What exactly makes Guardians of the Galaxy so beloved within the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe? Aside from the soundtracks, the real driving forces behind Guardians of the Galaxy and the sequel are the protagonists. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 gives everyone character development that takes them from being “Space Avengers” to stand-out individuals. It also introduced Mantis, Ego’s adopted daughter, played by Pom Klementieff. Mantis is a unique character compared to the others in the movie and even in the larger scope of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe characters.
Up to this point, the female characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have either been very stoic and efficient in battle (Black Widow, Gamora, Daisy Johnson) or love interests that are relegated to supporting roles (Pepper Potts, Jane Foster). Mantis, however, is neither a love interest nor an action girl. Instead, she connects to the Guardians of the Galaxy by her empathic abilities. The fact that her character arc centers on emotionally connecting with others and sharing her social awkwardness is a breath of fresh air when considering how often people want women in the media to either be tough, strong, and stoic or the emotional damsel in distress or just act as fanservice.
Mantis is the first character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I could say is the character who is most like me. Given that the MCU has been around since 2008, it’s hard to believe that it took almost a decade for Marvel to introduce a character like her. It’s not to say that I didn’t like The Avengers or the Guardians or the Agents of Shield or the Defenders. I love all of them to certain extents. However, something that made Marvel comics appealing was that it introduced characters that felt relatable, like an average teenage boy from Queens suddenly getting spider abilities or an average Muslim girl from New Jersey suddenly being able to stretch and shrink her body. While Mantis is by no means an average human being, she was based on a half-Asian human character from the comics. What makes her relatable to me is her social awkwardness and empathic abilities.
In an interview with Carson Daly, Pom Klementieff said:
In Marvel movies, we’re used to seeing badass and strong female characters, which I love…But it’s cool to show something else, you know, to show someone who’s less self-confident, who’s a bit weird.
Throughout the movie, Mantis connects to the other Guardians, especially Drax (played by Dave Bautista). It makes sense, given that they’re both socially awkward. However, what really seals their friendship is when she uses her empathic powers on Drax as he reflects on the loss of his wife and daughter. She breaks down in tears while he looks out at the beautiful scenery with a smile. It’s not certain whether Drax is at peace with what happened or if he happy that he’s just starting to move on. What is certain is that Drax finally found a friend who understands his grief.
Of course, my shipping radar went off the roof with how Drax and Mantis interacted with each other. I find relationships based on emotional connection and attraction very appealing. However, it’s made explicitly clear that Mantis and Drax find each other physically repulsive and do not want to pursue anything romantic. This averts any ideas of the emotional, empathetic one being anyone’s designated love interest. (Apologies to the Drax/Mantis shippers.)
In a world that’s trying to figure out the ideal heroic woman, having a character like Mantis is a step forward in the right direction. It’s important for young girls to know that there are times that call them to be strong, but they shouldn’t discard their ability to empathize with others. The purpose of stories is to create empathy for people we wouldn’t normally connect with. Mantis shows that there is a great strength in being empathetic. Having empathy allowed Mantis to find people who cared for her as a person, a new family beyond just Ego and her empathic abilities actually helped in the inevitable final battle. I seriously can’t wait to see what she does in the next movie the Guardians appear in!