With the ridiculous success for Guardians of the Galaxy’s opening weekend, you can bet that Monday morning, I scoured the internet to finally read all of the articles about the movie.
If there is one thing I noticed reading so many reviews in a row, it’s the recurring comment of James Gunn’s inability to make an emotional connection and keep it going, how the humor drowns out what could be something more.
While it’s easy to say that’s true since the entire movie had jokes from start to finish, I have to disagree just a little.
It’s obvious that the humor far outweighs anything serious in this film–when you have a wise-cracking raccoon and a walking, talking tree, it probably shouldn’t take itself too seriously. But fans have voiced their opinions on one or two scenes that hit them right in the heart without warning. And I’m here to expand that list.
Minor spoilers to follow, mostly about plot points (with a couple quotes)
On my third viewing in four days (I’m fully aware I have a problem, there’s no need to tell me), I found myself in the theater, surrounded by friends, and fighting to stifle my tears.
The film starts on Earth, 1988, with a young Peter Quill visiting his mother on her deathbed. She pleads for him to take her hand and he turns away, only to have her pass away in that same moment. The devastation on the young actor’s face, his unbridled screams of “No!” as his grandfather pulls him from the room are enough to pull at anyone’s heartstrings. You wish you could rewind the movie and tell young Peter to just take his mom’s hand because it will be something he regrets and carries with him for the rest of his life.
One of the harder scenes to watch (surprisingly) focuses on Rocket. While our ragtag team is waiting for The Collector, they are partaking in what seems to be an intergalactic version of cockfighting while getting drunk. It all boils down into Rocket and Groot fighting Drax.
And it’s a drunk, talking, gun-wielding raccoon that gets you this time. Peter and Gamora break up the fight with Peter trying to talk sense into Rocket, who wants to shoot everyone that’s made fun of him or called him vermin, rodent, etc. He’s stumbling in place, slurring his words. “I didn’t ask to be made!” he yells over the fading noise in the bar. “To be unmade and put back together again…”
I give complete props to Bradley Cooper for doing a wonderful job on Rocket’s voice. The raccoon goes on to bare his soul, discussing how everyone sees him as this little creature that doesn’t deserve respect or attention and it’s too much for him to handle. It brings the bar and the entire scene to an emotional standstill that brought my theater (all three times) to dead silence. Who knew a CGI raccoon could have such an impact?
Going back to Peter Quill for another moment, I’m going to put another SPOILER WARNING out for this one because the scene I mention is in the last few minutes of the film.
In the first scene of the movie, Peter’s mom gives him a present to open after she dies. In the last scene of the movie, he finally opens the attached letter and tiny box to reveal Awesome Mix Vol. 2. He plugs it into his cassette player installed in his ship and sits down on a nearby chair.
Chris Pratt is known for his slapstick comedy and not so much his emotional prowess. But in that moment, when it’s just his face onscreen, listening to this new iteration of songs that will belong to him, I started crying.
The expression on his face says it all: a mix of wonder, incredulity, joy, guilt, and sadness all rolled into one. There is a hint of tears in his eyes, but nothing more. To have something new of his mother’s after twenty years of nothing should make even the strongest person waver just a little.
Maybe it’s because I know that feeling all too well. When it comes to music, I always think of my dad. There are still times when a song starts on the radio that hits me the wrong way; it’s the emotions that follow those first few notes that are what I felt watching Peter Quill in the same position. The happiness that comes with the familiarity hurts, and his expression is… well, perfect.
Peter Quill clings to this music because it’s all he has left of his earthly family. When he’s being taken through the Kyln (aka prison) and he finds that blue-skinned guard listening to his music, he loses his cool and starts screaming about the tape player being his. “‘Hooked on a Feeling’ by Blue Swede, 1973! That song is mine,” he exclaims. And you can see in the picture on the right the sheer anger and desperation in his expression.
And then there’s Rocket, putting it all into perspective later on. “Oh, boo hoo, my wife and daughter are dead!” he mocks. “Everybody’s got dead people!” It comes across as funny because of Groot’s gasp and look of shock, but the more I reflect on this line, the truer it is.
As life continues and we get older, death inevitably touches our lives, sometimes in the most untimely manners. It haunts you for a long time, getting easier to talk about but not always easier to handle. You find others who understand what you went through and are going through. You begin to realize that you aren’t alone. It’s strange to find that in a movie like this.
Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t let you forget it, either. It may be muddled in with the jokes and the laughs, but it’s there, from Peter Quill’s lack of a family to Rocket’s experimentation to Drax’s lost family to Gamora’s parental issues.
So while the humor is the main focus in Guardians of the Galaxy, there is no reason to discount the emotions that this movie brought to light. They run through it like an undercurrent, not constantly at the surface, but always driving the characters forward.