It’s no secret that I love the Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s also no secret that I was super excited for Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2. However, I still really struggled with writing this piece. I had trouble trying to capture just how this film affected me. But…I think I’m ready to try. In 2014, James Gunn simultaneously stole my heart and made me laugh until I cried with Guardians Of The Galaxy. I immediately fell in love with these characters and this universe so I’ve been patiently waiting (for nearly three years!!) to see them again. Now that I have, THERE’S SO MUCH TO TALK ABOUT. So let’s go! Fair warning, spoilers will follow.
Set not long after the first film, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 finds the Guardians – Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and the even-more-adorable-than-you-think-possible Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) – using their reputation as the people who saved the galaxy from Ronan the Accuser to sell their heroic services. They take a job protecting a genetically altered race called the Sovereign from a giant space slug in exchange for Nebula (Karen Gillian), who the Sovereign have prisoner. Their plan to take Nebula back to Xandar and collect her bounty is thrown off when Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), the Sovereign leader, orders their fleet to attack after learning Rocket stole from them. The Guardians are forced to crash land on a planet where they meet Peter’s father Ego (Kurt Russell) – a godlike being called a Celestial – and his servant Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Peter, Gamora, and Drax journey with Ego and Mantis to Ego’s planet in an attempt to learn the truth of his connection with Peter while Rocket and Groot stay behind to repair the Milano and guard Nebula. However Rocket, Groot, and Nebula soon clash with Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) and his Ravagers, who the Sovereign have hired to capture and return the Guardians.
The natural temptation when writing/thinking/talking about any sequel is to compare it to its predecessor. But to me, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 feels more like the next chapter in a book as opposed to a whole new story. As with all great narratives, as the story progresses we find growth. We see the characters evolve while their world (aliens, planets, and ships) continues to expand. So many superhero movies fall into the trap of being most concerned with the threat the heroes are fighting. Hollywood seems to think each successive threat need be different and bigger than what preceded it. With so great a focus on larger, scarier threats, character development can sadly be sacrificed or forgotten altogether. Thankfully that’s not the case here! Ego’s plan to absorb all of creation into himself feels like the subplot to the emotional growth and challenges the Guardians face which, if you ask me, is exactly how it should be.
Gunn’s Guardians movies have the richest, most compelling characters of any superhero film I’ve seen. Despite all the tragedy and pain in their past, they laugh, love, joke, and dance their way to, through, and around the threats they face together. How could you not love them?!? Gunn honors these characters by being bold enough to make their emotional growth the most important part of this film, all while still making me laugh until my face hurt and filling it with visually stunning battle scenes. This sort of character development is always important in a superhero sequel (who wants to see boring, static characters with no evolution simply fighting a new menace??) but it’s especially appreciated in a film with such a vibrant cast.
While I love everything the MCU’s given us, at times the Avengers sequels feel more like Easter egg hunts than character-driven storytelling. Also, the Avengers have a ridiculous habit of getting “torn apart” every film, before coming together to save the day. Every. Single. Time. Thankfully Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 rises above all that. The Guardians don’t have to fight, feud, or hate each other, only to come back together to save the day in the final act. Rather we see a group of complex individuals who care about each other grow together and become a stronger team by the end. In 2014, I didn’t fall in love with spaceship battles or lazer gun fights. I fell in love with Peter, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot. And Vol. 2 makes me feel like I’ve grown closer to them.
Of all its brilliance, what moved me most about this film was its message about family. When Nebula chides Gamora, saying the Guardians aren’t friends as all the ever do is yell at each other, Drax replies, “We’re family.” That’s beautiful! In Guardians of the Galaxy we meet these five broken, lonely, disconnected individuals who find their first honest experience of friendship together. Now, in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 we see that relationship evolve. They’re no longer simply friends; they are family. That’s one of life’s greatest blessings – when a friend makes that transition to family. I’ve said before, as I’ve grown up I’ve learned that “family” doesn’t simply mean the people you’re connected to by blood. Sure, that can be part of the definition. But, in reality, family is the circle of people that you are bonded to in and through love. That’s what the Guardians have found in each other. Over the course of these two films we’ve seen them journey from misfit loners to friends to a family forged in love and trust. This message places Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 amongst the very best and most important films the MCU has offered so far. But James Gunn and co. don’t stop there.
In this film it’s not just the Guardians who grow. We learn so much more about Nebula and Yondu too. Nebula, relegated to the role of side villain in the original while Ronan took center stage, reveals herself as another damaged being, doing her best to survive in her own way. We see the scars Thanos left behind, physical and emotional, as well as her desire to have a relationship with her sister…even if she doesn’t quite know what that is. We also see her blood-lust balanced by her protection (in her own way) of Rocket, Groot, Yondu, and Kraglin. Yondu too, the morally dubious pirate captain of the first film, reveals who he really is in Vol. 2. He’s spent his life trying to make up for the sins he committed, ferrying kids to Ego, by protecting Peter. We see Yondu let his walls down as he pierces Rocket’s as well. They are kindred spirits and, in learning about themselves through each other, it makes it easier for them to open up to everyone else too. When the moment of decision comes, Yondu fights alongside Rocket and Groot. And when he dies? Yeah, I’ll be honest, the ending got me. I cried from when Peter starts thinking of his family all the way through the Ravager funeral for Yondu. And the second (and third and fourth) time I saw it? When I was ready for everything? Yeah I cried even more knowing what was coming.
In Nebula and Yondu the film’s message of family evolves in an important way. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 doesn’t just show friends who have become a very real family to each other. Rather, it also shows the expansion of that family. What was once Peter, Gamora, Rocket, Groot, and Drax grows to include Yondu, Nebula, Mantis, and Kraglin too. So the film simultaneously shows us the movement in love that turns friends into family while also showing us the potential for family to grow. What in life can be more important than that?
Honestly, think about it. This idea of our family, so defined as those we are most bonded to in love, is something that can be ever growing. Our family can easily grow to include people we once saw as enemies (Nebula), those who cared for us more than we ever thought (Yondu), those who seemed at one point nothing more than a casual acquaintance (Kraglin), and those who were complete strangers (Mantis). Everyone can be welcome. Everyone can belong. Ultimately, in love, we can all find a place to call home. In that movement to love we find very real hope, meaning, and salvation in life.
So in the Guardians of the Galaxy, I see my family. I see Friday night dinner at Grandma’s with all of us gathered around the table. I see family picnics and birthday parties through the years and all the hijinks, shenanigans, and awkward moments that fill those times together. I see the amazing friends I’ve made, scattered through life, who’ve become family now too. I see the brothers and sisters I’ve found through work and the teachers I had who I’ve built and maintained real relationships with as well. I see all these beautiful people that fill my life who I’ve come to know, trust, and love. I also see the Kingdom of God.
With the growth of family from misfits and outsiders, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 takes on a decidedly religious message in the best possible way. Without sliding too far down the theology geek road, it’s safe to say that the Kingdom of God was the center of Jesus’ mission, message, and ministry. A BIG part of this Kingdom was the idea that everyone was welcome, everyone was loved just as they are, and – together – they would be more than they could have every imagined. This is exactly what happens with the Guardians!
So I was excited for Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2. I tried to manage my expectations but, given how much I loved Guardians Of The Galaxy and how long I was looking forward to Vol. 2, that was easier said than done. Regardless of my expectations, what I found when I entered the theatre, what I’ve struggled so long to write about, was more than I could have possibly imagined. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 does so much more than it should be able to and we’re all the better for its ambition and effectiveness. Maybe the reason I struggled so long with writing this post is because I can’t capture what this film does. Maybe it’s better I stop trying and just let Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 speak for itself. I think my time would be better served seeing it again, soaking in the beauty and power of the message. Honestly, I think we should all watch this movie and watch it often. As we do, we can strive to be mindful of the special gift of this film’s message and thankful that a silly group of space-faring superheroes can elevate our heart, mind, and soul in such a profound way.