Ninety-nine percent of the new, record-breaking movie in theaters “Guardians of the Galaxy” is about nothing more than giving audiences a good time.
And less than one percent is about giving Islam a hard time.
But here at “Popcorn and a (World)view,” we dig a little deeper into Hollywood’s offerings than just offering a thumbs up or thumbs down.
So I won’t spend too much time recapping the storyline of this comic book movie where a group of five, misfit, outlaw space raiders band together to save a whole planet of billions of people. I won’t bore you with explaining how along the way, they discover each of them is masking deep, personal wounds with their roguish behavior and in the process of saving their skins – and the universe – they forge friendships and learn the value of personal sacrifice.
I will, however, take a few moments to criticize the film for poor acting, logical inconsistencies, forced dialogue, pathetic villains and a first act filled with so much comic-book gobbledygook that it’s easy to get lost.
And I will nonetheless take another few moments to explain that all my criticisms amount to a hill of jack squat, because the movie is nonetheless a laugh-out-loud, romping good time that succeeds wildly at creating lovable characters, memorable moments and leaves audiences wanting to come back for a second showing (or at least the sequel). “Guardians of the Galaxy” may be filled with action and superhero hijinks, but it is first and foremost a comedy, and you don’t have to be a comic book geek to enjoy it.
But we go beyond just basic movie reviews in this column to ask the questions, “What messages do the movies convey? What themes in our culture and culture wars do the movies reinforce or contradict? Where are the moviemakers coming from, and what do they effectively communicate?”
Again, the message of “Guardians of the Galaxy” is mostly, “Laugh, have a good time and feel like you got your money’s worth at the movies.”
That, and, “Come see the next Marvel comics film.”
But along the way, the moviemakers couldn’t help but weave into the story some references to modern-day issues and larger themes.
For example, the superhero genre often plays on biblical or Christological themes, and “Guardians” is no exception. The hero of the film, “Star-Lord,” we’re told early, is born of a human mother and a father who was “an angel composed of pure light.” Later we learn the father was “something very ancient.” This half-divine being then sets out to save the galaxy, in part, by sacrificing his life to save others. Sound familiar? His enemy is also called, for no apparent reason, “the accuser,” which is the name given to Satan in Revelation 12:10. It’s not a stretch, but a rather an obvious theme in “Guardians,” that “Star-Lord” is some kind of Christ figure.
What’s particularly interesting, however, is the equally obvious parallel made between the primary villain, “Ronan the Accuser,” and modern-day Islam.
“They call me a terrorist, a zealot because I follow the ways of my people,” Ronan monologues – not because anyone actually does or because he resembles it or it’s even believable that the word would be used in this movie’s timeframe, but because he’s an obvious symbol of jihad.
Later, a Nova merchant (capitalist?) insists that Ronan is a “fanatic [who] will not rest until my culture is destroyed.”
Finally, in the clearest parallel to Islam, the movie portrays a scenario where the leader of Ronan’s enemies, Nova Prime, makes a plea to the leader of Ronan’s people, the Kree, to declare Ronan an extremist, not representative of the Kree as a whole.
“At least a statement from the Kree Empire condemning—”
She’s cut off, because the Kree, despite signing a “peace treaty” with Nova, won’t condemn Ronan for trying to wipe Nova out.
Amid 121 minutes of action and blasters and spaceships and cracking jokes, the obvious digs at Islam – a religion that claims to be of peace but whose leaders refuse to condemn their own members who seek murder and war – stick out for their blatancy.
But then, there’s nothing really subtle about “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The jokes are big, the explosions bigger, the box-office windfall will be bigger yet, and with a few cautions regarding questionable comic material (see below), I give “Guardians” a big thumbs up.
- “Guardians of the Galaxy,” rated PG-13, contains roughly 27 obscenities and profanities.
- The movie has some, significantly boorish, sexual innuendo, but no nudity, save for shirtless guys and a few gals in revealing outfits, and no sex or romantic scenes. Some of the dialogue and humor is crude in nature.
- “Guardians” contains a hefty dose of violence, including hand-to-hand combat, gun battles and space battles, and the scenes definitely glamorize the violence and even make it funny and “cool.” Young kids will definitely laugh and imitate it in play. Some of the violence is brutal, and there is some gore.
- Most of the film’s religious content is described above, though there are also characters with various symbols and markings and writings in strange language that could be deemed religious or occult in nature, but are not explicitly so. There is also a scene where Ronan monologues about the power of his “gods” and other people’s “paltry gods,” but there are no specific references to which “gods.” A character who dies is said to be “going to a better place,” but again, no details are described.