I liked Guardians Of The Galaxy. I laughed throughout the entire movie, and it held my attention. If you were to ask me whether or not to see it in theaters, I would tell you it’s worth the money. Flat out, it’s an enjoyable flick, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still some major problems, most notably with the villains. In fact, let’s be a little clearer about it: the villains in Guardians Of The Galaxy suck.
Excluding Yondu, who is more of an anti-hero, and Thanos, who delivers more of a foreboding cameo, we’re given three villains in Guardians of The Galaxy. In order of importance, they are Ronan The Accuser, Nebula and Korath. All of them are forgettable. All of them are wasted opportunities. And all of them keep Guardians Of The Galaxy from ever hitting its true potential. Consequently, you’ll hear a lot of people describe the film with words like "funny," "entertaining" and "amusing," and you’ll hear very few choose descriptors like "moving," "frightening" or "intense." Why? Because in a superhero movie, it’s the villain that sets the stakes, and it’s the villain who is usually the difference between superficial fun and something more. And these villains are neutered.
It all starts with Ronan The Accuser, who is played effectively by Lee Pace. A Kree fanatic and religious zealot, he’s obsessed with eliminating the Xandarian people. When he walks on screen, there’s a presence about him. We can tell this isn’t a man to fuck with. But unfortunately, we really don’t get to see him fuck with anyone else either. He beats up Drax in one memorable fight, but despite his promises, he doesn’t actually kill him. Apart from that, we hear he’s been "destroying outposts." A lot of people probably died during those raids, but since we don’t see the bloodshed, it doesn’t really have any punch to it.
Every villain needs at least one moment that makes fans suddenly sit up and say, "Oh shit." Heath Ledger’s Joker pulled off that sick bank robbery, burned a giant pile of money, made people fight to death with pool cues and did about a dozen other things. Jack Nicholson’s Joker straight up shot his best friend and second in command out of frustration and boredom. Loki murdered Coulson, ascended to the throne of Asgard and gave about a dozen great speeches. These are moments we hang on to. What is Ronan's big moment? I'd argue he doesn't have one.
Director James Gunn could have introduced another character and allowed Ronan The Accuser to kill him. He could have opened the movie with the villain absolutely laying waste to an entire city of men, women and children. He could have actually let him follow through with his promise and kill Drax during their fight. He could have done any of those things. Instead, he banks on the fact that his words and the fear of others will be enough to paint him as an epic villain. The gamble doesn’t pay off.
Unlike Ronan, Nebula’s backstory is discussed. She’s the adopted daughter of Thanos, and she does not see the world in the same way as her step-sister Gamora, who is the admitted favorite. From petty grudges to jealousy to the real story of how they came to be sisters, there is a ton of space for Gunn and company to explore. Unfortunately, they choose not to. They assume a few angry glances and one or two vague, heated exchanges will be enough to invest the audience in the sibling rivalry. It’s not. The tension is never explained enough to actually be exciting, and as a result, the sister fight near the end of the film is kind of boring. And that’s the one thing it shouldn’t be. How the hell is that fight boring? It’s between the two daughters of one of the greatest villains in the history of comic books. It should have been epic.
And you know what else pisses me off about that? If Gunn and company had put more work into Nebula, it would have made Gamora an even more interesting character. Any work that was done on one of them was essentially work on the other too--like a see-saw or if you're into science, symbiotic relationship. What's good for one is good for the other. But instead, we got almost nothing. Why does Thanos like Gamora better? Why is Nebula so angry? What is she actually getting out of any of this? Why does she stay with Ronan after he double-crosses her father? Who is she actually trying to please? I need answers, damnit.
And then we have Korath, who is nothing more than a glorified henchman. Djimon Honsou is a great actor. He’s been nominated for two Academy Awards. He could have given the world a badass and memorable villain. Instead, he is handed a few throwaway lines and a complete dearth of backstory. So, feel free to fill in those gaps yourself. Maybe he’s got a daughter with a weird disease who needs medical treatment and he’s trying to earn money. Maybe he comes from a long line of gangsters. Maybe he got bored with being an accountant one day and decided to start hunting people. Your guess is as good as mine.
Like I said before, I’m a thumbs up on Guardians Of The Galaxy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a missed opportunity. We could have gotten another great villain to contribute to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Or, perhaps more interestingly, we could have gotten a chance to see Thanos swoop in and beat the living shit out of Ronan, further setting him up to be the greatest threat the Avengers ever face. Instead, we got a whole lot of yawns.
Because these villains suck.