Mantis, played by French-Canadian actress Pom Klementieff (Old Boy, Ingrid Goes West) , takes a little getting used to in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 but by the end of the film she has definitely become part of the galaxy’s most property-destructive, snarktastic ohana. How can one take an active dislike to her? She’s an emotional zit-popper! She has adorable antenna!
While Mantis is a breath of fresh air to the group dynamic, I certainly see and understand the criticisms people have lobbied at the character. Writers far better versed than I on the issues of Asian representation and stereotypes in popular culture have succinctly critiqued the character. In spite of how Mantis could be problematically read and viewed, while acknowledging she isn’t as developed as she could have been, I would like to think Mantis was given enough background and dimension in Vol.2 to be seen as an interesting character on her own terms and can be further developed in future films. Yondu and Nebula were given additional depth and development in Vol. 2 so I don’t see why Mantis won’t be given the same treatment in Vol. 3.
I got a big kick out of Mantis as the Galaxy’s Worst Therapist in one of her first scenes, when she naively and cheerfully pulls back the curtains on the WHITE ELEPHANT OF SEXUAL TENSION sitting between the MCU’s galactic Sam and Diane. Her pure innocuous joy and happiness at discovering a shiny new emotion was an amazing bit of comedy, to the extreme embarrassment of Peter and Gamora.
For Drax on the other hand, Christmas came early.
It was a smart narrative decision on Vol.2’s part to pair Mantis with Drax as her main buddy, as mind-boggling as it is to realize Drax of all people is the straight-man in their dynamic. Peter and Gamora, and Rocket and Groot are often buddy-copped together, while Drax bounces off every individual member, but has no equal “partner.” Pairing him with an individual who is equally as literal-minded and emotionally transparent results in pure comedic gold. Mantis’ friendship with Drax, heavily influenced by experiencing healthy, yet heartbreaking, parental love through the love he holds for his deceased child, also sowed the seeds for Mantis shifting her allegiance from Ego to the Guardians and to reveal Ego’s true plans for Peter. The poor girl definitely has enough trauma to match the Guardians’ collective emotional baggage. She, Gamora and Nebula share the common ground of having been adopted by an insane megalomaniac, although Mantis had the sliiiiightly less traumatizing experience of being gaslit into acting as an indentured servant and participant in the systemic killing of children (OK, I take back the “less traumatizing experience”) in comparison to being pitted against one’s adopted siblings to the death. Mantis and Peter are also effectively step-siblings and I foresee drunken bonds being forged over the HORRIBLENESS of Ego.
However, once she gets into the swing of things a la the typical MCU “save the world” final act, Mantis’ true colors as a happy-go-luck gleeful fan of destruction in the same way that children like to smash their Legos or people like to watch buildings being demolished. “The grumpy puppy makes me want to DIE!!!” - I can relate to your manic, destructive joy Mantis. Meanwhile in the foreground, Drax is all “that girl is WHACK man.”
Overall, Mantis is an excellent addition to the Guardians. It would do the rag-tag team some good to have someone, albeit a very naïve and empathic touch-happy, who is willing to bring uncomfortable emotions into the light. Or she could unwittingly unleash galactic World War Three - either way Mantis fits right in with her new family.