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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Entry updated 3 January 2022. Tagged: Film.

Film (2017). Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (see The Walt Disney Company) presents a Marvel Studios production. Directed by James Gunn. Written by Gunn from the Marvel Comics Guardians of the Galaxy (25 issues, June 2008-August 2010) by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning: the "Guardians of the Galaxy" first appeared in Annihilation: Conquest #6 (April 2008). Cast includes Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Debicki, Vin Diesel, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Chris Pratt, Ving Rhames, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell, Zoe Saldana, Sylvester Stallone and Michelle Yeoh. 136 minutes. Colour.

Dysfunctional family relationships force a loosely-affiliated band of galactic mercenaries to form closer bonds with one another.

This sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) signals Marvel Studios' intent to make Space Opera a mainstay of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, complete with signature motifs of compromised father-figures, self-made families and Superpowers.

A haughty and vengeful Alien race called the Sovereign chase the Guardians through an Asteroid belt after Rocket Racoon (Cooper) steals some of the Power Source the Guardians were employed to protect from an interdimensional Monster. Mysterious Stranger Ego (Russell) destroys the Sovereign drone fleet pursuing the Guardians before revealing himself to be (a) the long-lost biological father to Peter Quill (Pratt) and (b) a Celestial capable of Xenoforming planets in his own image. Ego invites Quill, Gamora (Saldana) and Drax (Bautista) to his home planet, which he says is the first among many Living Worlds he has impregnated with his Celestial seed. Rocket and Groot (Diesel) remain behind to repair the Guardians' crash-landed Spaceship and to watch over Gamora's "psychotic" sister Nebula (Gillan) – a handy eventuality when Ego turns out to be both more and less than he claims to be and Quill, Gamora and Drax require a rescue party.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is, like protagonist Peter Quill, a child of the 1970s and 1980s: well-trodden horse opera tropes are leavened by diverting and well-timed badinage between the cast, persuasively lurid visuals gleaned by director James Gunn from former mentor Lloyd Kaufman – producer of low-rent Pulp fare such as The Toxic Avenger (1984) – and a soundtrack composed of popular music of the period, most notably Mr Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra (1977) and The Chain by Fleetwood Mac (1977). The plot is secondary to the feel of the film. 1980s action stars Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone both appear, former Knight Rider (1982-1986) lead actor David Hasselhoff makes a cameo as himself, and references to the popular culture of the period occur throughout. There seems a conscious effort to marry the Fandom of the original Marvel Comics – of which the Guardians of the Galaxy were one of the lesser-known byways – to common reminiscence of sf franchises such as Star Wars and Star Trek.

Father issues remain at the heart of it all. Ego's empathic servant Mantis (Klementieff; see Empathy under ESP for more) tells the three Guardians visiting Ego's planet that she is the only person who can grant the monomaniacal Celestial sleep: he is otherwise too busy reforming and naming everything after himself, impregnating countless women on countless worlds (see Women in SF) and employing Villain from the first film Yondu Udonta (Rooker) to collect the resulting children to fuel Ego's not-yet-successful Colonization of Other Worlds. Quill realizes he must use his own nascent powers as a Celestial to resist rather than assist his father and thereby forswear the promise of Immortality. "You're not a god if you kill me," Ego tells his son: "You'll be just like everyone else." "What's wrong with that?" Quill asks. The other Guardians help Quill fulfil the oedipal impulse by using the batteries they stole at the beginning of the movie as an explosive Weapon deployed at the weak point of Ego's home planet, as per the Death Star in the majority of the films in the Star Wars franchise.

Much of the action occurs as visual montage over music: this functions to generate fellow-feeling for the Guardians as they embark on their trail of destruction, not least because the film is at least as witty as it is infantile (see Humour), and the relationship between the live-action and the computer-generated imagery very well judged indeed. The Gods and Demons family dramas of ancient Mythology are combined with the wry stand-offs and sudden shifts of allegiance of the Western films of Howard Hawks (1896-1977) or John Ford (1894-1973), while the psychedelic Dimensions and Cosmology of Doctor Strange (2016) – harbinger of the "cosmic" aspect of Phase Three of the Marvel cinematic project – are realized here as swirls of pink and yellow and blue that integrate more fully with what the actors are doing. There are almost as many attractive shots of the curvature of planets as in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005).

The message of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is spelled out at several points, just in case anyone has missed it. "I finally found my family, don't you understand that?" Quill says to Gamora shortly after they arrive on Ego's home planet. "I thought you already had," she replies. There is no character that does not lack for ancestral love or understanding and who cannot in the end find it in the camaraderie of their fellow bandits, much in the manner of the Television series Firefly (2002) and indeed a good deal of space opera. "When I was young I felt utterly alone," said writer and director James Gunn in an open letter to fans after the successful release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. "I found my respite in popular entertainment – Marvel comics, science fiction and horror films, the music of the Sex Pistols, the Replacements and Queen." It is this need that Marvel Studios, now owned by Disney, has made it its business to address, and one to which Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 applies itself to with some aplomb.

Credit cookie call-outs to Marvel fans foreshadow what writer and director Gunn intends to do with the third film in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise: Queen of the Sovereign Ayesha (Debicki) is seen constructing Marvel comic-book character Adam Warlock in a golden sarcophagus; executive producer Stan Lee surveys the action with Marvel extra-terrestrials the Watchers; the presence of Guardians of the Galaxy comic book characters Aleta Ogord (Yeoh) and Charlie-27 (Rhames) suggests they will be part of future instalments. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a Shared World with a cosmic dimension bound together with the basic Psychology of family dynamics. [MD]


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