In this essay written in June 2017, Natalie Mokry explores the optimistic notes in the chosen family themes of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise.
Going on its 7th week in the theaters, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has seen domestic box office success of $380 million and counting. Where it has also experienced success, however, is in its ability to tug at the heartstrings of fans. It seems obvious to say that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 and 2 are stories about outsiders who found each other, joined forces and created a family along the way. From the first film, we discovered that each of the Guardians had their own personal history, none of which were too pleasant. They had lost loved ones, lost a piece of themselves, and were practically out in the universe on their own. What is not so easy to put into words though is how the most recent Guardians film so perfectly creates a feeling of togetherness and stability. When watching Vol. 2, it feels as if we are not just watching the Guardians again on another journey, but that we’re with them on their journey, like coming home to our family once more. A family that the Guardians have built with us.
It is clear from watching Vol. 2 how much heart went into the writing and direction of the film. In an interview from /Film with writer and director James Gunn, he reiterates the importance he placed on making the second film about “being a family” while the first was about ‘becoming a family.”
There were various ways in the which the film obviously pushed themes of “family” and “outsiders” very plainly out in the open. Rocket and Yondu’s sudden connection to each other along with Peter and Ego’s ball tossing scene was a bit spot on. But there were also many subtle directions sprinkled throughout the film that made these themes so genuine. Like any great film, the characters did not just explain their feelings, but they showed us. So what is it that makes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 feel like a such a relatable journey?
Spoilers for both Guardians of the Galaxy films below.
Not only is Baby Groot perhaps one of the most adorable characters from any film ever, but more than that, he is a physical reminder to the other Guardians of the sacrifice Groot made for them in the first film. Gunn established that Baby Groot does not have any of the previous Groot’s memories. However, the Guardians remember and so do we as an audience. His “rebirth” stands as a symbol of the family they created and the sacrifices they were willing to make for each other. The choice to keep him a baby was pretty perfect. The cuteness, the innocence, and the complete need for guidance created a character whom the others had to look out for and nurture. Throughout the film, Baby Groot played a significant role in various areas of the story, but one of the most important parts of his role was to create a natural fluidity between the characters, which made their family feel more real. Whether it’s Rocket telling Baby Groot to spit a bug out of his mouth while they were fighting a space monster, or Drax letting him fall asleep on his shoulder, no matter what they were all doing, each of them was always keeping an eye on the little one.
Right before Rocket and Yondu travel to save Peter from Ego, Yondu tells Rocket that the two of them are one in the same. Outsiders with an emptiness inside them that they try to fill with activities like thieving. This has been Rocket’s journey all along; to accept that he is capable of being loved. When he sees everyone come to honor Yondu’s funeral, however, it is then as he is looking at all of the lights in the sky, that he comes to the realization that he too is capable of love and friendship, even with his more frustrating attributes.
Some Unspoken Thing
Referring to Quill and Gamora’s romantic back and forth in Vol. 2, “some unspoken thing” could be considered another theme of the film in other ways as well. Each of the characters has a horrible past that is constantly looming over them. They don’t even have to mention it for us to know it’s there. Throughout the story, for example, Drax allows Mantis to empathize with the pain he feels in remembering his dead daughter and wife. But in that scene, we see him coping on the outside as he sits next to Mantis who weeps from the turmoil he feels on the inside. Though he is sad, he no longer is running around with rage in his heart. Gamora also looks to a brighter future. She opens herself up to Nebula as a sister and even offers her a spot with them, fighting for the greater good of the galaxy. In the film, the Guardians learn not to totally forget their pasts, but rather to keep it from defining them.
At the end of Vol. 2, Yondu saves Peter much in the same way that Peter saved Gamora in the middle of the first film, bringing Peter’s self-discovery full circle. In the first volume, Peter was overcome by the need to save a friend on the verge of death. In that moment he began to realize he was someone who could be selfless and put others first. So, if the first film was about him recognizing that for the first time, the second was about him realizing he was worth saving too and he finally opened up his heart completely to the idea that true family doesn’t have to be blood-related. All of his life, he wanted a dad. What he got was a monster, but what he gained from it all was a new outlook on life. A life with no parents, but a life with great friends and the memory of a father figure in Yondu. This is also where the brilliance of James Gunn’s storytelling abilities come into play. After re-watching the first film, it is clear that Yondu indeed always had a soft spot for Quill. Even if that soft spot was a little rough around the edges.
“A bunch of jackasses standing in a circle.”
While in the first installment, the Guardians all valiantly stood together (with Rocket claiming they were “a bunch of jackasses standing in a circle”), vowing that it would be an honor to die amongst friends, the end of Vol. 2 shows how far they have all come with this vow. Without a second thought, they were all willing to stand together, leaving no one behind. Gamora is the first to realize something is off with Ego, which is then confirmed by Mantis. Yondu, Rocket, and Baby Groot at this time are also on their way to help save Peter. No matter the obstacles that were to come, or what stood in the way, they planned on getting out together. Nebula tells them that they cannot be friends as much as they argue with one another, but Drax responds by saying that they are family, and that family doesn’t leave anyone behind.
Guardians overall does an excellent job at cinematically engaging us with the story on a personal level. Even though the film takes place on fictional planets with fictional technologies, the characters and their journey could really translate to almost anyone, anywhere who has ever felt alone. In a Facebook post from director James Gunn, he stated that he himself felt like a loner when he was younger and had a hard time accepting love and connecting with others, but that popular entertainment helped him to realize that he was not completely alone. Like it does for many of us as well, films and stories allow us to feel a sense of belonging in the world and make sense of our place within it. And that’s exactly what Guardians succeeds in doing best. With its memorable soundtrack and lovable characters, both films have touched our hearts and established a place for generations of loners to come home to.