THIS EDITORIAL CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. DO NOT READ IF YOU DO NOT WANT SPOILERS. I refuse to spoil this film for people, you get this proper warning, alright?
Second warning: This editorial is purely my own analysis and opinion as an Marvel Cinematic Universe fan and storyteller.
Guardians of the Galaxy was a surprise hit with unique new takes on a lesser known gang no one expected to win the hearts of many. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was still quite successful, but I like many felt it dropped the ball for its pacing, plot makeup, and some character development; Yandu, Rocket, and Nebula had great complexity and investment built on them. It’s Gamora and Peter Quill a.k.a. Starlord who weren’t quite as well-developed that time around, individually and together. Avengers: Infinity War is where some good steps forward were taken in their relationship, but several steps back as well, and maaaany issues arose in Peter Quill. Not interesting or complex issues that make a problematic favorite, issues that drove audiences at large to despise Mr. Quill at varying levels, myself included.
In the first film, Quill is a swaggering space rogue, and like Drax the Destroyer says of himself, he covers his loss. For decades he masks his grief, the abuse he was raised by. He displays genuine heroism, he nearly sacrifices himself to save Gamora, a woman that he had a genuine connection with over the music he holds dear to him. Granted, he tarnishes the nobility of his actions by bragging about it a moment later. However, in the face of Ronan, and a force which threatens thousands upon millions of innocent people, he inspires Gamora; “I have spent most of my life surrounded by my enemies. It would be an honor to die among friends.” He inspires two great warriors and even two despicable bounty hunters (Rocket & Groot) to risk their lives for the good of the galaxy. Though emotionally, maturely, and ethically stunted, Peter Quill’s character does include a visible element of selflessness and valor. His romance with Gamora makes sense in the way this story is woven, as outlaws forged in suffering that still possess consideration and kindness (as do all of the Guardians.) When the film ends, Peter opens his mother’s last gift to him, symbolizing his acceptance of his her passing (or at least the beginning of it.) Still, that grief continues to define his behavior in the films to follow, making him less and less likable from here onward…
Guardians Vol. 2 was a little all over the place. Friends and I have agreed the gold people no one remembers the name of were possibly the weakest part of the story, (though a decent metaphor for white supremacists.) But while this film was far from perfect, it gave great insight into every character’s personal tragedies; additionally, every character got major development, mainly in how they grew from their abuse, how they developed dangerous perspectives and behaviors, and in Gamora’s case, neglected to think of a fellow victim, which created an enemy in Nebula. This whole set of character growths was fascinating, but I felt there was a very crucial element that was never addressed: why does Gamora love Peter Quill? This man has wits and experience, but he is also dangerously underdeveloped emotionally. He still only sees everything around him as his story and, in this sequel especially, so rarely is he able to be a hero without some sort of personal validation involved. He only decides to go against his father when he learns Ego murdered his mother for the sake of his master plan. Small note on that, Thanos similarly sacrifices the one thing he loves most for the sake of his faux-humanitarian genocide as well, but it wasn’t quite as easy to predict right away that this would be the case. (But that’s a tangent criticizing Vol. 2’s plot progression and writing!)
Anyway, so the Guardians’ newest involvement in the MCU, Infinity War, is where I and many others were pushed over the line into hating Peter Quill. (Here come the big spoilers!) Gamora gets a fantastic chunk of character development, giving us insight into her past, her relationship with Thanos, and motivations. She, unlike the other Guardians, is extremely mature and puts others before herself more and more up to this point, where she is arguably a true hero to her core. Peter, on the other hand, can’t even be serious until his dead mother is brought up. You see, when Gamora is clearly distressed and begs the man she loves to kill her if it will save the universe, he jokes around the whole subject until, “Swear on your mother.” While I fully recognize the concept of using humor to survive hardship, as well as learning to judge when it’s appropriate, Peter has gone through 2 movies. By now, I would like to have some hope that this character will grow, but the only shred I got was that he did attempt to kill Gamora like she asked, as hard as it was for him to do so. That’s the one thing he did right, despite Thanos toying with them by allowing the couple to believe he’d even let him have that chance. When Peter later learns Thanos has killed his girlfriend, he flies into a blind rage. Of course he does, it’s completely reasonable, but the gravity of the situation, their closest chance in the entire film, to remove Thanos’ gauntlet, to save half the universe, outweighed it even for Nebula. She was still in that moment and perhaps she should’ve stopped him, but it stands to reason that this is why Peter has not been written to mature even a little bit after everything he’s been through. Someone needs to ruin the chance of victory. In all honesty, I don’t feel this is a well-written case of a character flaw, not based on the first film.
Peter is the writing scapegoat, which is a shame! He may have the chance to redeem himself and truly mature emotionally, but there’s one thing the writers should not do; some of the most contrived and toxic social perceptions of romance come from the trope in which a woman is the antidote to a man’s traumatic life and poor development into adulthood. (This is the trope that Hulk and Black Widow dipped their toes into at the start of Avengers: Age of Ultron.) Gamora is mature, empathetic, noble, and a survivor of tragedy & abuse. She is a bonafide hero. What I would like is for Peter to grow because he wants to be a better person for himself and those around him AND the woman he loves. She should not be his magic cure, she should not be his only reason to better himself. Maybe she loves him because he’s humorous and clever and perhaps sees his potential to be a great man and hero (it was much easier to see in the movie where they met, so…) I’d just like to see that come into reality. Trust me, Gamora, the potential to be a good person does not guarantee someone will ever be one.
A dear friend of mine suffered a similar loss to Peter’s and has lead a life of constant struggle one way or another. If he acted the way Peter Quill does, we wouldn’t be friends at all. Somewhere between the middle of Vol. 2 and the middle of Infinity War, I was begging for Rocket to give Quill the same “Oh boo hoo… I don’t care if it’s mean! WE’VE ALL LOST SOMEBODY!!” treatment he gave Drax in the first film.