The Marvel Moment

At the end of this month, Avengers: Endgame will bring to a head Marvel’s decade-long experiment in shared-universe storytelling. To mark the occasion, The A.V. Club is revisiting all 21 movies in this mega-franchise through a single, significant scene in each: not the best or most memorable scene, necessarily, but the one that says something about the MCU as an ongoing blockbuster phenomenon. This is The Marvel Moment.

By the time James Gunn’s Guardians Of The Galaxy rolled around, 10 installments deep into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was abundantly clear that these movies had developed a villain problem. Loki is always a blast, sure, but that just underscores how painfully dull characters like Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian from Iron Man 3 and Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith from Thor: The Dark World really are. If the heroes were fun and alive with personality, more often than not, their adversaries at this point were just brick walls meant to be smashed. Guardians Of The Galaxy runs into this problem head-on in a scene between two brick walls, as Lee Pace’s Ronan The Accuser gets into an argument with Josh Brolin’s Thanos—years before an entire movie was dedicated to fleshing out the Mad Titan as a thoughtful and compelling villain.

The scene involves Thanos summoning Ronan to the big space rock we last saw in the stinger from The Avengers so he can yell at him for losing Gamora and “the orb” (an object that is later revealed to be an Infinity Stone). Ronan, who is essentially a religious fanatic who decided that everyone in the universe should be punished for disrespecting his all-mighty Kree race, needs Thanos’ help to… do something bad. It’s actually unclear why Thanos is involved, which is one of the problems with the scene. Another is that both Pace and Brolin play the characters as little more than growling tough guys, so it’s about as exciting as one villain saying, “Don’t fuck with me,” and the other saying, “No, you don’t fuck with me.”

Pace is a fantastic performer (it’s outrageous that this is the MCU role he’s stuck with), and Brolin proved years later that he can do some interesting stuff with Thanos. But neither one does much of anything here. It doesn’t help that they’re in what could be the least interesting location in all of the MCU, with Thanos’ intimidating throne little more than flying chunks of stone attached to rockets so they make a chair shape. It’s bizarre, especially when taken alongside everything else in Gunn’s film. Guardians Of The Galaxy is a fun movie, and virtually everything else about it is at least reasonably entertaining. Two of the main characters are a gun-toting raccoon with a bad attitude and his talking tree buddy. The film opens with Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord singing along to “Come And Get Your Love.” And there’s a general breeziness to the dialogue that allows low-key jokes like everyone’s refusal to use the name “Star-Lord” feel more natural than, say, a very similar gag in Ant-Man.

To be fair, it’s not entirely Guardians Of The Galaxy’s fault that Pace’s Ronan The Accuser is such a bore. That’s entirely consistent with his characterization in the comics, where he began as a standard cackling villain but eventually grew into a perpetually straight-faced space cop. Also, one could argue that his absolute seriousness works as a good setup for how gobsmacked he is by Star-Lord, Rocket, and the other goofballs who eventually defeat him in the end. But it’s not really worth having the fun sucked out of every room he enters.

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Then there’s Thanos, who had already been established as the main villain of the MCU at this point, meaning his brief appearance here is supposed to be a tease for bigger things to come. The wait for those bigger things was long, with another eight movies coming between Guardians Of The Galaxy and Infinity War, but it’s probably a good thing that Marvel had so much time to work out who Thanos is supposed to be. Here, the only indication that he has a personality is when he flashes Ronan a smile after sending him off with his tail between his legs. Speaking of Ronan, time has not been nearly as kind to him: When he popped up as a younger Accuser in Captain Marvel, he was somehow even less interesting.