Avengers Endgame is in theaters now, so we’re looking at the path that led to the film. Next up is the second big screen adventure for our favorite group of “a-holes,” Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
The first Guardians of the Galaxy was about finding your place, and succeeding amidst a life filled with trauma and loss. The second installment of James Gunn’s cosmic super group doubled down on the themes from the first one, and in doing so created a visually stunning epic. Vol. 2 expands on the idea of what it means to have a family, and people who work with you to get through the difficult elements of life. It explores the idea of not only moving past the darkness in your life, but fighting it head on with the ones you love.
There are a lot of amazing things about Guardians Vol. 2, the soundtrack- which again is superb, the story beats, the character development, the new characters introduced, which for once don’t make the film overcrowded. But it truly is the focus on family, fatherhood, and facing trauma head on that make the most impact. The plot essentially rests on the story of Peter Quill finding out that his father is Ego, the living planet. Quill is tested and asked whether he’d be willing to follow his father to the ends of the galaxy or if he’ll stand and fight against him. In the process he realizes that just because someone is related to you by blood, doesn’t make them family, and in fact- those that aren’t blood related may be more of a family than anyone else in the galaxy.
The core of this, again rests in trauma and the desire to overcome the trauma of the past. Quill latches onto his father because he knows that his father is the only real connection he has to his life back on earth. Ego is a chance for him to reclaim the life he always wanted. He gets to play catch with him, he gets to reminisce about his mother with him. He also gets to have both sides of his life with Ego, discussing elements of Earth while also acknowledging the fact that they’re both men who travel through space. To Quill this is the perfect fix to all of his trauma, and all of his loss.
When it’s revealed that Ego is in fact evil, Quill has to decide whether or not he’s going to follow in line with Ego. But even after revealing his plan, Peter doesn’t break. He’s still held in to Ego’s grasp, and for that slight moment we get to see that Ego isn’t just representing a second chance for Quill, he’s using Quill’s weakness from his trauma against him. He can’t see this because he’s too blinded by the fact that this man in front of him is his father, but the things that Ego plans to do aren’t what Quill would ever do when thinking of his own will.
Quill finally breaks from Ego when he realizes that Ego is responsible for his mother’s death. While these two moments come quickly after one another it doesn’t mean there isn’t any less importance to both. The whole lead up to this entire confrontation and reveal is done in a way that is building Ego up as an abuser taking advantage of someone torn apart by trauma. What’s beautiful and heartbreaking about the reveal of Ego killing Meredith Quill is that in that moment when Peter does break, he’s able to find power from his trauma. To use it to set himself straight and fight off Ego. To reclaim his life and his self, and in doing so save the Galaxy one more time.
In a way each of the characters in Guardians Vol. 2 have to face this same battle over how to deal with their past trauma now that they’ve found their new family. Drax has to decide where someone like Mantis fits into his life, as she could be a daughter or little sister to him. But he’s still distraught over the loss of his wife and daughter. Mantis has to rebel against Ego, her abuser, in order to do what’s right. Rocket has to come to learn that he doesn’t need to keep pushing people away. That this family will love him no matter what. Gamora has to find a way to resolve the pain in looking at her sister, as does Nebula, because they are both victims of the same abuser. Yondu has to overcome, once and for all, the grief he has for what he did for Ego, and how it tore him from the family he built with the Ravagers.
This film is about a group of losers, and former criminals fighting a planet. But it’s also about how we move on from trauma. How we decide to fight back against it, or use it to help make us stronger. It’s about what path we decide to take after we’ve begun to heal, and how that can change everything. It’s also a testament to the idea that we can still do amazing things, even if we’re broken and unclear of how we move forward. That’s something that Gunn began with the first Guardians and truly perfected in Vol. 2.