(Artwork by Megan Fabbri, background is a public domain image of the Orion Nebula)

 

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.

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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.

14 COMMENTS

  1. I liked Infinity War, but Peter blowing the whole plan was a definitely a low point of the movie. It felt contrived. Everyone else is in a life or death fight ,and he suddenly turns into a stupid brute. I would have understood if he had just broken down and quit the fight out of despair – thus letting the rest of the group lose the fight. That would have at least made him sympathetic. And I just generally don’t talk about Guardians 2, because I didn’t like a lot about that movie. I was so distracted by bad humor, I couldn’t think about character development.

  2. Oh joy, another article from a braindead mouthbreather that lazily hops on the bandwagon bashing a 3d character who is apparently not allowed to be perfect and has to be as boring and sanctimonious as you. LOL “shred of character development” at shooting the love of his life and prioritizing her wish over his. If you had to do the same you would crumble and be too weak to do so. Very few people are that strong. You really don’t understand Quill at all.

    I don’t see you bashing other characters who made stupid rash decisions and prioritized their loved ones or morals over half the universe like Steve “We don’t trade lives except thousands of Wakadans for a robot” Rogers, Wanda who took her sweet ass time selfishly keeping her vibrator alive instead of letting him die a noble death, that moron Loki who *attacked NYC* but is treated like an innocent lamb and he took the Tesseract instead of letting it burn on Asgard and couldn’t use his 100 tricks on Thanos. You say Gamora got a lot of development but in reality she was just turned into a damsel in distress and then brutally murdered by her abuser, how is that development? She was tossed out like garbage. And how is she so much mature than Quill? She basically offered herself up to Thanos because she was blinded by her need for vengeance. She gave up half the universe in 30 seconds to spare her sister (if you’re gonna call Quill an idiot then call her that too.) Thor was a moron for not aiming for the head, he blew it at the very end and even the writers think that was a bad call for him to monologue at Thanos instead of ending everything right there. Stark didn’t call Steve and went into battle with a few strangers. Nebula ran after Thanos to kill him even after Gamora warned her not to, why isn’t she an idiot too? Why isn’t Thanos a dumbass for being so shortsided and why doesn’t HE get the rightful blame for tossing out the woman he abused for years like garbage?

    This Quill hate is so goddamn stupid and tired. If he stood around with his thumb up his ass like you would then Spidey and IM would get the gauntlet off, drag it away 3 feet, Thanos would wake up anyway and kill all of them. If they got the gauntlet off and killed him you’d be writing a thinkpiece of how boring and samey the Marvel movies are. And if Quill just sat down crying everyone would be calling him a whiny baby. I cannot WAIT until A4 comes out and proves all the bandwagon Quill haters as idiots who don’t understand what a character arc is. And Vol. 2 was a great movie.

    You can piss and moan about him not doing what you would do sitting comfortably in the theater with all your loved ones alive but he was completely in character and fact is he DID pull the trigger on the only woman he was in love with. That is progress and it still counts, it’s not a “whatever” thing.

  3. And another thing, I don’t see you blaming Steve for saying a massive “Fuck you” to the world over Bucky. He was willing to let the world burn so Bucky could stay alive.I’m 10000% certain that if Steve punched Thanos over Bucky or if Quill punched Thanos over a white dude he would get a pass, because deep down all you Quill haters don’t give a shit about Gamora (like you putting her on some ‘perfection’ pedestal and completely ignoring that she made the wrong call to go after Thanos in the first place. Because all characters have to be boring and 1d like Steve and Bucky who’ve had 0 character development and +100 flat acting in their past two movies.)

  4. Well, all of that will be undone in the sequel next year. Doctor Strange said there was only one way to stop Thanos, and when he gave up the time jewel (Time Jewel!) he said there was no other choice. Gamora is no more dead than Spider-Man and Nick Fury is. Marvel already announced that Gamora would be the main character in Guardians of the Galaxy #3 in 2020. When Thanos galaxy wide destruction is undone, no one will even know about the mistake Peter Quill made.

  5. I don’t think he “decides” to oppose Ego only when his mother’s murder was mentioned. It’s just he was being brainwashed and that particular shock snapped him out of it. I understand writers like to abuse the dead mother card for emotional punch, but I feel your being unfair chatacterizing him as “only being serious” under those circumstances?

    They had plenty of scenes later in GoG2 that were about genuine humanism and connection. Like the flashbacks to his time with the other Guardians and Yandu, or his statement about wanting to be like everyone else. Like it wasn’t really as concrete or fleshed out compared to the rest of the cast in Vol 2 but I can at least see they were going for it being about embracing the flawed people around him and not holding grudges or giving up on them, with Rocket and Yandu specifically, and in the larger metaphor the entirety of life in the universe. Granted I think that’s a bit premature to do this before your own self actualization arc, but in theory you can do it “out of order”.

    I do agree he generally hasn’t matured in a lot of areas, emotional restraint highest among them, and I agree that seems to be an intentional role he’s been given by the writers, to the extent that he is iconically characterized by moments of passion (you killed x I’m gonna punch you now- though notably in one case it saved him from brainwashing and in the other it ruined everything). I also think you are absolutely right that Gamora’s contrast to him, and the consequences of his most recent actions are leading up to this being addressed in a real way.

    I do also think your assessment of his character is a bit reductive, with some relatively narrow definitions of what kinds of emotional maturity there is (its not all just one bucket, it’s a broader spectrum of qualities). Also the extent to which developing a character guarantees emotional maturity in the first place.

    I can understand that any development he did have in the second movie was haphazard, and in a much different vein than the rest of the cast. And overall he is definitely characterized much more by his feelings for those closest to him, which stands out in contrast to Gamora in IW. But also you are retroactively pigeonholing him into the extreme of ONLY caring about these passions, based off of what he does in IW and how shaky GoG2 was in it’s characterization already.

    But ultimately I do understand WHY you would have this perspective. I don’t think his actions in Infinity War we’re written the best way. It was also done in the kind of way that makes you look back on all the related prior setup as moot, since they didn’t deliver, and often that colors your perception of the character in tgeir totality.

    I don’t think he’s dangerously emotionally underdeveloped over the entire course of prior movies, I think they’re just willing to bring up his emotional weak points at the writers’ convenince, and this was done particularly egregiously in Infinity War, such that one begins to really pick up and focus on every past instance of it.

    I prefer compartmentalizing this kind of stuff. I like Starlord’s character overall, I just think they exploited it recently and then left it hanging in a particularly unsatisfying place.

  6. Also that last paragraph is kinda silly. I don’t think I would tolerate the behavior of a lot of the Avengers if I were their friends. That’s not really a good metric for evaluating characters in general.

  7. Also I feel like a lot of your characterization here can be attributed to the fact that Peter didn’t get any opportunities for selfless heroism for the greater good, except during a scene where he was, by my interpretation, being mentally manipulated/influenced.

    And even if he is only dabbling in that sort of heroism and cares about those closest to him first and foremost (I think it’s difficult to make the case he doesn’t care AT ALL about being a hero, given the first movie at the very least) that’s not necessarily a bad character.

  8. Like I get the gist of this article, but I think it could have benifitted a lot from being more comprehensive and even handed in its examination, even if it were to ultimately come to the same conclusion anyway.

    It feels like it’s really strongly selecting the points that support the conclusion. Too cut and dry. I at least like some Devil’s Advocacy for the sake of good practice.

  9. Really my major disagreements are with (what I see as) narrowness of definitions.

    I think he has matured emotionally in the past movies, just not in the same areas as his cast mates. As you did point out, while the Vol 2 focused more internally on most of the characters, Peter and Gamora were more defined by how they were relating to their family/teammates/fate of life in the universe, and it was in IW that both these characters had a more internal struggle regarding what they would do for the greater good.

    But there are numerous aspects of emotional maturity, and they don’t all increase uniformly, especially if a particular behavior has been working out in your favor. The tone of Guardians of the Galaxy is that hotbloodedness and gumption pays off, while Gamora often comes off as the out of place realist in the group. Infinity War provides an opportunity to show them that it doesn’t always work that way. You really only cite the mom killing scene as an indication of this relatively callous/flippant side of Star Lord’s hotbloodedness in Vol.2. But if you characterize that as a “decision”, then he must have also “decided” to kill half the population in IW, in which case he’s just a freaking psycho. Rather, I think that it should be recognized that in the past, his fits of passion have been a strength for him, helping him to remember his priorities/ideals in the face of desire for self preservation and cosmic mind-meld temptation in the first and second movies respectively.

    So I don’t think he “hasn’t matured even a little bit,” and those areas in which he HAS not matured, I think are justifiable.

    Also while Gamora demonstrated an excellent example of a certain kind of hero, which also happens to contrast very well with the kind Star Lord failed to be in that movie- I still think it’s reductive to say she’s a “true” hero and Peter isn’t one. Hero isn’t a strictly defined term, and I’d even argue the whole conceit of the Avengers franchise is that there are different kinds of heroes. I still understand your point, I just think that’s overdoing the rhetoric. Especially going to the extent to say he only has the “potential” to be a good person. I think you can at least give him credit for his past actions and his intentions.

    And while we’re at it, I’d consider it a narrow metric to think it’s unreasonable for Gamora to love Quill. He’s a generally good-hearted person with potential to be a lot more, and not really actively causing issues (not all their time together is in high pressure situations, and the dude isn’t callous, just sometimes has mixed up priorities). That can absolutely be sufficient for someone to love them- there is no universal criteria. If anything I’d say cynical or realistic people are often (or at the very least archetypically) attracted to potential and continual growth (though depending on your perspective/priorities, perhaps not significant growth) rather than those fully realized around them that have disappointed them in the past. And if anything it was nice that it wasn’t the man sacrificing himself to break through to the jaded woman (which is how I usually see such romances play out), but instead was a composed and focused woman setting a precedent for a man who can’t realize his full potential so long as he cannot at the right times put aside his passions.

    The disappointing part, which I feel is a large part of your article and the part I most agree with, is we don’t really get to see that come to fruition. Though when you then say he should “be a better person for himself and those around him, not a woman” I think that’s again a mischaracterization. It’s not like he has no concept of caring about people whatsoever, he absolutely does. But his impulses and passions sometimes get in the way. It’s maybe an issue he’s not aware of, as things often work out in the typical dashing rogue/group of misfits fashion. And if he is aware of it, I doubt he just doesn’t give a shit, based on an inordinate amount of context throughout both volumes. And most importantly, I think there’s a distinction between becoming a better person only because a woman asks it of you, and wanting to be a better person for yourself and those around you, despite your own habits and shortcomings, by following the example of a woman you admire.

    I also think generally your expectations for maturity are a bit unrealistic
    “While I fully recognize the concept of using humor to survive hardship, as well as learning to judge when it’s appropriate” “If he acted the way Peter Quill was we wouldn’t be friends” These are some pretty extraordinary circumstances? You’re talking about the emotional skill of someone who was raised by pirates who has basically one grounding influence in his life, in a scenario weighing millions of lives sandwiched by high pressure combat situations. Someone who has not only succeeded despite, but in part due to his reliance on passion and impulse up to this point (if anything it was one of the themes of Vol 2 (“don’t use your mind, use your heart”)).Someone else in these comments pointed out, much less politely, that applying these sorts of expectations to a lot of other characters isn’t going to come out positively. If anything you’re understating how exceptional Gamora is, even among them.

    So:
    Emotional maturity (and heroism/love/being a good person) is composed of many qualities and not something that is achieved linearly/hierarchically or in the same way for all people;
    Any given amount of maturity is not guaranteed by development of the character;
    There are no universal standards for what level of emotional maturity is realistic, it is to some extent dependent on the character, both in their background and how exactly different aspects of their emotionality have played into the plot and had certain consequences thus far.

    Again, I do think this article touches on some real insights to Peter Quill’s larger character arc, but it’s unreasonably reductive in a lot of places, especially in how it portrays his past characterization, retroactively, in the context of Infinity War. Realistically I don’t know what in Vol 2 would want you to have rocket give the “everybody’s lost someone speech” unless you take that mother scene out of context and/or project Infinity War back onto it.

    Now I don’t see Star Lord as really that complex or fleshed out in the first place, and still given that I think a lot of your points are disservice to him. I think this could have been much better as a general examination of the character with some criticism on the particulars of execution rather than trying to wrap it all into a one note narrative interpretation. Maybe Quill should have had an arc dedicated to accepting other peoples’ bullshit after he dealt with his own? Maybe the idea of his personal passions and his heroism being in conflict should have been introduced in earlier GoG?Maybe Quill shouldn’t have had this particular emotional weakness of his character capitalized on so hamfistedly, or at the very least not without resolving or addressing it in some way before a cliffhanger?

    But not: “This has always been a issue in his character that is being blatantly ignored by himself and/or the writers.” It seems reactionary. I may be misremembering/mischaracterizing things myself, but I watched both movies pretty recently and close together, so I believe my impression of either in its own right is relatively fresh.

  10. I confess I was hoping Peter and Gamora never hooked up (like Cap and Nat didn’t in Winter Soldier). That relationship never made sense (unlike the Hulk and Nat one, which did for both characters and I wish would be resolved, but probably won’t since no one but me an Joss Whedon like it). And it doesn’t make sense for a lot of the reasons you gave. I really appreciate the character work leavened through GOTG Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok and Infinity War, but all of them dropped the ball in various ways (and the humor/drama imbalance is a big part of that).

  11. Quill is a flawed character, and that makes him interesting. If he were perfect and always did the right thing, he would be boring. I’ve found that a lot of fans want role models rather than multi-dimensional characters.

  12. I didn’t and don’t mind Quill staying essentially the way he is. If he ever changed, he would no longer be the type of guy to have childish arguments with Rocket, or be obsessed with PacMan, Knightrider, dance-offs, etc. Guardians would cease to be worth watching, as the story is about a boy taken into space and never develops as a functional adult, in a mature and normal sense.

    I have mentioned the movie The Last Days of Disco in another post, but it has a metatextual analogising reference to the Disney feature animation Lady and the Tramp, and I find this also kind of works in describing Gamora/Quill too. Premise is that Tramp is too rough for Lady, and he’ll eventually revert to his old ways, slap her around and go back to chasing tail. I think Quill might be thought similarly, at least in chasing tail, because it’s in his nature. I love LDoD, and I highly recommend it for its indepth metatext on Lady and the Tramp. See if there is applicability; you can’t change the Tramp because the movie is fundamentally different. Not looking to change Quill, and instead revisit his favourite beats/moments ehen he can shine in his way.

    Coming to the movie as a reader of the Infinity Gauntlet, I saw the wresting of Thanos’ gauntlet as an interpretation of the <1% shot the heroes in the comics had of beating Thanos. It all came down to the Silver Surfer, and they failed. I thought what happened in the movie was a worthy interpretation of that. Quill was in character, and it was repetitive of his previous behaviours. Besides which, there's a very big ethical call to be made here again, which IW plays with grandly: quality of life vs utilitarian good. A world without Gamora might not be worth living in, and that is a bold ethical choice (same one Dr Strange made too, coinkydink). I was really with Peter when he had to choose between killing Gamora or not; V well done. It is entirely a valid choice to choose you lover over all else

  13. PS I disliked seeing Quill die almost more than any of the others. That wave of emotion coursing through/passing type of thing

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