, soft and sentimental in ways that it once took her a good bit of time to reach. Drax is some kind of weird amalgamation of the red-tattooed modern version and the post-second-resurrection doofus version. Milked for some really forced humour (“He doesn’t understand metaphors and takes everything completely literally.”), it just falls flat, and Bautista’s awful delivery does not help things.
And of course there’s Quill. My first experience of Quill was when Giffen wrote him into the Kyln, for the post-Starlin latter half of the intended-to-be-ongoing Thanos series. He was a very interesting character, for his hinted history and his surly reluctance. Here, he’s no longer an ex-hero (or a still-hero), has no clarified reason for being, and is a colossal goof. The movie opens on him as an adult dancing through a mission stupidly. There are some real clunkers of dialogue in there, too (again, Saldana and Bautista make any weaknesses in the script uncomfortably glaring), and it just enforces the problems I have with the changes to the universe.
The militaristic Kree disavow Ronan (you know, the Supreme Accuser, their judge, jury, and executioner) and sign peace treaties (!). The Nova Corps is bafflingly regarded: Quill insists they are the only ones to be trusted with dangerous things, but we see basically no reasons to justify this. They don’t have the Nova Force, the Worldmind (see also: Kree Supreme Intelligence) is nowhere to be found. They seem to be a bunch of more literal space cops. Guys in uniforms with guns trying to enforce the law. Huh? Why are they magically better at this than anyone else? Why should they be trusted to be capable of handling anything dangerous?
And what the fuck was with Sanctuary? Once an enormous, technologically advanced ship, it’s now…a bunch of rocks. Thanos’s Metron-inspired chair is also now a bunch of rocks (what the hell?!) Thanos was ruined. Utterly ruined. Incompetent, power-backed bluster, rather than the brilliant and devious mind of The Thanos Quest, he’s not even interesting. He’s all threats and nothing interesting. It’s furthering the rather clear truth that he is wasted in these movies. There was no alternative, of course–anyone that thinks you can or should treat Thanos as a background villain doesn’t really get the character, at least as he appeared for his first 30-odd years (before Starlin’s absence allowed him to be stolen away for increasingly ridiculous and stupid plots that bear no resemblance to the characterization that precedes them). The reality is that Thanos should never have been inserted into the MCU. They are incapable of doing him justice–not as a knock against writers, directors, actors or others, but as a knock against the fact that Thanos stories are not Avengers stories. Not even when he appears in Avengers books. It is point 2 from a previous post on the subject of Thanos that elucidates why this movie is an affront to the character. Thanos has no control, no plan, no nothing in place for what transpires. Is it, as some say, “ridiculous” that Thanos is so powerful and devious that the Avengers or the Guardians or anyone else can’t stop it? Maybe. But the truth is that it’s because he’s significantly apart from the “core” of the Marvel universe. Chad Nevett addresses this most wonderfully in his Hello Cosmic blog entries, such as this on The Infinity Gauntlet:
As well, I’ve noted before how the regular Marvel heroes are useless in Starlin’s stories and here is no different. Issue four, as I said, is them getting slaughtered. Up until that point, they do nothing and after, at best, they distract Nebula. Starlin doesn’t just use Adam Warlock, he demonstrates why Warlock is better suited for these problems than the heroes we usually read, and why his stories are unique. Yes, Captain America is great, but having determination and grit means shit against Thanos, because Thanos is out of his league. In the same way, you wouldn’t have Adam Warlock fight the Red Skull, because the fight would last the amount of time it takes Warlock to use the soul gem on the Nazi bastard. Starlin uses stories like The Infinity Gauntlet to create a hierarchy of power within the Marvel universe and demonstrate that, yes, stories must be geared towards and come out of characters. You can’t just take a character and toss them into any story for the hell of it.
This is the reality. Thanos doesn’t belong in these movies, and I know I’m just going to be more and more depressed and/or irritated as this shit goes on, because they will not ever do him justice. Because, like most people, they don’t understand the above at all. Alas. Oh, and for anyone who hears Gamora’s speech to Quill in the movie about how Thanos treated her, I heartily recommend “Yule Memory”, a short story from the 1992 Marvel Holiday Special. It contains this panel, which should speak volumes about how fucking stupid that change was: ¹For instance, X2‘s conversion of Stryker reeks of cowardice. That the original story–God Loves, Man Kills–dealt with Claremont’s favourite approach to the discrimination the mutants faced (a religious facet) seems to have been too scary to write or film or whatever. So they sucked the scary possible zealotry and re-fashioned it into, “Well, he’s kind of nuts.” Boo. Stupid.