Nobody knows these guys. They’re D-list, no one’s gonna care about them. You can’t cast him! Look at him! He’s chubby, flabby, no one will take him seriously as the dashing hero. Those two muscle-bound meatheads can’t play a role with any substance. You can’t make this movie! What are you doing?
Such were the thoughts running through the minds of many when Marvel announced, produced, and released “Guardians of the Galaxy.” To make a long story short, doubters were wrong and the movie was spectacular. Almost universally beloved by all.
“Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” was recently released, and again, people raised questions: Will it live up to the first? Can it live up to the first?
It did. It did live up to the first.
In fact, it’s probably fair to say GOTG2 is arguably the best film in the MCU. This statement stands, even considering the other juggernauts in the series like “The Avengers” and “Captain America: Winter Soldier.” Such a claim is supported by a simple fact. GOTG2 has stronger underlying themes than any of its Marvel predecessors.
It’s true that many of the films before had some pretty effective themes- Team-building in “The Avengers,” loyalty in “Winter Soldier,” and accountability in “Iron Man.” However, these themes each seemed coincidental to the plot, whereas GOTG2’s themes are the driving force behind the plot. None of these films are lessened because of this fact, but GOTG2 is certainly strengthened by it.
(SPOILERS AHEAD. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED)
The major force driving the plot of this film is the idea that one’s family is not necessarily the one that they’re born into, but rather the people who choose to be there for him.
Star-Lord spends much of the movie struggling with this concept. In the beginning, he is shown to be a very effective member of his team, and they work well together. Then his biological father returns into his life, and he is left to wonder whether his loyalty lies with his team or with his newfound father. It looks as though he might choose his dad until it turns out pops was only using him the whole time. Finally, in one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the MCU to date, Star-Lord realizes he had a father all along in Yondu. He’s not the dad he wanted, but he’s the one who was always there for him. Peter reunites with his true family- his team.
Gamora struggles with a similar conflict involving her sister. Both were raised in unimaginably harsh conditions. They could have eased each other’s pain all along, but they chose instead to compete. Each grew up hating the other. Finally, they were able to express their own perspectives and they recognized that the other was hurting just as much as they were. They chose to be there for each other instead. They chose to be a family.
The Gamora/Nebula subplot is a perfect example of another plot-driving theme- secrets. Each sister kept her own feelings to herself and this caused problems. It was only when they aired out these thoughts that they were abe to begin repairing their relationship.
Toward the beginning of the film, Rocket Raccoon secretly steals a few priceless items, setting an alien race on the warpath to destroy them recurrently throughout the movie. His secret caused a lot of turmoil for the rest of the team. Rocket only begins to recognize his selfishness when Yondu forces him to reveal his secret fear of failure and isolation.
Yondu was banished from his original team because he secretly transported and sold children.
Star-Lord’s dad hides a major secret from him throughout, cementing his role as the villain throughout the back half of the film.
It seems the only two characters relatively removed from the conflict of the film are Drax and Mantis. With the exception of the secret Star-Lord’s father forces Mantis to keep, these two are the most honest characters in the movie. That is perhaps one of the reasons their interactions are so interesting. Neither one holds anything back. They say what’s on their mind without filter. Each blatantly tells the other that they find them repulsive, yet they still develop a friendship and platonic love for each other.
This film demonstrates through its characters that secrets invariably lead to trouble, and honesty is the most valuable virtue.
These themes intertwine with the plot and the characters in a magnificent way- in such a way that has not been seen quite so clearly in any MCU movie before it. One can only sit and anxiously wait for the day when “Volume 3” shines bright on the silver screen.
For more on how Director James Gunn turned his own painful upbringing into cinematic treasure, check out this article from the Washington Post.