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Guardians Of The Galaxy features a long-time supporting character, a being who has helped strengthen the firmament of the Marvel universe. His appearance, played by an award-winning actor, is minimal, but it's both colorful and threatening, suggesting great things to come. And it's one of the highlights of the movie, in a way that shape the narrative and plant the seeds for follow-ups. We're not talking about Thanos. We're talking about The Collector.
Benicio Del Toro's Taneleer Tivan has shown up in two films in the Marvel world this far. He can be seen in the post-credits sequence for Thor: The Dark World, setting up his Guardians appearance. It also sets up his presence in Knowhere, an outpost at the edge of space where he keeps what is essentially an interstellar pawn shop full of goodies. He's overjoyed to receive the Aether at the end of Thor: The Dark World, and very nearly gets his hands on the Infinity Stone in Guardians. He's The Collector. He collects.
And the reasons why he collects everything, from space WMD's to Howard The Duck, is because he's immortal. Alive for billions of years, he had a happy wife, but when she couldn't bear living for centuries she took her own life. Alone and seeking purpose, Tivan became the biggest nerd in the world, collecting just about anything he could find. Through eons, he would grab animals, alien lifeforms, trinkets of any kind, simply because he wanted to have a collection. In the comics, he seeks to collect the Infinity Stones in order to protect them from Thanos. He does not appear to be that innocent in the movies.
Actually, innocence and guilt have nothing to do with Del Toro's absolutely bizarro performance. There's a shade of ostentatious glam rock to Tivan, cloaked in fur and with bright white shock hair. His face is unreadable, his gestures are wild and peculiar. In his home world, he's probably Christopher Walken. His assistant in the film is a woman named Carina, who he seems to badger and antagonize. In the comics, she is his daughter. In the film, she could be anything, so elaborate is their passive-aggressive work relationship, and his weirdly formal way of talking to her.
The joy of The Collector comes from the fact that he's always been a major player in the universe. If there's a powerful superweapon (and, in comics, there's always a powerful superweapon), it will cross his hands. If someone needs something, they will visit him. If you have someone who doesn't suit a prison, they're going to be placed in one of The Collector's cells, and if you need a storage place away from the influence of baddies, Taneleer Tivan is your man. Marvel might be on the cusp of an extended intergalactic universe. And if you're making movies about beings from deep space in the Marvel universe, they're gonna hang out with The Collector. In Guardians Of The Galaxy alone, his headquarters house Howard The Duck, Cosmo the telepathic dog, and a cocoon that likely houses Adam Warlock, because a superbeing encased in his own life matter is exactly the sort of thing he'd have (the cocoon eventually opened).
All this obscures the fact that we're talking about Benicio Del Toro here, one of the best actors in the world. Del Toro's offbeat sex appeal and discerning taste kept him from becoming a leading man in his earlier years. Now he's aged and gained a bit of weight. His "leading man" appeal may no longer be there, but his talent certainly is. He won the Oscar for Traffic but he's maybe even better in his second collaboration with Steven Soderbergh, the two Che movies. He's stolen films as diverse as The Usual Suspects, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, 21 Grams and Savages, and he's even been magnificent in recent memory: one of the year's best and unsung performances of the year was when he played a mentally disturbed Native American in the moody drama Jimmy P. Check out the trailer below.
Del Toro's actually got an amazing lineup of upcoming films, including Inherent Vice, the cartel drama Sicario, the Pablo Escobar thriller Paradise Lost and the next Terrence Malick film. But Marvel no doubt signed Del Toro to one of those multiple-film deals. While you hope they don't block his involvement in any future movies (he's basically finished shooting all of these), they should maximize their involvement with Del Toro as soon as possible. The fans want Thanos because he's a "big bad," but his role in Guardians Of The Galaxy didn't sway anyone who was on the fence. But it's impossible to come away from Taneleer Tivan and think this isn't a character, and an actor, we need to see many more times in the onscreen Marvel universe.