The other day I rewatched “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and finally feel comfortable discussing it, even if at this point I’m shouting ‘and another thing’ into the void two weeks after everyone else is on to something else.  While I shall do my best to avoid spoilage, there will be some minor spoilers for Guardians, and some major spoilers from earlier summer blockbusters, particularly “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”
Let me start off by saying I really liked “Guardians.”  It’s a well-paced, solidly acted space opera with plenty of witty dialog and gorgeous design work.  Let me also say that my opinions are my own, and that if yours differs, that’s totally cool.  The things that cause offense are deeply personal and based on life experience, and the things I find troublesome are different than yours.  We all have our own buttons.
That being stated, I’m gong to dive right in and examine the state of women in Guardians of the Galaxy.  And to that end I took another look at the film with a particular eye towards how the film treated the three female characters with the largest presence:  Gamora, Nebula, and Nova Prime.  Aside from these three, the Galaxy is still mostly populated by dudes.  Nearly all of the Nova Corps dudes.  Likewise the Ravagers are mostly dudes.  The scene with the Collector and his ‘attendant’ is super gross.  The language in this movie is a little sketchy.  But it isn’t overtly gendered or sexualized.
Gamora and Nebula are straight up bad-asses.  And no one ever calls on them to be more feminine or pats them on the back.  There’s never a sense that they need to prove it.  There is never a scene where they are portrayed as emotional or irrational, or trying to keep up with the menfolk.  In fact, it is quite the opposite, as the irrationally emotional scenes end up getting chewed by Drax and Rocket, respectively.
And while the gravity of the plot seems to pull Gamora towards Quill as a romantic partner, and he does put his goofy, space-pirate bro moves on her, It is telling that they are friends, rather than lovers, at the end of the movie.  It is visually implied that they could form a romantic relationship, but they don’t end up kissing, or banging.  There is no high-five from the director of the hero getting his ‘reward’ from the princess.  Much could be made from the scene at the beginning, where Peter Quill’s one night stand is still aboard his ship because he ‘forgot she was there.’  But that is his starting point, and Gamora’s starting point is being the bagman for Ronan, and looking for the way out.  They end with both of them nodding their heads to 70’s pop music.  As a sequel to their scene on Knowhere, it signals that both of them have grown, at least a little.
The other major scene for Gamora is the assault of The Dark Aster.  As their inside man, it is Gamora who plans the assault, Gamora who fights with her cyborg sister Nebula, and Gamora who shuts down the device preventing the rest of the heroes from saving the day.  She’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, not Princess Leia.
But the best context for Gamora as a Female Lead in an action movie is to look at the background radiation of the blockbusters around it.  And here, Gamora is leaps and bounds ahead of her colleagues.  In “Captain America:  The Winter Soldier,” Black Widow is a full on bad-ass spy, but she spends most of the film following in Cap’s heels, trying to set him up on dates and listening to him lecture her about how untrustworthy she is.
In “Amazing Spider-Man 2” Gwen Stacy is a brilliant science student with a bright future and a prestigious opportunity to study overseas.  This is exactly the kind of role model young women should be getting, but the movie focuses solely on how bad this is for Peter, her on again/off again boyfriend who is obsessed with protecting her from harm.  And then (spoiler alert,) she dies at the end of the film so that Spider-Man can have his contractually obligated ‘sobbing in a graveyard’ scene that is in every one of those films.
In “Godzilla” the main character’s wife, both of whom are so bland that I’ve forgotten their names, tells her husband to come home, because she doesn’t know what to do without him.  The frail, beautiful woman shatters under pressure without her man to protect her.  In spite of the fact that she’s a doctor in a city emergency room, married to a bomb disposal tech who literally just got back from a year of duty the day before, raising a five year old.  Somehow, that character should have known how to deal with stress.
And let’s not forget “X-Men:  Days of Future Past,” where the terrible, emotional decisions of woman result in the downfall of civilization and require Hugh Jackman to travel back in time to fix.  While Jennifer Lawrence gives a great performance, there is a lot of troubling things going on with Mystique in the X-Men movies.  She is caught in the middle of the dualistic struggle between Magneto and Xavier, and any notion that she could, or should, have ideas of her own are disregarded.  And of course, because of her shape-shifting powers, she is portrayed nude with blue body paint.  This might seem as just a tiny bit of fan service, but consider the example of the old Disney cartoons.  Pluto and Goofy are both dogs, but the difference between the ‘human’ characters and the dog is that Goofy wears clothes and Pluto wears a collar.  Mystique is naked for the whole movie.
Marvel hasn’t done everything right with Guardians.  Gamora hasn’t necessarily received her due in the marketing, and there have been issues with Director James Gunn downplaying the involvement of original screenwriter Nicole Pearlman.  But Gamora, while not being a final step towards gender equality in action movies, is a hell of a sep in the right direction.  She isn’t a woman in a refrigerator.  She’s Bill “The Refrigerator” Perry.  And that’s pretty heroic in a place as fearful of change as Hollywood.