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Reel Women: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Leaves Us Wanting More Gamora

Guardians of the Galaxy Gamora
Marvel

When you head to the theater to see ‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘ this weekend (if you haven’t already), you’ll undoubtedly walk out with a favorite character: the surprisingly lovable Groot, the foul-mouthed Rocket Raccoon, the charismatic Star-Lord, the tough but hilarious Drax — or maybe you’ll fall in love with Zoe Saldana’s green-skinned, badass Gamora. With all that screen time shared between so many heroes (and villains, and peripheral characters), ‘Guardians’ will leave you wanting to see more of Gamora and her talents. Not that that’s a bad thing.

In a recent interview Zoe Saldana commented that there are better roles for women in space, and Gamora definitely proves her right. While male characters like Thanos and Ronan the Accuser plot their oppressive villainy, there’s equal space for strong women: Glenn Close plays Nova Prime, the military leader on the planet of Xandar, for instance. But the most interesting female characters are Saldana’s Gamora and Karen Gillan’s Nebula, sisters who were raised and genetically modified by Thanos to be powerful, living weapons, a metaphor for the male desire to manipulate and engineer the ideal woman — but his creations are emotive and sentient, aware of what he’s done to them, and they have desires and motivations of their own.

Writer/director James Gunn creates wonderfully complex characters in both Gamora and Nebula, women who fell victim to circumstance, but who defy victimhood. The pair stand on opposing sides of the nature vs. nurture debate: Gamora’s nature is opportunistic and cunning, but well-meaning, and she obstructs her father’s plans in an effort to make a profit while also saving the universe. Gamora refuses her nurturing, while Nebula embraces it. Like a teenager in a misguided act of rebellion, Nebula takes up with Ronan, swapping one bad guy for another, but at least Ronan gives her room to act of her own accord — as long as her actions are against Thanos. While both women have been genetically modified, Nebula’s modifications are evidently more severe, making her less organic, less feeling, less “human,” in a sense. There’s less of the real Nebula left for her to hold onto; she’s too far gone.

Gamora and Nebula are more examples of how strong female characters don’t need to be perfect to be strong. The more complex a female character is, flaws and all, the more relatable she is, even if she’s a blue- or green-skinned alien. We admire Gamora’s will-power, her cleverness, and how much she kicks ass alongside her male companions. We’re in awe of Nebula’s perseverance, and empathize with that part of her that feels broken inside. Unlike Thanos, who strives for power the way only a male villain can (with no other motivation beyond greed and entitlement), these women have clear motivations, and real feelings that make them more interesting than the big purple guy.

Perhaps the only complaint is this: there’s so much anticipation for the showdown between Gamora and Nebula, two women essentially fighting for the same things (freedom from oppression, survival, making a life for themselves), but the actual fight doesn’t feel as though it gets enough attention. During their fight later in the film, the action cuts back and forth between other climactic scenes, drawing the focus away from what should be a highly emotional and riveting moment between these two women. And although by this point we’ve spent plenty of time with Gamora and her fighting skills, we haven’t gotten to really experience Nebula’s abilities.

Both of these characters are so impressively crafted and so engaging on screen that it’s hard not to feel cheated. The fact that we leave the theater wanting to see more of Gamora and Nebula is a real testament to the power of their characters, and to our desire to see more women taking up space in film — especially ones where they get to kick so much ass.

As Marvel continues to add strong female characters to its roster, our desire for a standalone female superhero film increases. These women are written and acted so beautifully; they hold their own and fight just as tough as their male counterparts; they are inspirational and aspirational, sure, but they are also relatable and essentially human. The only problem is that they never feel as though they’re getting enough screen time in these major ensembles. We need more.

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