So earlier this morning, the new teaser trailer for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was released. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from the sequel to arguably the most unexpected success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In many ways, it follows the clearly effective formula of the first-ever Guardians trailer back in 2014. It’s full of action-packed sequences, light-hearted irreverent humour and is set to a classic 70’s rock hit.
Check it out above if you haven’t already! Don’t worry, we’ll wait.
So, yay, right? To no one’s surprise, Baby Groot looks to be stealing the show with his adorable earnestness. This teaser trailer naturally gives us a little bit more to work with compared with the sneak peak that was released about a month ago. We know that there’s some terrifyingly monstrous space creatures to contend with, and that there’s an atomic bomb, which Baby Groot insists on detonating prematurely.
But the real revelation should be the first appearance of Pom Klementieff as Mantis at the end of the teaser trailer. It was earlier revealed by director James Gunn on Twitter that the MCU version of Mantis would actually be based on her original comics intoduction from the 1970s as a Vietnamese woman, instead of the green-skinned alien appearance that she eventually took on in the late 1980s. She held onto her green-skinned form for the rest of her comic appearances, including when she joined the latest comic iteration of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
— James Gunn (@JamesGunn) July 15, 2016
So you can imagine my surprise when we got a pale-skinned Mantis, but with significantly more alien features even by her comic book standards. Her antennae look like they came out of Star Trek’s Andorian race (or the Aenar from Enterprise to be more specific), and those eyes… I’ll talk more about those eyes later.
But before I do that, let me contextualise this by referring to Gunn’s Facebook post on International Day of the Girl back in October where he said, among other things, this:
“And I can’t wait for you all to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, with Gamora, Nebula, and Mantis in action, where we not only pass the Bechdel test, but run over it and back up over it again and again in an eighteen-wheeler truck, and where their stories and the men’s stories don’t come at the expense of each other, but are interwoven in a way to strengthen and optimize all of them.”
Well, Gunn, I think it’s only fair that if you want to say stuff like that, then it means you’re asking to be held to a higher level of scrutiny. So while I’m really glad to see Mantis in the MCU, I have a few reservations about the teaser trailer in general:
1. Is Mantis our first Asian superhero ?
For one thing, we have yet not had a single Asian superhero on the big screen, yet. Yes, we’ve seen Dr. Helen Cho (Claudia Kim) in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and we have Daisy “Quake” Johnson (Chloe Bennet) and Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but Mantis could very well have been the first with powers in a movie.
Yet, with her rather alien appearance, I’m not sure if it’s fair to consider her an Asian superhero. In fact, that might be a good thing, considering James Gunn has seen fit to give her massive pupils – which she didn’t have in the comics – which have the unfortunate side-effect of making her look like an anime character.
At least, I hope it was an unintentional side-effect. Because if James Gunn plans on turning Mantis (whose comic book portrayal already is arguably a yellow fever white male fantasy) into some full-blown magical anime girl fantasy, I would have nothing left to say, except to be relieved that at least her costume isn’t revealing.
2. What is up with Gamora not getting any lines?
The teaser trailer also reveals that Mantis will be pretty much embracing her comic-book role as the Guardians’ counselor, using her powers of empathy to help the Guardians and their extreme personalities to work together better. How does the teaser trailer portray this ability? By once again hitting us over the head with the fact that Star-Lord lusts after Gamora, which we’ve known since forever.
In fact, if you permit me the hypothesis that Star-Lord is some projection/extension of Gunn’s psyche, then what does that say about Gamora’s consistent appearances as sexy and silent? In the 2014 trailer, she was even topless at one point, for crying out loud. (Thankfully, the scene was cut out of the movie.)
This all seems to be very contradictory to what Gunn said in another part of the Facebook post quoted earlier:
“I am sick of stories where there are a bunch of fully realized male characters and one female character, whose primary characteristic is simply being “the girl” or the personality-less object of some man’s affections. I’m not sick of this because I’m politically correct – those of you who know me know I am far from that – but because it’s boring, and it’s b.s”
In fact, Gamora is the only character to have never uttered a single sound in any trailer so far, since 2014. In this latest teaser trailer, though, it is particularly noticeable, since just about everyone else has lines, even Mantis! The only time we see her on her own is when she’s making a dramatic leap in battle. Her only other major appearance is to react to Mantis and Star-Lord’s interaction by blushing with amusement and then looking down. REALLY!? This is how you portray the galaxy’s most feared assassin?
This is also two-for-two, in case you were counting, where in both the sneak peak and the teaser trailer, you have characters talking about Gamora, and in particular, Star-Lord’s attraction to her.
(And just in case you want to suggest that the direction of this teaser trailer was out of James Gunn’s hands, this THR piece reveals that he’s intricately involved with all the trailers that have been released.)
So, while it may be harsh to judge a movie by its trailer, and a teaser trailer at that… I’m going to need Gunn to give me a lot more before I can convince myself that Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is going to mark an improvement for female characters in superhero movies and the MCU in particular. Because right now, none of his trailers have passed the Bechdel-Wallace test, and passing that is not even close to a minimum standard these days.