Ayesha, High Priestess of The Sovereign sits on an opulent throne, boasting of the perfect evolutionary state reached by her species. The Sovereign are covered in gold, from their clothing and skin all the way down to their eyes. In sharp contrast to the supercilious society and their conceited leader stands the Guardians of the Galaxy, a damaged group of misfits barely keeping it together. It’s one thing to create an ensemble as engaging as this, but it’s another to know where to place them.
Lucky for us, James Gunn knows exactly what he’s doing.
The messy dynamic of these imperfect heroes is why the original space opera worked so well back in 2014, and Gunn is wise enough to use new scenarios to deepen and expand on what was previously established. The plot this time is fairly straightforward, garnished with a gleeful weirdness, yet always in service to its characters and themes. Its ambitions are internal despite its planet-sized special effects, so the expected references to infinity stones and the road to Infinity War are minimal.
Allusions to Thanos are included solely to flesh out the sibling rivalry between Gamora and Nebula, while doing a hell of a lot more to establish him as an intimidating presence than his physical appearance in the last movie did. The sisters are given little room to develop individually, but are captivating as a duo, with a backstory that would be fascinating to see in full.
The following is a piece I wrote for Audiences Everywhere as part of a feature they ran in March. The third month of this year is trilogy month for AE, with various interesting pieces being written about different three-film sagas and thematic trilogies, from the original Star Wars series to John Carpenter’s apocalypse trilogy. Here’s mine, articulating some thoughts I’ve had about Steve Roger’s relationship with his own symbolism across the three Captain America movies.
Iconicity is the relationship of similarity between the two sides of a symbol—its form and its meaning. The closer the form and meaning are to one another, the more memorable the symbol is likely to be. An iconic symbol is one whose form resembles its meaning in some way; the opposite of this iconicity is arbitrariness. The red and white stripes, star, and ‘A’ of Captain America’s costume is pretty clear as to what it represents, but the man is less clear. Part of the difficulty of communication and judgement through language is the physical world’s resistance to being reduced to the same rules. The costume can be evaluated by this standard, but with a man wearing it, humanity will often fail to settle between the lines that are drawn in linguistics.
While his fame may not have spread far from the domain of comic book fandom until mainstream audiences saw him in Captain America: The First Avenger, and to a greater extent The Avengers, Captain America is an iconic character in popular culture. Whether his image, wearing the stripes and stars of the American flag, incites a positive or negative reaction to the uninitiated, it’s an undeniably recognisable one. While a simple idea, the connotations of a human being a symbol of a country and its ideals are complex.
Is Steve Rogers embodying the spirit of a nation that only exists in the imaginations of his creators and audience? Is what we see an idealised version of what we would like to believe is true? And within the pages of the comic, how does he function as a human being when he is representative of something abstract? Steve Rogers didn’t develop his symbolic status intentionally as Batman does, nor is that symbolism one of destiny as with Superman. Steve Rogers’s path to becoming Captain America is one of choice working within and often in opposition to the boundaries set by military, government and other authoritative forces.
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There’s been much of talk of “superhero fatigue” recently. As far as I see it, the superhero film is the popular idea of the moment, and while some people are bored of it, most seem to be okay with it. Either way, it’s undeniable that we see more superheroes on the big screen with every passing year. The success of Marvel Studios’ Cinematic Universe has boosted the confidence studios have in their properties, and we’re getting films based on comic books that didn’t even sell that well in the first place. But as these franchises live on past their sequels, prequels, spin-offs, and shared-universe outings, they are finding themselves in uncharted waters. When it comes to what’s canonical to the ongoing narrative and how both the creators and the audience think of continuity film-to-film, we’re through the looking glass. There’s really only one medium that is comparable, and that is, unsurprisingly, the comic book.
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I wrote a full (and non-spoiler) review of the movie for The Cinemachina, you can read it here.
Civil War came out here last week, but in the lead-up to its release in the U.S. today I’ve been part of a series of articles on Marvel comics and Captain America over at Audiences Everywhere. The ones I contributed to were: