We might as well give up. Buy your ticket, take your seat, sit back and forget worrying about the plot because it’s literally all be done before.
If there’s something to be learned from Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s that spending a bit more time on character development can make everyone go completely batshit crazy for your film, even if the story is essentially the same recycled claptrap we’ve been watching for the last ten years.
It’s hard to fathom how we’re all so giddily excited over a film – and yes I know I was talking favourably about it recently – when the actual fabric of that film, the plot, is offering us the same structure, the same character beats, the same goddamn thematic notes that we’ve been getting for ages, especially from Marvel.
First off, meaningless macguffins. Guardians of the Galaxy actually referenced this trope in a scene, likening the orb (ball? Silver thing? Does anybody actually care?) to the briefcase from Pulp Fiction, the ark of the covenant from Raiders, or the titular Maltese Falcon. But once it’s onscreen, we all know how it’s going to work, especially the (gasp!) big reveal that the benign orb is all-powerful and suddenly jeopardises the universe. Come on. The universe must be sick and tired of being in jeopardy all the time.
Next: why must every hero use the loss of a parent (or both) as a trigger for their journey? And why is the father the one that gets to be wise and counsel-spouting, often reappearing from the dead, whereas the mother is only allowed to be emotionally propelling due to her death? And while the father was notably absent in Guardians (cue hints for the sequel), please see every Marvel film for evidence of this. Also DC. Also everything else. Heroes can learn practical things from their fathers, but they must be emotionally torn and unfulfilled because of their mother’s absence.
Then we get the love-interest that isn’t a love-interest. We could spill more ink on Marvel’s short shrifting of female protagonists, and how this film is merely just another perpetuating of their Fear of the Woman, but you can almost see the cogs turning in the writer’s room when they decided that Zoe Saldana’s Gamora would almost-but-not-quite kiss Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill. This is the same move that Pacific Rim pulled off, where they try to avoid criticism for offering an underwritten female character who only acts as a love-interest by not making them a love-interest.
Really? Just because the hero doesn’t seal the deal with the token female character does not make the film any kind of culture-changing empowering statement. Try harder.
Further to this, the final act is becoming quite redundant. And while Guardians is clever enough to play with this redundancy (particularly in the ‘We’re all standing in a circle’ scene), riffing on a trope is not the same as offering something original. But we get to the point where it’s just the same banging, crashing and sound without the fury in the film’s final act – increased and amplified with every new blockbuster. The latest cliché though is to have the final jeopardy take place on some nominal home planet or city, even when all the action has taken place elsewhere.
The reason? Human cost. Raise the stakes by threatening the lives of every computer generated civilian who doesn’t get a credit. And while films like Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel were highly criticised for this, particularly for using cities as disasterpornscapes, Guardians seems to have taken this on board and learned something.
Only slightly. No less than four times characters reference the evacuation of the city and the citizens, so that the audience feels a little bit more comfortable with the wanton destruction that takes place. Better? Not really. What we have now is films upping the stakes by threatening innocent people, but then removing them from harm lest it become offensive, thus nullfiying the entire point of the action. The strange thing is nobody came up with a better way to end the story.
The plot is utterly meaningless in Guardians of the Galaxy. You do not have to pay one scrap of attention to any of the details, safe in the knowledge that it’ll still end up right where you expect it to. And they know it. The prison escape scene was pretty much constructed around this joke of not needing to digest any of the details because it’ll just happen anyway. And as much as I enjoyed some of the new elements, particularly its excellent construction of humour in a tiresome setting (see this brilliant analysis for more), I long for the day that audiences can be completely surprised by a blockbuster’s story.
It was first predicted when Avatar came on the scene, but many are noting now that we may be entering a ‘post-plot’ era of films. Personally, I think audiences are wise enough to know when they’re being served last year’s tripe, and the tide will eventually turn, much as it did in the late 1960s.
The difference here is that I fear most of the original and creative talent has abandoned the creatively dull film maintsream and headed for television, which means when the tide does turn, there isn’t that saftey net of brilliant writers and directors as there used to be.
Enough of the meaningless plots, please. Enough of the irrelevant action and hollow resolutions. Enough of the fifty billion interpretations of the hero’s journey. Offer us something new, and more unique than the surface polish that was Guardians of the Galaxy.