There be spoilers here.
I had a lot praise for Guardians of the Galaxy when I reviewed it last year, but since a recent rewatch and a watch of CinemaSins’ take on Guardians: I’ve found one thing that I really don’t like.
And that one thing is something that exists in the comics as well as the film. It doesn’t necessarily motivate the affected character in ways akin to other similarly affected super heroes, but it’s a trope that makes the rounds a lot…
Peter Quill has a deceased parent. And for parents depicted in comics, “Death by Origin Story” is something that happens far too often. And no one ever really seems to question just how much it happens. Why is it that fictional vigilantes are so often depicted like this and do creators really need to resort to this trope in order to create characters with a raison d’être? But again, Peter/Star-Lord’s situation isn’t the most severe.
But still: his mother gets very little time in the film, beyond the music tapes, and gives Peter the necessary push to run out of a hospital at just the right moment.
Her death doesn’t seem to matter
Scriptwriters are constantly told to up the stakes in their scripts, make their shizzle as dramatic as possible. While the death of Peter’s mum is a very dramatic and poignant way to open Guardians of the Galaxy, her influence over the rest of the film seems to be far more lacking than what we have happen with the likes of Superman and Batman: her death feels wasted. Sure, it does away with the key tie that Peter had to the planet Earth, but just because she dies in the comics doesn’t mean that she had to die in the film.
Generally, I don’t like the fridging of characters so as to stir them into action and shift them in an appropriately dramatic direction. There are a few instances where I’ll accept it, because so much is made of it, but what happens in GG… There’s two music tapes and a flashback that drives Peter to hold hands with people while he fights being disintegrated by an Infinity Stone. Oh, and running out of a hospital.
Rather than following a path similar to the comics, we could have had a film where a super hero runs out on his mum after having an argument. Instead, Peter is (despite his alien abductors) an orphan of sorts, never really getting to know his parents as a child.
The wider issue
The parental deaths I only just accept is those of the parents of Superman and Batman, but this is unwillingly. But there are so many orphans in comics and films (and a lot of wider SF/fantasy/YA novels) that it does seem really over used. And not just that, it often glamorises being an orphan, which is uncomfortable when you consider even the UK’s statistics for children that go through our care system: research from 2011 (link opens PDF) indicated that up to half of the young people who go through our nation’s care system end up in young offender institutions.
Apart from the need for drama, as described above, why else would writers feel compelled to give characters this background? It’s at this point that I want to blame the literary heritage that we inherited from the likes of Charles Dickens. So many of his novels, which were popular fiction in their time and continue to permeate our culture, feature protagonists who are orphans and it is this lack of family that drives them to do what they do in the novels’ stories. In Victorian England, having so many orphans made sense as a fictional back drop, but now it makes little sense (better healthcare, sanitation and education), regardless of how fantastical the deaths of characters’ parents may be.
Star-Lord could have still had a mother
I just don’t see any strong reason for the need to have her die at the beginning of Guardians of the Galaxy. Her death means that Peter no longer has any strong ties to Earth, which is fine in justifying his long stay in the wider universe, but means that if Marvel were ever to bring the character in to defence of Earth, his motivations would probably be weaker than anything Thor might feel.
Here’s the CinemaSins episode that convinced me to write this:
Though I should note that some of its sins are explained by the film and the video creator didn’t quite realise this.