Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – The 10th Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie – Directed by James Gunn – Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Glenn Close, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Alex Denisof, Ophelia Lovibond, Peter Serafinowicz, Gregg Henry, Laura Haddock, Alex Denisof, Josh Brolin, Lloyd Kaufman, Nathan Fillion, Rob Zombie, Seth Green, and Stan Lee.
Welcome to a series of specific, character-based reactions to the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movie. You can read the review of the GUARDIANS movie here, and you can read all of my superhero movie reviews (and the specific character reactions to Marvel’s The Avengers) right here.
“They wanted to eat you!” Yondu to Peter Quill. Twice.
Yondu Udontu (Michael Rooker) is a small but important cog in the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY machine. With his blue skin, red mohawk, and bad teeth, Yondu’s unmistakable presence signifies you’re about to experience a Plot Device. For a movie with a ton of movie parts flying all over the place, it’s the scheming Yondu – mostly calm, mostly smiling, but ready to blow at a moment’s notice – that is repeatedly used to propel the movie forward.
Back in 1988, after the death of Peter Quill’s mother, it’s Yondu and his crew of Ravagers that abducts young Peter and brings him to space. We don’t see these early years of Quill’s life among the Ravagers, as the film jumps us ahead to the moment where Peter (Chris Pratt) is ready to betray Yondu by stealing an orb that the Ravagers have been hired to acquire for an unknown client. We see the betrayal over a video call, as Quill tells Yondu he decided to stop by and steal the orb from Morag since he was “in the neighborhood.”
Sensing that Quill is double-crossing him, Yondu reminds the now grown man that when he picked him up, the Ravagers “wanted to eat you” and that he was only alive “because of me!” That Peter is unmoved by this line of reasoning tells you that life with Yondu and the Ravagers hasn’t been an awesome experience, though we can plainly see it has taught him the skills he needs to make it on his own. It’s certainly not a move Peter makes because he’s found his inner hero, but because he’s simply had it with Yondu.
Not one to let a big score pass him by, Yondu heads to Morag anyway, looking for clues, and finds out that someone else was there, too. He puts a bounty out on Peter, but with the clear message that this it’s for his capture, not his death. An old Ravager accuses Yondu of being soft and that he’s always been too soft on the boy.
Writers James Gunn and Nicole Perlman do a really nice job of laying in Yondu’s backstory. By the end of the film, we know that Yondu was hired by Peter’s unnamed father to find the boy and bring him home. Yondu found the kid but decided to keep him and raise him among his group of pirates, but at this early stage, we don’t know that. We only know that Yondu is responsible for abducting Peter from Earth. There’s some lip service given to the idea that Yondu is Peter’s father, but it’s not believably done; Peter’s mother claims his dad was “an angel,” and there’s not much angelic about Yondu, in appearance or action.
Yondu’s bounty is what brings Rocket and Groot into Quill’s life, though they’re happy to forego that money in light of the much bigger score Peter promises them if Rocket can help them escape prison and sell the orb to Gamora’s buyer.
Not one to sit around and wait for life to come to him, Yondu and the Ravagers track down Quill, as well, and it must be said that Yondu has assembled quite an armada of pirates. It’s this armada that makes Yondu important to the back-half of the film. He tracks Quill and the others to Knowhere, a decapitated head of a Celestial that know serves as a mining colony/wretched hive of scum and villainy. It’s where the Collector (Benicio del Toro) operates from, and he’s Gamora’s mysterious buyer. (Taneleer Tivan was already given one Infinity Stone at the end of THOR: THE DARK WORLD by Lady Sif and Volstagg and is looking to add to his collection. Because that’s what he does. It’s right there in the name.) Yondu’s presence of Knowhere is needed to add some urgency to the plot and to play hero when Ronan’s forces attack at the same time.
Gamora (Zoe Saldana) ends up floating in space, and so Peter jumps out to save her, calling in Yondu to come pick them up.
Its aboard Yondu’s ship where the Guardians officially become bonded together. They get matching leather outfits (thanks to the Ravagers) but the name comes later. Peter convinces them to join together both because stopping Ronan is good for the galaxy and because Yondu has had to be convinced that they have a plan to steal the orb back from the Kree fanatic. Yondu agrees to commit his men to the operation, but only if he gets the orb when it’s all over.
Yondu represents the selfish thief that Peter is disconnecting himself from; in order to become a hero, Peter needs to not be Yondu, but there is more sentiment in the pirate than he’d like to admit. Once we learn the truth, that Yondu abducted Peter for the boy’s dad but then kept him because the dad was a dick, it’s easy to go back and read Yondu’s anger at Peter’s betrayal as not just about the money but about Peter turning away from him. His line about wanting Peter captured so “I can kill him myself” rings partially false, as well. When Yondu rescues Peter and Gamora, he comes back to the, “They wanted to eat you! They ain’t ever tasted Terran before! I saved you!” line and Peter lets him know enough’s enough with that. Yondu is pissed (he might have more emotions than he’d like to let on, but he’s not Cliff Huxtable), and uses his whistle-controlled arrow to threaten Peter’s life.
Whether he would actually have gone through with it or not is debatable, and that helps make Yondu a more interesting character. It’s not a stretch to think he used a few hands-on correctional techniques on Peter growing up, but he’s also practical enough to not let his emotions get the better of him. When he becomes convinced that Gamora’s knowledge of Ronan’s operation might pay off, he’s willing to roll the dice and give it a shot, his love for the big score outstripping any affection for his crew or his own life.
Yondu’s whistle-controlled arrow makes for a pretty cool visual, but it also adds a nice bit of old school comic book to the mix. Peter’s got his weird looking mask, but other than Groot, everyone else in the movie relies on old-fashioned hitting and kicking and shooting and stabbing to win their fights. It’s nice to see someone with something more unique and visual. Yondu is sidelined during the big battle between the Ravagers and Ronan’s forces, which allows for him to have a Wild West showdown with some ground troops that amounts to whistling his arrow through a dozen or so enemy troops, killing them without them ever getting off a shot.
He does come to collect the Stone at the end, and Quill gives it to him, only it’s not really the Infinity Stone in the orb, but a small, troll figurine that Peter had brought with him in his backpack when he’d been abducted. Peter makes Yondu promise not to open the orb, but of course the pirate does, and when he finds the troll instead of the Stone, he’s amused instead of angry.
Certainly, Yondu must have expected a double-cross because that’s likely what he taught Peter to do in such a situation, but you can see in Yondu’s decision to first take the orb, and then later to open it as his crew partied around him, that he knew the Stone wasn’t going to be inside. That Peter gave him a troll plays into Yondu’s love of putting small figurines on his dashboard, but it’s also important because the troll is a piece of Peter’s pre-Yondu life. It’s an emotional gift but the way it’s given and the fact that it’s the kind of thing Yondu collects allows both Quill and Yondu to not have to acknowledge those emotions.
It’s that love of trinkets that creates the most quintessential Yondu scene in the movie. He arrives on Xandar to get information out of the Broker, the man who was going to pay him for delivering the orb. Yondu is looking at a blue-jeweled trinket in a case, saying how much he loves these things and how he likes to line them up on his dashboard. The Broker’s response is to comment, “I can’t tell if you’re joking or not.”
That’s Yondu in a nutshell. He’ll give you the truth and you won’t believe it, just as much as you’ll believe whatever lie he’s spinning. It’s a calculated posture on Yondu’s part, mix the real with the bluster long enough and few people will ever be able to tell the difference.
It all becomes part of the Yondu experience.
I love Yondu’s character and Michael Rooker’s performance. Rooker has been saying all over the place that Gunn wrote Yondu specifically for him, and it shows, because Yondu plays into what Rooker does best: the morally-challenged, but not morally-empty, mostly bad guy who sometimes acts like the good guy. There’s a lot to that sentence, just like like there’s a lot to Yondu Udontu, and Rooker is able to make it all seem like pieces of the whole rather than a character who simply does what the plot requires.
When Peter and the Guardians are sitting in his ship at the end of the movie and Peter wonders about what they should do next, he frames it as, “Something good? Something bad? A bit of both?”
Whether he’s doing it consciously or not, Peter perfectly describes the man who raised him. What makes Peter different from Yondu, what allows him to escape his father figure’s shadow is not that he rejects Yondu or his way of life, but that he simply puts a rosier spin on things.
The Complete Box of GUARDIANS Reactions
1. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: Ain’t No Thing Like Me Except Me
2. GOTG: The YONDU Reaction
3. GOTG: The NEBULA Reaction
4. GOTG: The KORATH Reaction
5. GOTG: The GROOT Reaction
6. GOTG: The CORPSMAN DEY Reaction
7. GOTG: The NOVA PRIME Reaction
8. GOTG: The RONAN Reaction
9. GOTG: The DRAX Reaction
10. GOTG: The COLLECTOR Reaction
11. GOTG: The GAMORA Reaction
12. GOTG: The STAR-LORD Reaction
13. GOTG: The ROCKET Reaction