Having spent fifteen days obsessing over the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is absolutely clear that half of the appeal spawns from the prickly nature of our heroes. We started with Tony Stark barely putting the lives of others before his own, marched on with the first supposedly selfless Avenger compromising his morality in Civil War, and stood agape at the depths Doctor Strange would plummet to benefit his own pity party.
The Marvel champions are a gang of troubled, struggling human beings. If not for Red Skulls and charming gods of mischief, The Avengers would probably have lost themselves to alcohol (Stark), suicide (Banner), incarceration (Lang), rebellion (Thor), and wallowing (Strange). Steve Rogers would have turned out just fine. He’s a good dude.
The first volume of Guardians of the Galaxy broke free from Earth’s orbit and reached beyond the realms of Asgard to portray an even quirkier band of miscreants. Star-Lord was an abandoned child living the life of an Artful Dodger, barely holding it together thanks to an Awesome Mix of rock ‘n’ roll gifted to him by his dying mother. Rocket Raccoon was a science experiment condemned to a life of crime and cantankerous antagonism. Similar to Star-Lord, Gamora was ripped from her home planet and groomed to be a psychopathic killer. Drax was a widowed father hellbent on revenge, and Groot was…“I am Groot,” until he was “We are Groot.”
With 11% of a plan, these Guardians stood against Ronan The Accuser and fended off his xenophobic zealotry to the tune of “O-O-H Child” by The Five Stairsteps. As a group of friends well experienced in the sorrow of loss, the cosmic Avengers found much-needed companionship in the act of liberation. Star-Lord recognized his A-hole nature, made peace with it, and promised never to fall totally into the territory of “Dick” occupied by Ronan. That’s an internal conflict all Marvel superheroes seem to be caught inside, and it did not end with the rescue of Xandar. It most likely never will.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 pumps the breaks on the road to Infinity War. Minus some necessary references to Papa Thanos to fuel the sibling rivalry between Gamora and Nebula, James Gunn is allowed a very full two hours and eighteen minutes to exclusively explore the relationships of his characters. The sequel is not interested in the big beam of blue light piercing the sky of some doomed city. Gunn sets up a few minor villains (The Sovereign and Taserface) in an effort to distract you from the big bad dad wearing Kurt Russell’s face. For two-thirds of the film, the audience is scratching its head, wondering when a genuine threat will introduce itself. What’s with this playing house routine?
The Infinity Gauntlet can wait. You may not have been expecting a tentpole hangout movie, but that’s the sit Gunn has in store for you. Making headlines across the universe for saving the innocent in a beautiful bassackwards fashion, Star-Lord’s deadbeat dad comes knocking on the Milano’s door. The kid with delusions of Knight Rider fatherhood doesn’t fall for it hook, line, and sinker, but a few hours under the spell of a potential Kurt Russell kinship would sway any man. No need for that paternity test. The rugged good looks say it all.
Saved from certain death under the sights of The Sovereign’s arcade pod ships, the Guardians are forced to chill on Ego’s planet. They fall under his spell while George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” infects their wonder, and the sound of shore leave takes hold. The respite gives the group an opportunity to work out their emotional kinks. Monsters and villains will eventually reveal themselves, but they need to address those “some unspoken things” before they reach for their rocket packs and blasters. If you’re not here to “feel feelings” with Mantis or empathize with Drax’s sensitive nipples then you’re going to be marking your time till Infinity War.
In the first film, Yondu was practically just an excuse for Gunn to sneak his buddy Michael Rooker into a Marvel film. He barely looked like his comic book counterpart, and he certainly did not sound like him. Since no one really knew or cared who the Guardians of the Galaxy actually were, Gunn had more liberty to insert his own brand of weird into the MCU.
In Vol. 2, suddenly Yondu is a critical lynchpin for the character development of both Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon. As Peter discovers the dark nature of his biological father (he’s a Celestial god of the small g variety), the Artful Dodger realizes that Yondu was the daddy that raised him. For Rocket, the bastard creature who uses sarcasm and petulance to distance himself from emotional investment, Yondu is a mirror. Witnessing the Ravager clan turn against Yondu is as good a lesson on the value of familial appreciation as Rocket will ever get. Maybe next time he’ll let Peter steer the Milano through the asteroid belt.
At the end of his life, Yondu acknowledges his own place in the universe. He denied Peter his love. No more. Cast out by Taserface, he must come to terms with the fact that keeping a lid on his thoughts and feelings allowed for his first mate Kraglin to briefly question his loyalty. Honesty is the best policy.
While Ego found purpose in spreading his seed, Star-Lord found that same drive in the losers that accepted him. At the brink of death or at least a condemned fate as Ego’s battery, Peter sees what matters most to him. Sharing a song with his mother, a laugh with Rocket and Drax, a dance with Gamora, and an education with Yondu.
Witnessing his real space daddy ride a telepathic arrow like Mary Poppins wields her umbrella, Peter offers a quick mockery, “You look like Mary Poppins.” To which Yondu replies, “Is he cool?” Peter cannot deny him, “Hell yeah, he’s cool.” And Yondu celebrates Peter’s assertion with a battle-cry scream, “I’m Mary Poppins Y’all!” If that doesn’t reduce you to tears and validate the entire experience of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 than you’re a monster of a human being.
When you expect the MCU to be gearing up for its ultimate culmination of events, Vol. 2 takes a break from signposting its mythology. We’re here for the family squabbles and the internal resolution. As a mother’s love lived on in an Awesome Mixtape, a father’s love will continue when Peter presses play on his new Microsoft Zune. Yes, it’s a Marvel movie, and it’s required to end in a light show, but Peter Quill’s flashback resolution and the salvation of Yondu’s soul before death is about as epic as anything can get.
What Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Contributes to the MCU:
- Stakar – Just another actor I never expected to see in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sylvester Stallone’s head Ravager is as much of a disappointed daddy to Yondu as Yondu is to Peter. Casting fin-head from the ranks of his favorite pirates due to his child slave dealings with Ego, Stakar denies Yondu the horns of freedom and the colors of Ogord from his grave. Eventually learning of Yondu’s bravery from Rocket’s obituary, Stakar concludes the film with a proper Ravager funeral. Stallone’s appearance amounts to little more than a cameo, but you can bet his O.G. Guardians will reappear in Vol. 3 along with more Michael Rosenbaum, Ving Rhames, Michelle Yeoh, and Miley Cyrus.
- Mantis – As the latest addition to the Guardians of the Galaxy, Pom Klementieff introduces herself to the MCU as a flea with a purpose. Ego keeps her on his planet because her empathic abilities grant him release from his burden. She’s also an astonishing gateway into the hidden emotions of characters like Star-Lord and Drax. To see their feelings laid bare on her face is a unique cinematic trick and further proof as to why silly superpower stories are so rad.
- Adam Warlock – The most promising end credits sequence from Vol. 2, we see Elizabeth Debicki’s enraged Sovereign queen pondering over a new birthing pod. She claims that an ultimate weapon is brewing inside, “I think I will call him Adam.” In many ways, Adam Warlock is the ultimate cosmic Marvel hero. He’s going to spring forth from that chamber a little confused, somewhat angry, but he’ll grow into a significant threat against Thanos. He’s the character I’m most excited to see debut in Vol. 3.
What Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 withholds from the MCU:
- Yondu – I was just totally devastated by his death in this film. Like I stated above, I initially saw Michael Rooker as an oddity in the cast. Now, Yondu represents the franchise’s emotional core. Bravo, sir. I can’t imagine a James Gunn film without him, so I’m betting we’ll get another glimpse of him via flashback or some other clever method. If Gunn could manage to find a way to get Gregg Henry’s Grandpa Quill into the Dairy Queen of Vol. 2, Rooker will return in Vol. 3.
- Ego – So great. Kurt Russell can flash charm and villainy in a single breath. One moment you’re tearing up at a game of catch and the next you’re thirsting for his destruction. He put a tumor in Meredith Quill’s head? Bastard! You go from falling for him to hating him in the span of thirty minutes. Bonus points to Gunn for actually working his planet-sized face into the film.
- Taserface – What a chump, and totally canon. The bad guy from the comic books might be a little more respectable, but I am here for Chris Sullivan’s ridiculous mutineer. He’s the Rodney Dangerfield of the Marvel Universe, no respect, no respect. It was probably the right call to kill him off, I certainly wouldn’t want to see him popping up in Phase Four, but a one-shot short film with Steve Agee’s Gef could be fun. Call me, Marvel.
“Annihilation” by Keith Giffen – Not having to worry about whatever silliness the Avengers were up to, Giffen was allowed to go completely nuts with this massive crossover of the Marvel cosmic universe. The versions of Star-Lord and Drax the Destroyer that you fell in love with in James Gunn’s first film began their life here. On top of that, you are gifted several side stories involving Thanos, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, Nova, the Skrulls, and Ronan the Accuser. “Annihilation” is a who’s who of those whacky characters that can’t be bothered with New York City. As the ravenous Annihilation Wave (imagine a very hungry swarm of space bugs) spreads across the galaxy, a small band of heroes and villains must partner up to save the very fabric of reality.
Read more from our series on the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- Day One – Iron Man is Marvel’s Villain Problem
- Day Two – The Real Civil War Began in The Incredible Hulk
- Day Three – You Can Count on Iron Man 2 to Pleasure Itself
- Day Four – The Marvel Cinematic Universe Finds its Worth in The Mighty Thor
- Day Five – Captain America is the First Selfless Avenger
- Day Six – The Avengers is Burdened with Glorious Purpose
- Day Seven – Iron Man 3 Illustrates How Subtelty Has Had its Day in the MCU
- Day Eight – Wait! Maybe Thor: The Dark World is Marvel’s Villain Problem
- Day Nine – Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the Brutality of Bromance
- Day Ten – Guardians of the Galaxy Takes the Hand of the MCU and Discovers an Awesome Mix
- Day Eleven – Avengers: Age of Ultron Pits Old Testament Against New Testament
- Day Twelve – Ant-Man Returns the Heart to the Marvel Cinematic Universe
- Day Thirteen – Captain America: Civil War and the Unforgivable Sin of Steve Rogers
- Day Fourteen – Doctor Strange and the Bargaining of Self