Last time, we talked about how the newest addition to the Guardians of the Galaxy movies had a decent script but suffers from tone issues, mostly regarding how the film treats Gamora’s death. The Guardians had just broken into a space station, hoping to find a way to bypass a device that is keeping them from healing Rocket’s wounds which he received from the mysterious Adam Warlock.
They break into the station and manage to steal Rocket’s records, but the code that would allow them to bypass Rocket’s kill switch has been removed. However, the records also show the Guardians the face of the man who took the code, and presumably, he has transferred it inside his own hard drive since he’s part machine. They realize the man is an underling for the notorious High Evolutionary, who is known for creating entire races. It should also be noted that the Sovereign, Adam Warlock’s race, was created by the High Evolutionary, and it is also revealed that Adam and his mother have been hired by him to find Rocket. So, when the Guardians rush off to the planet where the High Evolutionary is located, Adam and his mom are right behind them thanks to Gamora, who because of Peter’s insistence that she really is the old Gamora somewhere deep inside, tries to contact the Ravagers so she can leave the ship. Adam and his mom intercept this message and begin the chase.
There are several problems with this sequence. First, there is no real reason for the High Evolutionary’s underling to keep Rocket’s code. The idea is that the High Evolutionary wanted to use the records to bait the Guardians—and Rocket—to him, but he had no way of knowing that the Guardians would assume the man would transfer the data rather than delete it. If they’d assumed that the records were wiped, the movie would be over, and why didn’t the High Evolutionary just meet them at the space station if he knew they would be there? Furthermore, how did he know they would be there? Why did he infer that Peter would know to look for the factory that manufactured Rocket’s parts, and how did he know the severity of Rocket’s wounds? Adam Warlock shot the raccoon in the chest, so why didn’t Adam think Rocket was dead, or why didn’t the High Evolutionary assume the kill switch would finish the raccoon off since he built the switch in the first place? The villain’s semi-divine intuition is basically used to speed up the plot, but there really is no reason to think that the High Evolutionary or Adam Warlock would know that Rocket was still alive. And here’s another question? If Adam Warlock knew he was supposed to capture Rocket, then why did he shoot the raccoon in the chest to begin with? Adam might be a childish creature, but he still had orders.
Flashbacks and Emotional Currency
With all questions spinning in one’s brain, why wouldn’t it be surprising if someone asked why this movie is any good? Well, the main reason is because of the flashbacks. Whatever emotional currency was robbed from Peter was given to Rocket. We see Rocket as a baby raccoon, we see him make friends with various animals that have also been experimented on, specifically an Otter who calls herself Lylla. These scenes rip your heart out and stomp on it. Rocket befriends these creatures as he learns from the High Evolutionary, and when it’s revealed that the High Evolutionary isn’t going to release them and let them live on what he calls Counter-Earth, Rocket tries to help his friends escape, but they are all killed. Only Rocket survives, and from then on, is tormented by the loss of his friends.
As a side note, the High Evolutionary’s motivations are very interesting. He has a god complex, and when Rocket helps him solve a problem with his creatures, rather than thanking the raccoon, the High Evolutionary becomes enraged, bordering on hysterics. The notion of a lower life form having an idea he didn’t consider terrifies him. In fact, the implication is that Rocket’s discovery is part of the reason why the High Evolutionary orders Rocket and his friends murdered when he does. And the reason he wants Rocket returned to him is that he believes that he needs whatever sparked Rocket’s intuition to truly complete his creations and bring about his utopian Earth.
The High Evolutionary is one of the more fascinating villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and his god complex becomes his undoing. Plus, the actor who portrayed the High Evolutionary, Chukwudi Iwuji, did a fantastic job. I’d argue that he accomplished the rather difficult task of portraying a manic and obsessive antagonist without putting on a melodramatic performance.
As weird as it was watching all these cybernetic woodland creatures interact, I have to say the flashbacks of Rocket’s past are by far the best parts in the film. They’re coherent, and the last flashback is particularly gripping, so I’ll give the movie props for pulling the viewer’s heartstrings so effectively. I just wish they’d put in the same effort when it came to helping Peter comes to terms with Gamora’s death.
Once Peter and the others land on Counter-Earth, they have their initial face-off with the High Evolutionary. Peter and Groot enter his ship. He happens to be expecting them, but he doesn’t expect Peter’s escape plan. In the end, Peter manages to retrieve the code from the underling’s head and is able to use it to bypass Rocket’s kill switch. It’s a close call—and there is one more heartbreaking scene with Rocket and Lylla when the raccoon has a Near-Death Experience—but the kill switch is dismantled, and Peter and Gamora are able to save Rocket’s life. However, because the Guardians are a rather independent bunch, nobody else follows Peter’s orders, so while Groot, Peter, and Gamora all end up safe on their own ship, Nebula, Mantis, and Drax find themselves on the High Evolutionary’s ship just as the villain leaves Counter-Earth and destroys the very planet he created because it wasn’t good enough.
Where the Script Failed
This was another problem with the script. The death of an entire race of creatures is given a few passing lines of disapproval, but the real impact of such a devastating loss of life isn’t explored. Some of the destroyed creatures actually help the Guardians find the High Evolutionary, but there is no mention of them or their children when the planet explodes. Again, this made the movie feel shallow.
On top of that, Adam’s mother is killed in the explosion, and Adam barely escapes the devastation by landing on the Guardian’s ship. James Gunn doesn’t bother showing Adam’s reaction to watching his mother’s demise. Adam is simply tied up inside the Guardian’s ship until the plot needs him again. It really is amazing to me that James Gunn knew how to pull the heartstrings of the viewer when it came to Rocket’s past, but for some reason, he did almost everything imaginable to ignore the emotional state of the rest of the cast. For the life of me, I don’t understand why. James Gunn clearly knows how to write emotional scenes, and spending time reflecting on the various events which transpire in a film would help raise the stakes. He had plenty to gain and nothing lose by slowing down to dwell on everything that was happening. We’ll discuss the conclusion of the film in the next review.