The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a new juggernaut in the film industry and pop culture as a whole. Because of this, they are very influential in the modern discussions about science and speculative fiction, as well as social justice. The 2014 space-opera from Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy, tackles issues of transhuman personhood, ethical responsibility, and political extremism. It is a first in many respects for Marvel Studios. Beyond the obvious introduction to the greater Marvel cosmology, this film is also the first Marvel film with a female head writer (Nicole Perlman) and featuring two POC leads (Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista). While these are indeed improvements for the genre, James Gunn had top billing during the film’s release as writer/director, while the main character was still played by a white guy named Chris, while the POC leads are in constant makeup as alien humanoids. So, there is still a lot of room for improvement for the studio as a whole.
Within the film, several traditional sci-fi and superhero genre tropes are presented and played with to an effective degree. Two of the main characters have obvious mechanical implants which enhance their natural forms, and, in the case of Rocket, cause immense emotional, if not physical trauma. The character of Nebula is also presented as very inhuman due to her mechanical implants, surviving bazooka blasts and easily detatching limbs to make her escape. All of her lines are spoken without emotion, and create an unnerving perspective on the loss of personality that comes with transhuman implants. Similar questions of human augmentation are brought up in the shorts stories we read in class such as the Runner of n-Vamana.
Humanity is actually presented in a very interesting way, given that there is only one biologically human character in the film as a whole, and it is revealed that he actually has nonhuman ancestry as well. Characters treated as people, with proper empathy and regard for their personhood, include, but are not limited to: A 7-foot tall animated tree, an earth raccoon elevated through otherworldly technology, a cyan cyborg, an ever living eccentric loner from the dawn of sentience, etc.. Interestingly, there are characters who, because of their disregard for personhood, are feared by the main characters and unnerve the audience. The primary villain, Ronan the Accuser, frequently murders those who get in his way and believes that it is within his right to destroy all life on Xandar. The anti-inks from Ink hold very similar beliefs, but lack the means to properly enact genocide. The Collector also frequently holds sentient life in his collections, which ultimately leads to chaos from this careless disregard. His character is similar to the narrator of the Semplica Girls Diaries, in that sentient life is considered just a symbol of status and success.
Within and around this film are important things to consider in the context of science and speculative fiction. While it may just seem like a fun film about space-ships, aliens, and magical technology, deeper themes about humanity and important discussions about Hollywood casting and representation are presented to an audience who wishes to look for them.