Guardians of the Galaxy just made about $94 million in its opening weekend, which means you've probably seen it. You've also probably noticed that people are talking about the movie. A LOT. But there's one character who doesn't get talked about as much as she should -- Gamora. Oh, sure, people are talking about her, but the focus that talk has taken has kind of missed some of the best parts of the character's journey and where she fits into the Guardians' story as a whole.
If you haven't seen Guardians yet, be advised that we're about to dive into quite a few plot points from the movie, so SPOILERS AHEAD. OK? Cool.
First things first: Let's address some criticisms -- and they are out there -- that have been batted around about Gamora, namely that her personality softens too quickly, that she's too into Peter Quill and that she comes off as a bit of a sex object.
Gamora's personality shift
At the beginning of Guardians, Gamora is a hard-as-nails assassin who will kill someone just as soon as she'd look at them twice. By the end of the movie, she is part of a team of misfits she calls friends. To wit -- she's probably not going to kill her newfound buddies.
So does that change happen quickly? Yes, it does. But this potential flaw in story pacing is not singular to Gamora. To the contrary, several other Guardians are also infected with the "very-fast-transition" bug. Both Rocket and Drax go from characters who are killers first, and everything else second, to very emotional pals who will selflessly sacrifice their own safety for the wellbeing of others. In the case of Rocket, we literally go from a snarky smart-mouth to crying in the span of about an hour. And, yes, you could argue that's a pretty fast turnaround.
So why are we judging Gamora more than these other characters? If she were the only character to have a speedy evolution, then sure, we could argue that this was an example of a badass character softening primarily because she happens to be a woman. But in this case most of our character lineup takes a similar fast-paced journey.
Gamora and Star-Lord, Sitting in a Tree
Some people cringed when Peter placed his headphones on Gamora's ears and tried to dance with her. They definitely seem like they might have a moment, but then what happens? She decks him! We wind up in a similar situation later when Peter saves Gamora from the empty vacuum of space. He tries to make a move, Gamora rebuffs him.
By the end of the movie, does it seem like Gamora and Peter could maybe have a romance someday? Yeah. Maybe. But they don't have a romantic subplot in this movie. In fact, the movie makes fun of romantic subplots. Repeatedly.
So what's the criticism here? That Gamora might be a little sweet on Peter Quill? Have you seen Chris Pratt? Have you not written some fan fiction in your head where you and he make it happen? If not, you are made of a sturdier stuff than I, friend. His shape is a nice shape, and if Gamora is a little into that, I, for one, am not going to blame her.
Gamora as Sex Object
Zoe Saldana -- she's pretty. But does that mean any character she plays is automatically a sex object? No, right? We would all be crazy to say that, yes? To do so would make us the sexists. So what confounds me about this criticism is that Gamora is never objectified in Guardians of the Galaxy. Yes, Peter obviously finds her attractive, but that's played off as a joke. Quill is a little bit of a dirty bird, and we are expected to laugh at him, not with him, about that fact. And from a visual storytelling perspective, the camera never lingers on Saldana's body in a sexual way.
The closest we get to Gamora-as-pretty-woman is at the end of the movie when she is wearing a flattering skirt. And while, for a moment, I confess I thought, "Why is Gamora wearing a skirt right now?", the answer is pretty obvious: She's wearing that skirt because it's super cute and she looks good in it! A female character wearing something she likes for her own sake does not a sex object make.
So, with those criticisms out of the way, let's talk about what makes Gamora's journey so exceptional in modern theatrical storytelling.
Gamora Drives the Plot
If Guardians were a road trip (and, in many ways, it is that kind of movie) and Star-Lord the wheel man, then Gamora would be the navigator. Peter Quill may be the one who first finds the Infinity Gem, but his entire plot up until that point is "find thing and get paid." Likewise, both Rocket and Groot have a similar plot arc -- "find bounty and get paid."
It's Gamora's motivations and how she acts on them that set our movie and its characters on course. When Gamora betrays Thanos and Ronan, she sets into motion everything that happens afterward. When our team has to get out of jail, it's Gamora who tells them where they need to go once they've escaped. Without Gamora, the Guardians would not have a reason to remain a team. Without Gamora, Ronan wins. Short version -- no Gamora, no movie.
Gamora vs. Other Female Leads
You might not think Gamora having such a big impact on Guardians' narrative is that big a deal, but it's notable because a female character leading the action is pretty rare in popular media.
Let's look at Scarlett Johansson's new movie, Lucy, for example. Lucy is clearly the main character in that movie, and yet the plot results from her being kidnapped and attacked. Without the plot acting upon Lucy first, there is no story.
Female characters as reactive participants in their own story have become the norm in movies. Heck, even the events of the Hunger Games begin with Katniss being presented with a Sophie's Choice (let your sister die or sacrifice yourself). Yes, Katniss has a choice, but it ain't much of one. She's still largely reactive.
Gamora is not forced to act. Yes, at some point in her past, her parents were murdered. But that's not Gamora's story in Guardians of the Galaxy, that's what happens before the movie even begins. Gamora's story is "The world is in danger and I am choosing to try and prevent disaster."
Nobody makes Gamora do anything. And that is exceptional.
Is Gamora a perfect representation for all women everywhere? No. But that does not negate all the great and honorable things she does represent. It does not negate that she kicks a lot of ass, does what's right, doesn't have a problem with recognizing when a dumb guy still kinda cute, and can rock a cute skirt.
In short -- Gamora is awesome and there ought to be more female characters like her in movies. Get on it, Hollywood.