Was ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’s Mantis Even Necessary?

In the immediate wake of the latest mega-hit film, it’s nearly impossible to step back into the necessary critical perspective in order to properly analyze it.  We’re all still grooving to the beat it’s laying down — sometimes coming back for second and even third viewings — and nobody wants to be a buzz-kill.

It probably took until my third viewing of The Avengers before I was able to really sink my teeth into things: to do more than just mindlessly cheer whenever the Hulk leapt on screen.  I mean, I still cheer mindlessly whenever Hulk leaps on screen, but it’s no longer the only thing I do.

When it comes to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I stand by my first impressions of the film.  It was a phenomenally fun movie, exponentially better than the first and will doubtless go down as one of the best films — blockbuster or otherwise — of 2017.  The characters gelled together better than they did in their first outing, the plot was a vastly more emotional experience and the action scenes are second to none.  It is everything I’ve ever wanted out of both a summer blockbuster and a Marvel movie.

But something’s been nagging at me ever since I saw it: something tickling at the back of my brain that I haven’t quite been able to put to words until just now.  Despite how much fun she is on screen and the absolute riot she is when paired with Drax, Mantis — the newest member of the Guardians of the Galaxy — is completely unnecessary to the movie.

This is not to say that she should have been cut from it, mind you.  On the contrary, some of the most unnecessary characters in film history have been the most fun.  Despite offering nothing more than a quick quip and an outside perspective, Darcy Lewis was one of the best parts of either Thor movie.  Boba Fett does next to nothing in the original Star Wars trilogy and he’s become one of that franchise’s most popular characters.  Indiana Jones was completely superfluous to the outcome of Raiders of the Lost Ark but is remembered today as one of fiction’s greatest heroes.

Just like those characters’ movies, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 finds a lot to do with its third wheel.  While all of the other main characters are paired off on their own, she gives Drax somebody to talk to instead of just stomping off somewhere by himself.  When Gamora discovers the mass grave of Ego’s other children, Mantis is able to fill in the gaps in the narrative that she would otherwise have had to guess at.  During the final fight with Ego, she’s able to put the Celestial to sleep so that the other Guardians could deal with the invading Sovereign who were also attacking them.

But despite all she does, none of it amounts to much.  Sure, she was a lot of fun with Drax, but he could have just as easily found something to do with himself for a couple of scenes.  Yes, she’s able to tell us more about what Gamora found, but it’s nothing that they — or us, for that matter — couldn’t have figured out on their own: nothing that the Quill Family Graveyard didn’t already speak volumes about, given their current situation.  And while she did contribute to that final battle, James Gunn & Co. could have just had Ego take longer to regenerate between deaths and have gotten the same effect.

And why was she even with Ego in the first place?  She tells the Guardians that she helps Ego to sleep, but never why that’s such a necessary function to begin with.

Is it just that Ego’s getting old and can’t quite manage the way he used to?  That seems unlikely, given how he’s able to lay the cosmic smack down on Starlord later in the movie.

Is it because of the strain of being away from “the light” on his planet that empowers him?  Doubtful, given that he spent countless eons travelling the universe to father children from every intelligent species.

Is it because of the weight of Ego’s death children pressing on his conscience?  Although he does show some genuine sentimentality toward Earth and Starlord’s mother, the pile of bones nestled unceremoniously in a cavern a short distance away from his palace says otherwise.

No.  The movie could have just as easily cut her out in her entirety and the course of events would have run the same as they do now.  She serves no greater purpose in the film’s narrative, doesn’t add any thematic weight and doesn’t help develop the main cast of characters.  She is a completely superfluous addition to the movie.

And yet, if James Gunn had seen fit to excise her from Vol. 2, the film would have been demonstrably the less for it.  Like Darcy, Boba Fett and Indiana Jones, Mantis, although strictly speaking unnecessary, is integrally important to the overall success of the movie.

She’s a fun character who has fun interactions with the rest of the cast, which is as much as can be said of any of the heroes in The Avengers.  Although her absence could have been written around, it wouldn’t have given us the same heartwarming moments with Drax or quite brought the romantic tension between Starlord and Gamora out in quite the same way.  The movie found more than enough for her to do, and wouldn’t have been nearly the enjoyable ride it is without her in it.

Unnecessary, yes, but indispensably so.

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