Remember back in 2014 when Marvel was set to release the first Guardians of the Galaxy film? Back then, it was seen as their biggest risk to date. A sort of “heat check” to see if their blockbuster franchise had grown big enough that audiences basically went to see the films regardless of the characters they centered on. Sure, Guardians was an established comic book property, but most of the general movie-going public had no idea who Star Lord, Groot and Rocket Raccoon were. Still, guided by the vision of James Gunn, the movie became one of the most loved films in the canon (and one of my personal favorites). It was a wild comedic sci-fi romp that pumped the 70’s music and leaned on the likability of the characters and their wise-cracking dialog. It was fantastic. Everyone knew there would be a sequel and this time there was a lot less uncertainty about it’s reception. We were all excited to see where the team would go next.
Spoilers follow! Come back after you’ve seen the film!
The great thing about sequels is that you don’t need to spend so much of the film getting to know the characters – you can jump right into the action and get moving with the plot. Here, we begin with a flashback to the 70’s and a budding romance. The first film spent some time exploring the origins of the hero Peter Quill – a human who was taken from Earth by space pirates as a young boy moments after his mother died of cancer. He never knew his dad, but the pirates (led by Yondu) raised him aboard their ship. In volume 2, Quill will finally meet his father and learn about himself. In fact, his father and mother are the young couple in our opening prologue. Quill’s father is a celestial alien. A god-like being named Ego.
After a crazy opening battle and chase scene, Ego finally finds Peter and announces his identity as his father. He invites Quill to come to his own, personal planet to learn who he really is. Ego explains his own origin and then Peter’s, telling him that his destiny to to join him on this world as a celestial. You see, Peter has some of the same powers as Ego to create and control matter. But it’s what Ego what’s Peter to use those powers for that turns everything into chaos.
Ego, as it turns out, is a mad god-like being intent on bulldozing the galaxy to expand himself into everything. He always needed a partner to accomplish this goal, so he has been sleeping around the galaxy hoping that he would produce an heir to assist him with his plan. Peter is that heir, but he and his friends are ready to fight to save the galaxy … again.
In the meantime, there are some B and C plots going on that figure into the overall theme of family and what that means to a person’s identity. Gamora and Nebula are sisters who were raised by an evil alien who forced them to battle each other. When Nebula lost, a part of her was “upgraded” until she was as metal mosaic and angry with her Gamora for always winning. Would these two reconcile or split again? And Rocket is dealing with an inferiority complex he’s had all along and realizing that he and Peter, who often at odds, are very similar. So can they co-exist on the team?
These family issues (and, sure, daddy issues) give the film a personal depth that balances well with the quips and space battles. Daddy issues have become something of an eye-rolling trope in movies, especially sci-fi movies, but the bottom line is that these stories are affecting for audiences because everyone struggles with the underlying themes they bring up. The quintessential plot question of “who am I?” is given a new dimension with the question of “who is my father/mother?”. Star Wars owns the patent on “what if my father is evil?” and many films have played off that question. If my father is a bad guy, does that make me a bad guy? Can I battle my own father if he’s evil? Could I even kill my own father if I had to? And what does it mean that I have part of my evil father inside of me? These are deep questions that create lots of tension for movie characters and their audiences.
And that’s where a side character from the first movie becomes a surprisingly deep, central character to the story in volume 2: Yondu, the pirate who took Peter from Earth and raised him as a pirate. Yondu was a father-figure for Peter for years, but not always for the best. And we see Yondu shunned by his crew and other pirates for violating their code by transporting children at one point. We soon learn that Ego had employed Yondu to retrieve his progeny from across the universe and deliver them to his planet. There, Ego tested the children and killed them when they were unable to match his powers. Yondu lived with the reality of his role in those deaths and went rogue, keeping Peter on his ship and never delivering him as promised. Yondu served as a surrogate father, one that Peter didn’t always appreciate until the very end when Yondu gives his life to save Peter’s. Yondu’s somewhat goofy line was actually full of depth: “Ego may have been your father, but he wasn’t your daddy.”
There’s a profundity to that statement. And Yondu’s Christ-like sacrifice drive home a theological vision of a true father-figure who doesn’t abandon his people to sin and the grave (like our evil father would want), but gives his life to save ours and show himself as our true daddy.
And not only that, Yondu’s sacrifice galvanizes the troubled relationships among the team – the family. At one point, someone says that a good team wouldn’t be constantly yelling at each other, to which they reply that they’re not a team, they’re a family. And the family is brought together and peace is found when they see selfless sacrifice demonstrated for their own benefit. The sisters Gamora and Nebula realize that while they were often pitted against each other, they were sisters all along and that was a blessing. Rocket sees Yondu as a father-figure to himself and Peter and grieves the loss along with his “brother”. It’s beautiful.
So Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, to me, is a smashing success. Maybe not quite on the level of the fantastic first adventure, but definitely a worthy sequel (and that’s a hard thing to accomplish). I’m so glad that James Gunn is locked in for Volume 3 because it’s his vision and guidance that make these films what they are. I can’t wait to see what family theme they will under-gird it with.
And what songs are on the soundtrack.
And what Drax and Groot will do to steal the show.