Feminism, Movies, Opinion, Sexism, Uncategorized

We Need to Talk About Mantis’ Abuse in Guardians of the Galaxy 2

When it was announced that director James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy 2 would feature Pom Klementieff as Mantis, I was cautiously excited. In the past I had criticized Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy for its moments of casual misogyny, but overall found the film to be a nice change of pace after the middling Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3. And Mantis represented a huge opportunity: while Asian women had made gains in Marvel’s TV and Netflix properties, aside from Dr. Helen Cho in Age of Ultron they were missing from the films. Mantis would be the first Asian woman to star as a lead character in the MCU, and actress Pom Klementieff had the mixed martial arts experience (learned since her time filming Old Boy with Josh Brolin) to pull off a martial arts-heavy character like Mantis. I had my reservations about GOTG2, but for Mantis I was willing to give Gunn the benefit of the doubt. Readers, that was my mistake.

Mantis rushing into battle in Avengers (1963) / © Marvel Comics

It’s not just that the Mantis we got is a vastly different character from the Mantis in the comics. It’s that Gunn also saw fit to strip Mantis of everything that makes her a positive character–her strength, her fiery determination, her support of other women–and replace all that instead with an abused, submissive, and infantile Asian woman stereotype. Gendered insults and gendered violence are so integral to Gunn’s portrayal of her that I have to sincerely ask: Mr. Gunn, do you hate Mantis?

It’s difficult to understand how and why Mantis’ on screen rendition went so awry; with Mantis featured in over 100 comic issues, there’s no shortage of texts that Gunn could have drawn from. Mantis was created in 1973 by writer Steven Englehart and artist Don Heck, and was the fourth woman–and first woman of color–officially introduced as an Avenger after Wasp, Scarlet Witch, and Black Widow. Mantis was such a beloved creation to Englehart that when he briefly left Marvel he brought her with him and had her appear in other publications under a different name.

Mantis in Annihilation Conquest: Starlord Issue #1 (2007) / © Marvel Comics

Mantis’ comic book backstory is admittedly a wildly convoluted one, but that Gunn disregarded it in its entirety is disappointing. In the comics, Mantis is born to a Vietnamese mother and a white father during the Vietnam War and ends up being raised by a group of peaceful Kree priests. The Kree believe her to be the celestial Madonna, the mother of a future celestial messiah, a perfect being who would be half-human and half-Cotati (a telepathic, plant-like race). Because of this special status, Mantis undergoes rigorous meditation and martial arts training to become the “most perfect human specimen.” Her training is so intense that when she’s first introduced she’s able to access a certain degree of the mystic arts, sensing vibrations, and events by communing with nature.

As the comics progress and Mantis accepts her role as the celestial Madonna, her abilities grow exponentially, giving her powers of telekinesis, fast healing, energy blasts, precognition, and the ability to transfer her soul into plant life and even generate a new body. She is nearly impervious to physical and mental attacks, and her celestial state allows her to project her mind across the galaxy. At one point she communicates with the entities of Death and Eternity, and even holds her own in a one-on-one fight with Thanos.

Mantis faces off against Thanos in Avengers: Celestial Quest (2001) / © Marvel Comics

Mantis threatens Thanos in Avengers: Celestial Quest (2001) / © Marvel Comics

She is, suffice to say, an incredibly powerful force to reckoned with, and there’s a reason she’s a valuable member of the Avengers and later the Guardians of the Galaxy. But it’s not just her cosmic powers that Gunn leaves out entirely; despite casting Klementieff, film Mantis is portrayed as knowing zero martial arts–or having any way or desire to defend herself, really–despite that being an integral part of her comic book character. Sure, it veers into stereotypical territory to have the one Asian on the team be the martial arts master, but Mantis was one of the first Asian women to be introduced with the Marvel universe with that skill-set, and she became the first ever Asian Avenger because of it.

Mantis bests Thor in a fight in Avengers (1963) / © Marvel Comics

It’s not that having an Asian as the martial artist is a problem in and of itself; it’s only a problem if the character never develops beyond the token kung fu character, and Mantis is certainly far and beyond just that. In the comics, Mantis’ martial arts informs who she is as a person, and it gives much of her story a distinctly feminist overtone. We’re first introduced to Mantis because she defends Scarlet Witch from a group of aggressive cat-callers.

Mantis defends Wanda in Avengers (1963) / © Marvel Comics

In issue 323 of the 1961 Fantastic Four, Kang the Conquerer notes that even without her celestial powers, Mantis is “the sort of woman who is never helpless.” At various points, Mantis is seen taking down Thor, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Vision, and Black Panther by striking their pressure points and throwing them into a flying triangle choke, literally a move where she crushes their heads between her thighs. Sure the old comics are slapstick and silly, but in an Avengers battle royale, we can still canonically say Mantis would win.

Mantis fighting off the Avengers like it’s nothing in Avengers (1963) / © Marvel Comics

Notably, Mantis is vocally supportive of other women, and you never get the sense that she sees any woman as competition. She warmly greets Alicia in Galactus the Devourer and encourages the young Lupe in Avengers: Celestial Quest. She has an on-off love triangle with Vision and Scarlet Witch, but Mantis is never portrayed as being catty towards Wanda, and in fact often rushes to Wanda’s aid in a fight.

Mantis mentoring Lupe in Avengers: Celestial Quest (2001) / © Marvel Comics

Mantis commenting on how men treat women to Alicia in Galactus the Devourer (1999) / © Marvel Comics

Aside from being a feminist character, Mantis also subverts the tropes that female Asian characters are often saddled with. Mantis is first introduced as the companion of Swordsman, a B-grade hero turned drunkard who claims to have been reformed by Mantis’ love. At first, Mantis appears submissive and loyal to Swordsman, who fell in love with her in Vietnam when she was working as a bar girl and/or escort. It’s a very stereotypical backstory, but as Mantis becomes more comfortable in her role as an Avenger, she actively overcomes her own problematic origins. Rather than remain a passive love interest, Mantis becomes an integral teammate, one who never hesitates to spring into battle.

Mantis springing into action in Avengers (1963) / © Marvel Comics

As she grows more self-confident, it’s Swordsman who laments that Mantis no longer pays him any attention. When he says so to her face, she quickly shuts him down. When Swordsman is mortally wounded in battle, it’s Mantis who carries him bridal style like it’s nothing. In a final subversion of what you’d expect in this Madame Butterfly-esque storyline, it’s also Swordsman who ends up dying to further Mantis’ story. Swordsman fades into obscurity and is never revived until the 2011 Chaos War: Dead Avengers run; Mantis, meanwhile, goes on to star in numerous Avengers, Fantastic Four, and Guardians of the Galaxy comics.

Mantis carrying Swordsman as he dies in Avengers (1963) / © Marvel Comics

After the Swordsman’s death and Mantis’ time with the Avengers, she becomes the celestial Madonna, travels the universe, and eventually ends up on Peter Quill’s team. Her time spent as a part of the cosmos makes her more serene and wise, but she is no less formidable by the time she meets the Guardians. In Joe Quesada’s Guardians of the Galaxy run we see Mantis’ characterization shift, where she uses her telepathy more than her martial arts, gazes into the future, and speaks in riddles. But even then, when she’s regarded as unknowable and strange, she’s still considered a respected member of the team.

So here we have the first female Asian Avenger and indeed the only Asian Avenger until Amadeus Cho’s inclusion in 2009; a woman who defends other women and crushes men between her thighs; a highly skilled and respected martial artist who’s gone head-to-head with the male Avengers; and a near immortal who’s been singled out by Thanos as the “goddess of light.” Mantis is a powerful and respected character, and it’s important for us to see that to more fully understand how much Gunn utterly failed her.

Pom Klementieff in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) / © Marvel/Disney

In GOTG2, Mantis is wholly unrecognizable as the Mantis of the comics; literally none of the aforementioned backstories, powers, or characterizations are in the film. Whereas in the comics Mantis is a celestial goddess, in GOTG2 she’s simply a servant to a celestial god, Ego, Peter Quill’s father. Stripped of her powers and physical strength, we are explicitly told that Mantis is only an empath, and that she travels with Ego to “help him sleep.”

Just sit with that for a second: in the comics, Mantis is a young Asian woman who’s trained from birth as a skilled fighter, becomes an Avenger, and eventually transforms into a goddess. In the film, Mantis is an infantile, wide-eyed Asian woman who is introduced as the servant to an old white man who she calls master. The white man raises her and keeps her by his side so she can use her skills to put him to sleep. She’s clearly afraid of him, and it’s revealed that she’s never interacted with anyone outside of her master. This relationship has horrendous connotations, and it’s a wonder why Gunn completely rewrote Mantis’ backstory to include this. It’s the exact kind of demeaning Asian woman trope that comics Mantis herself avoided, so why is it in GOTG2?

Immediately we are presented with a scenario where Ego is in an incredible position of power over Mantis, and her body language mirrors those often found in abused women. Whereas comic Mantis never seemed to fear anything and turned men’s (and women’s) heads wherever she went, here film Mantis rarely makes eye contact and continuously wrings her hands. She often looks on the verge of tears, and she struggles with social interaction, often sounding more like an unsure child than an adult woman. At one point she mentions to Peter that nobody has ever asked her a question before. Drax muses that Ego must keep Mantis as a pet, an assertion that she doesn’t deny.

Pom Klementieff in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) / © Marvel/Disney

Unlike what we see in the comics, Mantis has little means to prevent this sort of situation from befalling her: by whittling down her powers to only sensing and shifting emotions, her skill-set becomes incredibly limited and gendered, and she’s both damseled and abused throughout the film. Mantis is entirely incapable of protecting herself in GOTG2, and worse, she doesn’t understand that she even should.

Mantis exhibits all the signs of a woman who is being mistreated, but rather than save her immediately, the Guardians simply ignore it. Excited to finally meet his father, Peter is never bothered to acknowledge Mantis or her plight in any tangible way, a marked difference from the comics where Peter goes out of his way to recruit Mantis and has a positive relationship with her. As for the rest of the Guardians, they actively participate in Mantis’ abuse: not only are their insults and violence against Mantis normalized, they’re even used for comedic effect. Each of the Guardians’ actions help to enforce an idea that film Mantis has already internalized: she is worthless.

We see this a lot in Mantis’ troubling relationship with Drax, who is the only one of the Guardians who even remotely attempts to interact with Mantis, but half of those interactions involve Drax insulting Mantis’ appearance. Mantis views Drax as her first friend, and she doesn’t seem to understand that he undercuts her self-confidence at every turn. Drax repeatedly tells Mantis she is horrifying to look at. Later, when Mantis rushes to his room in a panic to warn him about Ego’s evil plan, he automatically assumes Mantis is there for sex, to which he exaggeratedly makes retching noises about.

During the final battle Mantis rushes forward and manages to temporarily put Ego to sleep. She struggles to hold him, but rather than any of the Guardians offering any aid, Drax simply comments, “I never thought she’d be able to do it, seeing as how weak and skinny she is.” At the end of the film, Drax finally tells Mantis she’s beautiful, but then mutters, only for the audience to hear, “…on the inside.” That is literally the last line spoken in the film. Mantis becomes a punchline in the end, and Drax once again ends a Guardians of the Galaxy film by insulting a woman. (Frustratingly, this also marks the second time Drax demeans a woman with a statement that’s not literally true; essentially, Gunn defies his own canon just to throw in a misogynistic joke again.)

Pom Klementieff in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) / © Marvel/Disney

And then there’s the physical violence that Mantis suffers. When she meets Rocket Raccoon, Drax leads her to believe he’s his pet. When she reaches out to touch him, Raccoon snaps around and bites into her hand; she cries out, terrified, as Drax roars with laughter. Later, when Mantis reaches out to Gamora to demonstrate her empath powers, she’s immediately grabbed by the wrists and told, “Touch me, and the only thing you’re going to feel is a broken jaw.” When Gamora finally finds out the truth about Ego’s plans, she runs up to Mantis, grabs her by the throat, slams her against the wall, and tries to choke her. Gamora never apologizes for this, and we never see any follow-up to assure us that Gamora and Mantis will have any relationship beyond these moments of animosity. 

In the final battle, Mantis is struck by a piece of debris, knocking her unconscious; Drax warns her to watch out after she’s already out cold. The framing of the scene tells us we’re meant to see this as hilarious, a bit of “wow, really bro” between Peter and Drax. But after a whole film of watching Mantis get knocked around and verbally abused, it hardly feels funny. It’s also difficult to accept that in a film entirely about the importance of choosing one’s own family, these people are now meant to be Mantis’. How are women, especially Asian women, supposed to feel when the protagonists they’re meant to root for act so callously towards a woman clearly in need of help? 

In light of all this, it’s unsurprising that Englehart was unhappy with Mantis’ onscreen adaptation. In an interview with Polygon, Englehart said:

“Well, I was not happy with Mantis’ portrayal. That character has nothing to do with Mantis…that’s not Mantis up there. I really don’t know why you would take a character who is as distinctive as Mantis is and do a completely different character and still call her Mantis. That I do not know.”

With Mantis confirmed to be in Infinity Wars, there’s still a possibility that we’ll get the Mantis that Englehart created. In the comics she’s certainly a key player in the fight against Thanos, and as an early member of the Avengers it would make sense to elevate her importance. But it’s depressing to consider how and why Gunn dehumanized her so. Gunn actively rewrote her from a strong, independent, and respected woman into a literal servant and punching bag. He took a three dimensional Asian character and reduced her to a damaging stereotype that Asian women have fought for years to dispel. Infantilizing and demeaning an Asian woman isn’t edgy, funny, progressive, or in any way necessary to this story. Gutting the story of an empowered woman so that she can be serve the character development of the men around her just goes to show that for all it’s success, the MCU still struggles with portraying it’s female characters in meaningful ways. 

In Avengers: Celestial Quest, you find out Mantis has split her essence into five different bodies, and once they are all destroyed the true Mantis appears, fully powered up once again. With luck, Infinity Wars will retcon Gunn’s writing in a similar manner. The real Mantis will show up, and we can all just quietly pretend GOTG2 never existed.

  1. Iola

    August 19, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    Thanks for this. I didn’t know Mantis’ backstory, but even without that I hated how the character was treated in the movie. Given Gunn’s comments about superheroines in the past I’m never really surprised by the misogyny (and in this case, also racism) in the movies. It’s such a shame when you have so much to work with and then default to undermining cool female heroes for the sake of really lame “jokes.”

  2. Leen

    August 20, 2017 at 2:40 am

    Thank you for writing this. Though I wasn’t clear about Mantis’ backstory in the comics, the portrayal of her alone made me sick to my stomach. Truly, the treatment of this character ruined an otherwise great film and made me think far less of the entire team.

  3. Ashton DeGrange

    August 20, 2017 at 9:26 am

    No we don’t

    1. Heidi

      August 29, 2017 at 6:57 pm

      Can you go troll somewhere else? Kthnx.

  4. M

    August 20, 2017 at 9:45 am

    I admittedly didn’t read the whole post, just had time for a couple paragraphs, but is it possible that that was the point? She’s basically been with Ego for so long that she was entirely submissive to him and entirely used to being abused? So now, take this character and build her up in future movies, show her come from a beaten down beginning, and she finds her strength and grows?

    1. Claire Napier

      August 20, 2017 at 10:24 am

      Do the work if you’re gonna talk all over someone else’s! Please read the whole article.

      1. M

        August 20, 2017 at 1:50 pm

        Well, like I said, just had time for a couple paragraphs and was able to glean the gist of the rest from that. I didn’t think I talked all over her article, I just commented about what I was able to read. This article popped up in my Google feed on my phone, and I didn’t want to lose it (as typically happens!).

        So, after reading it completely, I still stand by what I said. The MCU and comics are separate entities and not entirely meant to be the comics on the screen. I myself didn’t read comics much as a kid, but have gone back and read comics based on the movies (and TV shows in some cases, primarily some Jessica Jones).

        Now, I will whole-heartedly agree with what was said about Mantis…she’s a badass in the comics. In GotG2, she most certainly is NOT. She’s abused by Ego (I assume, since he just keeps her around for his benefit) to the point where, it seems, she views herself as worthless. Drax is, well, Drax. What he would says is horrible on the one hand, but his mannerisms/how he responds to things is humorous on the other. Put them together and you’re conflicted between hating what he says to somebody else and laughing at his ridiculousness.

        At the risk of rambling on I’ll leave it at that. I don’t disagree with what Ms. Mae wrote in that Mantis in the comics is worlds away from what we got in GotG2, but I still think (and hope) that having her start at rock-bottom will give her story as it progresses more impact. And frankly, if she ends up being even remotely close to as powerful as she is in the comics, that could present some very cool and “hell yeah!” sequences.

        Anyway, good article!

        1. Claire Napier

          August 21, 2017 at 6:50 am

          Only read the first sentence of your comment but I disagree

          1. M

            August 21, 2017 at 9:19 am

            Hah, ok. Happy eclipse day!

        2. Stephanie S

          August 21, 2017 at 3:24 pm

          Thank you for further analyzing your comment and reading the whole thing to correct what you said. I think it’s a great article too! To help respond to ur first comment, Clara Mae had this one sentence: “Her time spent as a part of the cosmos makes her more serene and wise, but she is no less formidable by the time she meets the Guardians.” And yes! Happy Solar Eclipse day haha

        3. Teague

          August 27, 2017 at 8:38 pm

          But you had enough time to write all that…

          Funny.

          1. Thaddeus

            August 29, 2017 at 12:22 pm

            “So, after reading it completely, I still stand by what I said.”

            I gathered that he read part of the article and made the initial single-paragraph comment. After some time, he came back, read the rest of the article, and posted the long prose that you replied to.

            I’m not necessarily agreeing with him (he makes some valid points, but so does Clara), but it seems that this comment was made without seeing the whole picture.

            Kind of ironic, given the situation, really.

        4. NW

          September 1, 2017 at 8:09 am

          Why is everyone attacking this person’s comment? I agree with this person; I was not aware of Mantis’s backstory either but maybe the creators of the MCU are trying to come at revealing her backstory from a different angle. We know that big Hollywood blockbuster films are usually very hesitant to rock formulas that have traditionally made them money. I thought this article was good in general (yes I did read the whole thing) but that the author leaves little to no room for alternative viewpoints or constructive disagreement as to why Mantis was portrayed so inaccurately. This is the author’s opinion so that makes sense, but I feel that, since the next film hasn’t even been released yet, that we need to consider that this is a starting point for the character. A bad one, yes, but as a survivor of abuse myself, I personally think that a story of a woman overcoming her abuser and gaining her power and badassery is so much more powerful than a woman who is already a badass. Most of us women don’t come from badass backgrounds, and a good percentage of us actually have been abused.
          I think that we should simply wait and see what developments Mantis’s character goes through in the MCU.

          1. Claire Napier

            September 1, 2017 at 12:08 pm

            Writing an essay after one film doesn’t preclude forming a further opinion after another! What if something happens and a sequel is never made? This film can be analysed as a final piece of media, because that’s what it currently is.

          2. NW

            September 1, 2017 at 1:41 pm

            @Claire Napier
            I don’t understand why this is upsetting. You’re right, something very well may happen, and a sequel is never made (but do you really think that’s likely?). I am simply expressing a possible motivation (other than misogyny) for the drastic change in Mantis’s character and defending a poster whose opinion is different from that of the article. I am, as you say, analysing the film as a final piece of media. Are we not allowed to speculate upon future instalments even as we discuss this one? If you’ll please read my comment, I don’t disagree with anyone that the portrayal was problematic. Of course it was. I am expressing a theory that may very well turn out to be wrong.
            If you would like to have a dialogue about my comment, please read my original comment first and respond to that. Thank you. 🙏🏾

          3. Claire Napier

            September 1, 2017 at 3:07 pm

            Haha but motivation isn’t really relevant if it doesn’t register in the product

          4. NW

            September 1, 2017 at 9:50 pm

            @Claire Napier I’m not trying to argue with you. With all due respect, you are refusing to entertain any opinions other than your own way of thinking. I’m not going to call you names or insult you. I simply hope you are able to expand your views and see others’ opinions instead of steadfastly refusing to entertain anything other than what’s in your own head. There are other views out there. I hope that someday your mind unbends enough to let you see them.
            Have a good evening.

          5. Claire Napier

            September 9, 2017 at 8:24 am

            I can see them all, written down right here!

  5. MCY

    August 20, 2017 at 11:00 pm

    Thank you for this. I was disturbed greatly by the treatment of Mantis in GOTG2 in addition to the way the story also glossed over other themes of abuse and body shaming. Marvel can do so much better than that. I am glad I am not the only one bothered by this and I truly hope that in future appearances the writing team addresses this poor utilization of a wonderful character. Mantis has so much more to offer than pubescent comedy relief.

  6. Stephanie S

    August 21, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    Man you wrote this so well. I could definitely follow u through all the emotions, especially because it’s an easy and enticing read. It really makes me grossed out by Gunn and his choice to change her from a “goddess of light” into a creepy, fetishsized, and consistently abused character. For the love of freakin god she was the FIRST FEMALE WOMAN OF COLOR! *raging face palm* You showed me how it really is a shame that we could have seen an AMAZINGLY RESILIENT ASIAN WOMAN!! Asian women need to believe and see “the sort of woman who is never helpless”. You most definitely opened my eyes to see how Mantis was 10x more of a bada** and well-written character compared to the nasty sad crap given to us by GOTG2. Thank you, Clara Mae!

  7. NobodyImportant

    August 21, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    I couldn’t get through the first few paragraphs of this. In an attempt to stand up for feminism and against racism, you seem to make incredibly racist and sexist assumptions about a character just because she is female with asian features.

    1. Claire Napier

      August 21, 2017 at 4:51 pm

      If you read the whole thing, maybe you’ll understand a little better!

    2. frozen01

      August 24, 2017 at 2:53 pm

      I really don’t understand this comment. Could you please explain (by copying-and-pasting from the article would be most helpful) the parts you thought were incredibly racist and sexist assumptions?

  8. Christopher Chiu-Tabet

    August 21, 2017 at 9:34 pm

    It hadn’t occured to me how an Asian woman might perceive Mantis as being a bit feeble, given how endearing I found her. It may displease you that I was already guffawing on being reminded about Drax’s retching.

    I think Mantis’s backstory is as different as Star-Lord, Drax and Adam Warlock’s, for better or worse, and her timid nature was a logical piece of foreshadowing. I also loved Drax’s line about how “beautiful people don’t know who to trust.” But I also share in your hope that in subsequent films we’ll see a much more confident and kickass Mantis.

    1. Claire Napier

      August 22, 2017 at 8:28 am

      It’s certainly a little rude to mention that you are laughing (again) at a distressing moment for the author.

      1. Martin Parets

        September 5, 2017 at 9:56 pm

        you must be fun at parties.

        1. Claire Napier

          September 6, 2017 at 5:11 am

          No, Martin. I don’t like fun

  9. Gina

    August 22, 2017 at 6:43 am

    I’m an Asian woman and I love Mantis, thought she and a Drax were hilarious. Would’ve hated seeing some stereotypical martial arts master who is a carbon copy of Gamora. Mantis had an arc. All three female characters had an arc. Gunn has screwed up in the past but I think he’s made improvements with Vol. 2. But perfect being the enemy of good and all I am not surprised to see cries of racism and sexism when a white dude tries to do something inclusive. Mantis will prob have some fighting skills going forward.

    1. Claire Napier

      August 22, 2017 at 8:30 am

      Is this “cries”? I think it’s just analysis.

      1. Gina

        September 2, 2017 at 1:29 am

        I think it’s a very poorly written analysis. As an Asian woman it offends me that Clara is fetishizing an extremely scantily clad (because that’s tasteful and progressive!) kung fu kicky martial arts 100% perfectly awesome no flaws no development needed whatsover Dragon Lady See, I can play this game too, I’m looking at all the comics panels and am frankly grossed out.) And it seems like Clara’s mad that Mantis isn’t instabffs with Peter, who frankly had a lot of shit to deal with in the movie as it was. We’ve still got 3 more movies with this group and we had the Yondu funeral and Gamora&Nebula resolution at the end of Vol. 2, which I think were very well done and vastly more important than Peter telling Mantis (and apparently all Asian people because that’s how this works I guess) how perfect she is.

        “Drax warns her to watch out after she’s already out cold. The framing of the scene tells us we’re meant to see this as hilarious, a bit of “wow, really bro” between Peter and Drax.”

        how is this a bro moment. Drax just says it, Peter doesn’t even react, he does say “woah” in the trailer, not the movie. I don’t get what she’s trying to say here, it makes absolutely zero sense to me.

        Also she completely forgot to mention that Gamora tells Mantis “You’re not ugly.” And Gamora tends to Mantis when they’re on the Elector. And Mantis uses her power of instilling fear within Gamora, and she puts Ego to sleep. And Peter specifically says “Drax. Take Mantis to the surface.” (Remember she’s basically a stranger to them, none of the people in the group liked each other at first, Mantis didn’t tell Drax about Ego until it was too late yet Peter still tells Drax to help Mantis. Nobody yells at her for keeping Ego’s secret from them. She is included in the funeral, she is visibly more of a Guardian than Kraglin is.) And Drax holds up Mantis while he’s sucked up by sand.

        And to take it a step further, let’s look at how all the others treat each other. Gamora throws a wrench at Rocket, Groot throws a pebble at Drax, Peter threatens to shave Rocket, Rocket calls Peter “orphan boy,” Peter calls Rocket a dick, Gamora calls out Peter and Rocket for flying with their dicks, she calls Peter “insufferable,”, Peter refers to Gamora as a jerk, Baby Groot kicks Drax in two scenes…. Peter literally calls his team a-holes in their first scenes. Idk why people keep forgetting this. They’re ALL like this to each other. It’s how they operate. It’s how they operated in the last movie, like I’m seriously struggling to understand what people expected out of this. The first one had dick jokes and penis jokes and masturbation jokes and the characters screaming at each other, literally at each other’s throats and being dirtbags until the end. They’re not going to do a 180 in the span of a few months, when this movie clearly takes place. People in the real world don’t work like that, people with severe emotional issues and past trauma like everyone on the team don’t become progressive social justice angels in the span of months. That’s the *point* of this group, that they are still struggling to communicate and accept love and find themselves accepting of love.

        Idk maybe Clara and people who don’t like this movie want the Guardians to just sit around for 1 hour singing kumbaya and complimenting each other in between shots of Mantis kicking aliens. If that’s a movie you want to see then ok but that sounds so boring to me. Maybe don’t spend your hard earned money on the next few movies with them in it to teach them a lesson. Maybe if Clara made a fundraiser for impoverished Asian women I would be willing to listen to her arguments but it seems like she’s just virtue signaling.

        1. GINA

          September 2, 2017 at 1:54 am

          One more thing, that one scene that got giffed a lot with Mantis and Drax? They’re both laughing their asses off at Peter, at *his* expense. He’s the butt of the joke in that scene, then Drax is when Mantis puts him to sleep. Mantis wasn’t being submissive throughout the movie.

          And if people like the comics so much, stick to the comics, get your friend to buy a ticket if you don’t want to spend money on a movie, and don’t expect the MCu movies to adapt everything just like them. They’ve clearly shown they’re not about being comics accurate. All the other Guardians save for Rocket are different from their comic counterparts, why wasn’t Clara critiquing their differences?

        2. Claire Napier

          September 2, 2017 at 5:27 am

          Clara… is also Asian…

          1. GINA

            September 8, 2017 at 12:37 pm

            I’m Asian too, and I love Mantis and think she’s fine and not racist. Comparing years and years of comics to 1 movie that is 2 hours long seems…. unbalanced to say the least. But yeah sure if Clara’s mad Peter didn’t suddenly start worshipping Clara… whoops I mean Mantis… while she kungfu kickpunches Ego, wears a bathing suit and is called perfect over and over by a white guy because that’s apparently true feminism, then uh ok. If you like that fantasy just keep buying the comics, stop spending money on the movies.

            (Still doesn’t answer any of my points especially how disgustingly revealing all of comics Mantis’s clothing is. Wasn’t she impregnated by a deity in one of the comics? Gross. Gunn thankfully made all the female characters dress tastefully and made them all different and interesting and powerful in their own ways, which is what I can’t say about the comics. Every single female character in there is half naked and just punches and fights and screws men and that’s it. Give me the movies any day over the racist sexist, laughably one-dimensional and shallow comics.)

          2. Claire Napier

            September 8, 2017 at 1:54 pm

            I think you’re reaching a little, at this point. But I’m glad you enjoyed this film, and hope you continue to do so

    2. frozen01

      August 24, 2017 at 3:07 pm

      The bits in the article about Drax were certainly a little over-the-top, I felt. He’s supposed to be crass… he’s hyper-masculine and comes from a, let’s say, tactless culture. But I left GotG2 feeling less entertained than GotG1, and part of that was because Mantis’s characterization made me very uncomfortable. I wrote that off as being because of my own past, as I had an emotionally manipulative ex-boyfriend who (among other things) treated me like a pet much in the same way Mantis was treated. However, I had no knowledge of her character in the comics (also, I guess I wasn’t aware of the infantilized Asian woman trope, as most Asian women I’ve seen in films are badass), but with this new information, I can definitely see why someone would have problems with how she was portrayed in the film.
      There are a lot of different ways she could’ve been treated besides the stereotypical martial arts master. For example, they could’ve kept all of her backstory, but made her training more mental/metaphysical (so as to avoid physical fighting altogether). Telekinesis alone would’ve been a pretty awesome ability, and they could’ve also kept the emotional abilities that she had in the film without making her subservient. Just a thought.

      1. GINA

        September 2, 2017 at 1:39 am

        To make her telekinetic would be like copying off the X-Men or Carrie. I’ve seen that over and over again, it would bore me. Mantis had to come to terms with a lifetime of conditioning and she put a wrathful Celestial to sleep, why is everyone ignoring that, didn’t seem submissive to me at all. Or when she told Drax about Ego (because Drax is the one who got her to understand that Ego was evil) and Mantis put fear in Gamora. Again, I don’t understand how that is submissive.

        Idk it seems like people just find any reason to get mad at movies these days. Guardians 1 had Drax calling Gamora ‘whore’ and ‘wench’ and he held a knife to Gamora’s throat, why was that entertaining and comfortable to you? Just a thought.

  10. Bex

    August 22, 2017 at 11:58 am

    I felt very uncomfortable not just over how Mantis was being portrayed (I didn’t know everything about her background, but some of it going into the film), but also how Drax went from being a character I liked in the first film to one I was pretty disgusted by in the second.. mostly over how he treated Mantis.

    It was probably the biggest factor in why I didn’t really enjoy GotG v2 bar the Yondu storyline. It seemed everything I liked from the first had been subsumed into something a bit too ‘bro’.

    1. GINA

      September 2, 2017 at 1:41 am

      You liked Drax when he called Gamora a whore and threatened to kill her and put the whole group in danger by calling Ronan, but didn’t like Drax when he lifted Mantis up while he was getting buried by sand? Hmm, that’s…. Interesting.

  11. Goodman Holiday

    August 23, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    I suspect that Mantis was changed for the same reason that every character in Spider-Man Homecoming was changed so completely. They wanted characters whose personalities were distinct from existing Marvel Cinematic Universe characters. A faithful version of Mantis wouldn’t act all that different from Gamora and Nebula. And of course they needed a character who could serve the story in this specific movie.

    That said, I would have preferred that the character Gunn used not have been called Mantis. And I’m not happy about how the character was portrayed and how she was treated by the other Guardians (not withstanding the fact that the Guardians are supposed to be pretty flawed). I would rather Mantis had shown up somewhere else someday (maybe in Avengers or on one of the Netflix shows) in all her original selfish glory.

    The author of the article kind of glosses over the fact that Mantis was in a relationship with Swordsman when she decided to seduce the Vision (about a week before the Vision and Scarlet Witch ultimately married) because “The Swordsman is weak! He was not enough for me!” Maybe facing the real universe for the first time and being allowed the act on her own behalf for once, the movie Mantis will make mistakes and evolve into a richer character. It’d be nice if she became more developed post-GOTG3.

  12. Drea

    August 24, 2017 at 11:58 pm

    I felt SUCH a relief stumbling across this article, thank you for writing this! I really liked the first guardians movie, but this one left me with a disgusting taste after I left the theater. I couldn’t quite put a finger on it but you’ve elucidated thoroughly everything (or at least a lot of things) that were so wrong about the situation. This was compounded by the fact that I see so much literature about other eye rolling events such as starring white actors in stories taken from Asian creative heritage (ghost in the shell, death note), but I have heard nada about Mantis’s treatment until now.

    The first sick feeling I got in my gut was basically what anyone would feel watching someone get bullied, from various ranges of subtlety (simply her body language and what she says about herself) to blatant (writing in a protagonist getting a concussive hit to the head as a comedic moment), and also that the bullying is being tolerated by the people who are supposed to be the heroes. I was disappointed that Gamora hardly did anything to stand up for her. It made all the Guardians instantly less relatable as “heroes”, because I had lost respect for them as people. Granted they aren’t “human beings” of course, but as a story writer and director…what the hell kind of message are you trying to get across with casually displaying abuse as comedy on screen? What purpose did it serve the story? How would you treat a friend, a teammate, or even a stranger the way anyone treated Mantis? What was it like directing? “Act dumber, act more like a child, and everyone else ignore her” or whatever?

    For the record I am an Asian woman. Ultimately we have to band together and make and tell better stories ourselves. I just wish I knew what the hell the director was thinking. How did any of that shit get Greenlit??? And how come no one got uncomfortable about seeing bullying tolerated on screen by people who are supposed to be the heroes?

  13. Gray Rothkopf

    August 25, 2017 at 11:59 am

    Thank you for this thoughtful, well-researched piece.

  14. Robert H

    August 25, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    I thought Mantis was some sort of humanoid insect Ego had raised from a larva. I’d never have thought the character was Asian.

      1. Vva

        August 27, 2017 at 9:23 am

        That’s would assume Gamora is black?

        And Yondu is white?

        They’re actors playing aliens.

        1. Claire Napier

          August 27, 2017 at 5:39 pm

          And analysis of the characters’ arcs bearing those designations in mind would be, yes, valid. You see? Aha!

  15. Five Alive

    August 25, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    Nice write up, I think Mantis is without doubt a commentary on Asian female stereotypes in America. I however came away with a different conclusion about her (fully agreed on the retrograde premise of her character being out of sync with the original, but I think there was some attempt here for a purpose).

    https://medium.com/plan-a-magazine/mantis-is-the-submissive-asian-female-we-need-61fe9b25acd1

  16. Tom

    August 26, 2017 at 9:49 am

    Hmmm. First let me say I see your concerns. The character is definitely not the Mantis that joined the Avengers and faced down Thanos. However I do believe that Gunn is building to that. It will require patience to see her whole arc and if she will become who she was meant to be. Is this chapter the best way to introduce her to people who are fans of her character? No and I can sympathize with how those people might feel.

    HOWEVER, I never even knew about the character at all before seeing this movie. I admit that she seemed such a pushover that I was waiting for her to stand up and fight back against Ego. I can look at the movie now though and hold hope that she is going to be developed further in the near future. I see her as a blank slate at this time that is going to change and morph into something closer to the character that you know. I can even believe that she will be THE ONE (or one of the very few) that manages to hurt Thanos and take him down as opposed to indestructible shields and rocket boots.

    Now, you left out something about Mantis that I think is important that people know. I think that it may actually support what James Gunn has done here which is maybe why you left it out but it IS an important part of her origin.

    “when she reaches adulthood, she is mind-wiped and sent into the world to gain life experience. She becomes a prostitute and barmaid in a Vietnamese bar”

    That’s from her Wikipedia page on her beginnings. It isn’t unfair to think that this is the basis for Gunn’s character. Sure she isn’t a barmaid and prostitute in the movie but she lives to serve Ego and he uses her for her powers (a barmaid serves and a prostitute is used for her body). The character in the movie feels very much a blank slate, not knowing more than what she has been told by Ego.

    I don’t know why you chose to leave out THAT bit of information as it seems to be a important part of her beginnings. Only later is she restored and her mega super importance revealed, as I think will be revealed in the future in the movies. It’s a rough beginning here that will pay off later. At least I hope it is. If she isn’t dealt with further and developed into what she should be, then yes, your article has great merit. But at this point we do not know.

    Had Mantis appeared as a full fledged hero and fighting and kicking I probably would not have given her much of a thought at all. She would have felt like a copy of Gamora and even Nebula. Yeah she would have looked different but the fights would have been the same quick cutting style used everywhere. Instead we got a character that I was unsure about and didn’t quite “get”. Someone who doesn’t quite fit in yet. Someone that if she gets developed and revealed to be so super powerful, will be exciting for me to see. Marvel is about the long game, obviously. I think we need to have patience to see what will happen with her and judge it then. And whether her blank slate origin and prostitute/barmaid time was a retcon or not, her character in the film seems to be taken from that part of her past. This is JUST her beginnings.

  17. Teague

    August 27, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    This analysis seemed pretty spot on to me- however I will say, the fact that the Guardians ignored her at first felt more like foreshadowing of the fact that Ego was actually evil and that Peter was being a douche.

    It seemed like they were also setting that up by having Peter give Rocket the cold shoulder, but then having the space pirate dad empathizing with Rocket, and also turning out to be Peter’s real father figure.

    Rocket being the other person who’s called a pet and treated contemptuously.

    And it seemed significant to me that, after ignoring her at first and mistreating her, the Guardians ONLY had a chance of with standing Ego because of she helped them.

    The least becomes the greatest.

  18. Michael Tanner

    August 29, 2017 at 10:03 am

    Shrug at the first half of the article just because your description of Mantis boils down to this – “Mantis in the comics is totally awesome at everything and is super powerful–why isn’t this secondary new character in this sequel not already the best at everything?” Because that’s not how it works? Narratively, commercially, etc. It’s really no different than any comic fan complaining about the way a favorite character is portrayed. “In the comics Thor could totally do _____ why can’t he in the movie?”- fanboy arguments on Wednesday afternoon.

    Second half spot on. Mantis in the movie is really troublesome because the narrative choices of the writers. Even if hand waving the Asian tropes (which you do in the comic origin so why not here?) the characters treat her poorly–but also we’re supposed to view all of the Guardians as being assholes to some extent. Although clearly Gunn made some level of moralty a priority in the story since he was willing to let them be thieves but not murders.

    I’ve read elsewhere that Drax/Mantis is supposed to be another riff on Fathers but it doesn’t come off that way at all…ever. So all of their interactions are gross. It seems like a missed opportunity to have the Guardian with the least emotional intelligence be the one that connects helps and supports this new person in their lives. I GUESS in his own way he does, but it never feels satisfying.

    I also hope there’s some interesting growth with the character and she’s not just the Counselor Troi of the space adventures….but do we need the super powerful, super good at everything version from the comics? No.

  19. Eva

    September 1, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    Thank you for this.

  20. Annastacia

    September 8, 2017 at 4:20 pm

    This takes the shiny shine off the movie for me, sadly. It doesn’t serve to ignore it though. Why do male filmmakers do this? It’s shitty, and I lose respect for a filmmaker that would fall back on tired tropes to tell a story.

    How the characters in the movie treated Mantis irked me, but I let it go because the Guardians treat each other the same way and let’s face it, they may save the universe, but they are also assholes. That juxtaposition is kind of the hilarity of the series.

    Learning Mantis’ back story though, demonstrates a flaw in story building deeper than what the characterizations portray.

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