A discussion on the r/movies subreddit asked forumites what the greatest scene in the Marvel cinematic universe was. It’s the kind of discussion that dominates the subreddit on a frequent basis. The forum is increasingly devolving into discussion that is less concerned about actual movies or cinema and more distinctly about comic book movies and films from the last decade. The output of Marvel Studios is adored by the sub reddit for good reason, the studio have made a string of crowdpleasing blockbusters that have a variance of tone and a lightness of touch.
Within this particular discussion of the most marvellous Marvel moments, many were quick to talk about the many fight scenes, the one seamless shot of the Avengers fighting in New York in the first Avengers movie, the boat scene from Captain America: The Winter Solider or the corridor or stairwell fight from Netflix’s Daredevil TV show. Two gritty and violent fight sequences that run the course of one long shot.
Everybody is wrong and proving once again that none of them know good cinematic practice when they see it.
Where’s the heart?
The best scene, as everybody knows, is the climatic scene from Guardians of the Galaxy. When the Guardians come together and defeat Ronan the Accuser as he attempts to destroy Nova Prime by harnessing the power of the Infinity Stone. This is the moment the entire movie has been building up to and the film includes a huge emotional payoff to cap it all off. Indeed, this is a movie about five beings coming together. It took six movies for the Avengers to come together, but Guardians of the Galaxy does it over the course of one, a group of Z-list Marvel properties no less. It is the sequence that not only betters every single other Marvel movie, but certifies the movie as one of the best in recent memory.
It’s when Ronan The Accuser, the film’s vengeful big bad, is about to bring down the hammer and obliterate an entire city of people. Ronan isn’t particularly interesting as a villain. He’s more of a big angry voice emitting from a blue scowly face, a relgious zealout who shouts things about having his vengeance which he inherited from his father who in turn inherited it from his father, the latest in a long line of wrathful entitled a-holes apparently. Ronan’s game is taking over the galaxy with his big hammer, travelling the galaxy in his big metal doom ship and killing trivial henchmen and your cherished family members in a split second. Lee Pace, the actor portraying him, has a great booming voice that is able to evoke a certain campness to Ronan’s villainy. Unfortunately Ronan, like most of Marvel’s villains, is a fairly one note character and is merely the foil to which the film’s heroes – a bunch of otherwise losers – must come together to defeat evil and assume the mantle of Guardians of the Galaxy.
With that said however, the scene in question does bring me closer to Ronan because I think it’s the only time you detect weakness in him. Once you detect this, you start to begin to understand him a little more. The moment is nicely played by Lee Pace, who has been spending the film as Ronan, the biggest spouter of all that science fiction fantasy babble, that exists somewhere between Tolkien and Frank Herbert. It is the kind of talk that threatens to alienate the audience. Guardians is more concerned in colouring it’s pulpy galaxy with references to Footloose and the music of David Bowie. Ronan is part of a larger more ancient universe that the audience cannot really relate towards, at least not in the first viewing.
The scene in which he brings down his hammer powered by the devastating power of one of the infinity gems is a standard trope of any superhero or fantasy movie. It’s the climatic bit when the shit hits the fan, when the villain uses the MacGuffin to unleash a CG hellstorm at the eleventh hour that threatens to kill EVERYBODY. The effects of the infinity stone have already been seen during an earlier scene when a scorned slave of Benicio Del Toro’s Collector unleashes the power within his space archives. We know it is a founding part of the universe and contains cosmic purple energy, which is bad news to anything that ever lived. Apparently.
Before Ronan brings down his hammer, he has to belittle the Guardians of the Galaxy and all the people hanging around watching in the background. In his archaic way of speaking he has to refer to them as the Guardians of the Galaxy as they stand in the chipped remnants of what remains of Groot.
Again he has to bring up generations of hate that has been bestowed down upon him by his father and his father before him. But then, just as Ronan is about to claim his vengeance and unleash the dark magic of the Macguffin, he is interrupted by Chris Pratt’s Star Lord, who starts singing and dancing in front of him to the sound of Ooh child by the Five Stairsteps. It’s just one of the many asynchronous pop songs that forms the heart and soul of Guardians of the Galaxy. The song blares from the tinny speakers of Starlord’s retro walkman, which in turn was bestowed upon him as a parting gift from his dying mother before she succumbed to cancer. It is completely inkeeping with the character of Peter Quill of course – a goofy scoundrel who has basically in a series of ever worsening events adopted the Indiana Jones method of making up stuff as he goes along.
The dance off instantly cuts short the standard trajectory of these kind of scenes and in turn diffuses Ronan’s malevolent energy and indeed his masterplan in one sudden gloriously off-beat anti climatic way. Star Lord is reliving the teachings of Kevin Bacon’s Footloose in a galaxy far far away. Combating the man and his will to rule and subjugate with a different kind of subjugation, the universal allure and power of pop music.
Y’see, ever since having been awoken from his black bath at the start of the movie, it is clear that Ronan forgot about the music and how to dance a long time ago. Indeed his father’s father’s father probably lost the urge to dance eons ago. When Ronan sees Star Lord busting moves, it confuses him and he becomes transfixed by Chris Pratt’s gyrating pelvis. This wasn’t how things were supposed to go down today and he can only look on in sheer puzzlement.
Down comes the hammer.
Defensively he lowers his hammer slightly and for the first time you see weakness shining forth from his purple eyes, which are actually rather pretty on closer inspection. It is fear of something he doesn’t quite understand. His reaction is priceless. In a small voice he asks:
Star Lord keeps dancing. Further entrancing Ronan within his flow. Indeed, there is no stopping him. Especially when he brings it down hard.
Star Lord throws the dance off to Gamora, Ronan snaps his head at her as if following the motion, as if Starlord is about to trigger some other huge cosmic force to oppose him. Gamora shrinks immediately, once again rejecting Starlord’s attempts to make her dance. Peter Quill takes it back. To dance so publicly and invite other meek souls to dance with you is unfortunately so often an exercise in rejection. But you can’t let that stand in your way, you must boldly keep on dancing to the music. You must have faith that in time, they will join you, in the sun. There is no stopping Peter Quill at this point.
Ronan eventually regains his composure. The camera switches to the right of Ronan to capture his more powerful side. He demands with every morsel of his entitled sense of power and authority.
Star Lord informs Ronan that he is distracting him and calls him a ‘massive turd blossom’, which in itself is a fantastically inventive turn of phrase. Let’s consider the mental image – turd blossom, allegorical for something beautiful and pure growing out of something that is disgusting and excreted from the human body. Turd itself a form of waste but also fertilizer necessary in order to keep the great natural cycle flowing. Who knows? Somewhere within Ronan’s generally shitty attitude and demeanour, his inherited sense of hate and vengeance, there may indeed by a beautiful flowery soul just bursting to put aside any delusions of world conquering grandeur and simply embrace the music and the love for the life all around him in this intergalactic community. There can be no life without shit, similarly, there can be no good without evil.
In another life, this is how Guardians of the Galaxy would have finished.
Unfortunately for Ronan, the universe has no care for his religious zealotry. Quill’s dance off is a distraction whilst Drax the Destroyer and Rocket Racoon, quickly piece together the Hadron eliminator and ready it for fire.
The big gun destroys Ronan’s precious hammer releasing the purple infinity gem from his clutches. Time stops, as Star Lord makes a lunge for it, grabbing it before Ronan has a chance.
Star Lord lands on the ground and begins to burn in purple fire, as the power of the infinity gem becomes unleashed, using Quill as a conduit. The power is too much, and quickly begins to overwhelm him. Purple fireballs dart around and black smoke engulfs the area. We’ve seen how this particular infinity stone works, we’ve seen how the Collector’s scorned slave got burned up in the purple haze soulstorm.
Gamora screams her best “nooooooooo!”
By this point Zoe Saldana is experienced in doing this kind of thing.
See her in Star Trek.
It’s like in the Simpsons where Homer goes to Bodyguard school, and they have to practice their “noooooo!” as they leap to take a bullet for their client. Homer performs an adequate jump but as his instructor states: “That’s pretty good Homer, I just wasn’t feeling your NOOOOO”!
We’re totally feeling Zoe’s “Noooooooo!”
So at this point, I’ll just be reciting the scene shot for shot now.
I know! But hear me out. It’s all part of the magic baby!
As Star Lord burns, Ronan sneers evilly at him through the purple smoke. All the dancing was for naught! Nova Prime is still going to burn, only this time it is the hero who unwittingly unleashed the destructive power. Delicious. Evil prevails after all! His vengeance is complete! His father’s father’s farther father’s vengeance is complete! Won’t they be pleased? Hail Satan! And vast lines of vengeful fathers!
Peter manages to somehow stand to his feet, consumed by the power of the gem. His face is all mangled and burning up. He screams with all his might. Things look dire. The music plays in the background picking up a more mournful pace. This is a scene of sacrifice.
BUT LO! Gomorrah holds out her hand and screams the immortal line “Peter! Take my hand!”
You won’t be asking this question if you are caught up in the moment. It is only with distance that we may ask, why exactly she offers her hand? Peter’s burning up and she wants to touch him? I mean, what good does she think it will do? Up until this point, Quill has been repeatedly trying to gain the affections of Gamora but falling flatly. Things are seemingly beyond their control and she can only offer her hand as help. There is a beauty in that, as Gamora herself has been for much of the film a loner who hasn’t really cared for any of the other Guardians. She’s finally accepting him, not as a lover but as a friend, another orphaned spirit within this huge sprawling galaxy we will never fully comprehend.
Of course those words – “Peter, take my hand!” have real dramatic weight and are basically the codewords that reactivate a part of Quill’s personal memory. They remind him of his biggest regret in life, and takes him back immediately to that moment when everything changed for him.
The last words from his dying mother, whose hand he neglected to take all those years ago. He recognises these words all too well. He turns around slowly, his face falling apart, and yet suddenly the screaming has silenced and the pain subsides. The pain of the infinity gem is no substitute of the years of pain and guilt he received in having so cruelly witheld his mother’s love.
He stares on in astonishment at the vision in front of him. His mother as she was when he last saw her.
He sees his mother on her hospital deathbed, staring back at him. Hand outstretched towards him. In her dying breath she speaks to him.
“Take my hand, Peter”.
Suddenly he is no longer burning, he is in fucking space! He stares on in wide eyed wonderment, in fucking space! Visions of planets and matter being reconfigured, of planets burning in fire, the grand cosmic forces that built our universe that are so beyond our own comprehension. Each of the infinity stones are referred to as an ingot made out of the energies that were present at the birth of the universe – so what we are seeing could in fact be a vision from that particular point in time. Whatever it is supposed to represent, it’s a spectacle that should remind us of how small and insignificant we all are within the grand scheme of things.
But yet we’re not.
None of that matters because Peter’s focus is on one thing.
Is this the afterlife, suspended at a moment in time in front of the cosmos. Is this the mother welcoming her son to the pearly gates.
There is a beautiful symmetry at play, between Gamora saying simply “Peter, take my hand”, and his long dead mother adding with “take my hand, Peter”. “Peter, take my hand!” is spoken with a sense of urgency and is more of a directive order, but “take my hand, Peter”, remains more passive and more of a request. As if his mum is willing her son to do what Gamora says and take her hand.
At the beginning of the movie when we witness Mrs Quill’s death, she never says “take my hand, Peter” just “take my hand”, it’s more of a plead she says when she is at her most weakest as she is just about to cross the threshold into the beyond. Both Gamora and the vision of Peter’s mother is an affirmation. The universe is making amends and telling Peter directly what he needs to do. Of course, we may just be witnessing whatever his failing mindset is conjuring up for him in his dying moments. As he burns with the infinity gem, as he reaches the point of death, he sees the one person from the beyond who would be the first to greet him in the afterlife if there is such a thing.
That moment of his life he has regretted every day of his intergalactic life.
“Mom?” he utters breathlessly.
A single tear rolls down his cheek. He closes his mouth with a firmness of fortitude. He knows now what he must do.
In accepting his mother’s hand, he finally makes amends and accepts his mother’s love, after all these years of running. After the singular moment in which the boy denied her that one last loving connection. Does he even see Gamora at this point in his lucid state? There is no real answer, what we are seeing unfolding before us mean all things. Because to live alone in isolation is death, to connect with others and accept their touch is love and is, always, the right course of action. Starlord knows this now.
In taking his mother’s hand, he take’s Gamora’s hand. She brings him back. The vision of stars and planetoids succumbs once again to the purple fire storm of the infinity gem. Gamora and Starlord are now suddenly linked and burning together. If he dies, she dies with him, but in defiance to Ronan, who is now only merely a spectator, with a toadly Nigel Farage smile on his face.
But then! Drax the big muscley dude portrayed by Dave Bautista who came out of nowhere and stole every scene he was in, braves the storm and grabs hold of Peter’s arm. He too burns with them. He too accepts to be with his friends and burn with them.
Wee Rocket Racoon. The gun toting rodent/borderline psychopath who as it has already been established has a hidden sense of self loathing. His little paw clenches around Drax’s finger and then suddenly the four of them are now burning together as one. Rocket completes the four, he may be a quarter of their size but he still counts!
And then! The music rises and rises,
Menacing Brass illustrating the turning tide within the storm
DA DA DA DA DA
DA DA DA DA DA
Stings indicate a lift in menace!
AH AH AH AHHHHH
AH AH AH AHHHHH
Leading to the triumphant main theme…
BUM BUM BUM BA BUM BADDA BUM
The firestorm gives way and becomes more purple, the posture of the group changes from weakness to strength. The clouds begin to dissipate and they take control of the infinity gem. Whoever said Marvel were weak at scoring their movies? Aside from having a great playlist of cheesy pop songs, Guardians has a great soundtrack provided by Tyler Bates.
Ronan can only stare on in disbelief and proclaim “You’re mortal. Hooooow”?
By now Peter Quill regains that cocky swagger and affirms to Ronan what he has already said.
“You said it yourself, bitch. We’re the Guardians of the Galaxy”.
It’s too late for the Accuser and he is promptly induced with purple beams of light, a look of abject horror envelops his face as he falls back and is lit up like a Christmas tree. He explodes into a thousand of pieces. Everything he was, every misconceived notion he went about his life ripped apart by purple cosmic forces.
The power of the infinity gem subsides as the Guardians contain the stone within it’s container.
The good guys win. Love wins. It’s a perfect fucking scene. The Guardians of the Galaxy have arrived.
What brought them together for the grand climax, is the group – Quill, Drax, Gamora, Rocket and Groot accepting that they had made a lot of mistakes in their life and done a lot of bad things. Their decision to come together is one based in atonement for their past ways. They want to do something good for a change, now that they have formed together among a team of sorts, they now unwittingly have friends, and in life, it’s always better to have friends than remain in isolation. It’s a simple message, one that many movies have propagated. Some may find it all too cheesy, the scene with his mother too sentimental, but it works god damn it!
There is a lot packaged into this scene, the expectation of your typical villain throwing down the hammer, an interjection of goofy humour to detract from the expected progression. Moments of horror and chaos, followed immediately by this moment of emotional catharsis as Peter confronts the ghost of the past only to gain strength through the support of his comrades as they throw caution into the wind and stand together as one to banish evil forever.
Best scene in a Marvel movie yet. I mean, let’s just stop talking about it and just watch it again.