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. 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. One note – I have watched the movie twice but we’re working on a week since I’ve seen it last so it is entirely possible (but completely unintentional) that I might get a quote or two wrong. If I do, I can only apologize and ask that you feel free to correct me. Thanks.
“I do remember your wife and child.” – Ronan to Drax
Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) is a Kree fanatic, a man who believes the Kree present has been weakened by a failure to adhere to the beliefs of the Kree’s past. There has been much talk around the internet concerning the lackluster quality of the villains in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, a stance I can sort of understand, but also reject on the grounds that this film’s villains give GUARDIANS exactly what the film needs to be successful.
And while that might not be the only thing, it is the most important.
I wonder if the performances of Tom Hiddleston as Loki in various Marvel Cinematic Universe movies has set the bar unfairly high when it comes to super villains. Not every villain is going to turn into a character that’s more interesting than the various leads he shares scenes with. Loki is as unique a villain as there is, being the half-brother of his nemesis and a particularly gifted schemer. Of all the villains in either the Marvel or DC universes, Loki sits at the top of the heap in terms of one’s ability to steal scenes and become a fully realized star in his own right. As great as villains like Kang, Ultron, Thanos, the Penguin, Kingpin, Dr. Doom, Darkseid, Galactus, etc. are, Loki doesn’t hide behind a mask or rely on some physical quirk. And where Loki has it over characters like Ra’s al Ghul or Lex Luthor is that he has a long history of having his crimes being forgiven by his nemesis.
Compared to Hiddleston’s Loki, Lee Pace’s Ronan does fall a bit flat, but which villain doesn’t. Loki has killed a whole mess of regular people, after all, yet there he is at Comic Con receiving massive applause. And it’s not just people cheering for Hiddleston, either, because Hiddleston has received this applause while appearing in character. You’re not going to see Hall H go nuts if Marvel sends out the Red Skull or the Mandarin. Unlike the scheming, preening Loki, there is zero chance Ronan is going to become an internet superstar. There will be no memes devoted to how handsome he is, no posters the display him cuddling with Star-Lord, no clamoring for him to have his own movie.
Yet, in terms of giving the film what it needs, Ronan does exactly the same job that Loki does in the THOR movies by providing the proper balance. Where Thor is serious, heroic, honorable, muscular, and dull, Loki balances that off by being a trickster, villainous, deceitful, thin, and gregarious. The same dynamic is at play in GUARDIANS, where you have heroes who are largely committed only to themselves, at first. They’re wanderers. Star-Lord is looking to break away from Yondu, but it appears to be an act of going solo more than a change in his life’s direction. More of the same, that is, just with less people to split the profits of ill-gotten gains. Rocket and Groot are bounty hunters, dedicated to acquiring the next paycheck. Gamora is trapped in a life she doesn’t want, and it’s Ronan’s decision to acquire the orb that gets her to betray him. Drax is committed to a cause – revenge for his wife and child – but can’t look past himself, and Ronan is used to demonstrate that no matter how bad-ass Drax is, he’s far from the toughest dude in the universe.
In contrast, Ronan is an old school, religious fanatic who is totally committed to a cause. He has that singular, bigger-than-himself purpose that the Guardians mostly lack. No, he’s not complicated, but the individual Guardians are complicated enough and what they need, for narrative balance, isn’t a Loki who can outshine and out-complicate them, but a hard, unshakable entity that first reveals their weaknesses and then gives them something to test themselves against. He’s the fire for their forge, as it were.
I didn’t need anything else from Ronan. The function of super villains is to do two things, essentially: provide a credible threat and serve as a contrast to the hero. Ronan does both of these things perfectly well.
Ronan’s other purpose in GUARDIANS is to further the background plot of Thanos (James Brolin) that’s been running through the MCU since his initial appearance at the end of AVENGERS two years ago. As with Loki, Marvel is playing a fascinating game with this film’s alleged Big Bad and the power behind the Big Bad. Loki has enough personality to be made to look weak in one scene and recover in the next, but Ronan’s initial meeting with Thanos makes him look very much like the petulant child Thanos accuses him of being.
Perhaps because of this, Ronan comes off as far more challenging of Thanos’ authority than Loki, even though he has come to Thanos for help doing what he can’t do alone – destroying Xandar. Ronan kills Thanos’ mouthpiece, The Other, in a fit of rage and demands Thanos pay attention to him. Thanos does turn around, showing off his super cool furniture, and puts his temporary ally in his place. It takes Nebula to get Ronan to walk away, but when he gains the Infinity Stone, Ronan becomes truly unhinged, yelling at Thanos over their special interstellar projection phone that he’s coming for the Titan after he destroys Xandar.
Ronan never gets to face Thanos, of course, because the Guardians defeat him on Xandar. Aboard The Dark Aster, Ronan is there to raise the stakes by being hard to kill, even from direct missile attacks, another round with Drax, and getting run over by Rocket’s spaceship. Ronan’s grim fanaticism makes him the perfect counter to Peter Quill breaking into song as a means of distraction, just as his own fervent belief in himself sells his disbelief at the ability of the Guardians to control the Infinity Stone.
There is a bit more depth to the character than initially appears, however. Notice how he wants everyone at the Kyln killed because, “we can’t have Xandar finding out what we’re up to,” but out on Knowhere, he only engages Drax because Drax is so insistent about it. It’s Drax who calls Ronan to Knowhere, but when Ronan discovers this, he simply tries to walk away. He’s not violent just to be violent, but purposefully violent. At the unspecified moment in the past, it was important to him to kill Drax’s wife and child, but now, on the verge of acquiring the orb, he doesn’t want to be bothered with one individual opponent.
The acquisition of the Infinity Stone changes him, too. It’s his religious fanaticism that drives him to want to commit genocide against Xandar, but there’s nothing religious about his decision to go to war with Thanos post-Xandar – that fight would have been based on a personal slight.
Bad guys have to lose, of course, so Ronan gets obliterated while the bigger threat of Thanos remains at large in the universe. I’m really not a fan of needlessly killing off bad guys in superhero movies, and I don’t think Ronan is anywhere near done outliving his usefulness. Given that he was pulled apart by the Infinity Stone, I’m guessing bringing him back is an easy enough task. I still think AVENGERS 3 will feature a Thanos-led Masters of Evil, with all the various bad guys from across the MCU movies brought back for a big final fight, and it would be easy for Thanos to bring Ronan back.
If this is his only appearance, though, I’m okay with it. While not the best of the Marvel villains on his own, he does provide the film with exactly what it needs to make the arc of the Guardians (as individuals and as a team) effective.
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