Guardians of the Galaxy 2’s Big, Flawed Heart

The estimable Joseph Moore of Yard Sale of the Mind has written an excellent review and follow-up of “Guardians of the Galaxy 2”; I encourage all of you to read both well-written and intelligent articles. What follows are my thoughts in response to his.

In general, I think – hesitantly, and with an idea in mind that my unconscious biases and enjoyment of the movie may be coloring my opinion – that Joseph might be being a little hard on it.

Like this:

I didn’t even go with how Peter really is the son of his father, who casually uses women for amusement and gain – it’s just that the mayhem he causes is all off camera.

In the original they make a small point of this, and to their credit it’s touched on again with Gamora. In Peter’s head it’s probably “At least I never abandoned my kid”, which also strikes me as a realistic and often seen reaction: Quite true, very sad, and not an actual excuse for your mistakes, but the natural one to make.

I think this:

The backstories of Nebula and Gamora are that, as little girls, they watched their parents murdered by Thanos, who then modified and trained them to be killing machines and set them to fighting each other every day. So they don’t get along. Now, after spending years as killing machines – after having killed many people, one presumes – Gamora just wakes up one day and turns on her fake father Thanos and becomes almost normal, while Nebula still has a few anger issues. But, when the time comes, these two hug each other and make up, and it’s all good.

Waaaaaaay undersells what happens. To say that Nebula has a “few anger issues” or that “it’s all good” doesn’t strike me as very fair. Gamora didn’t just wake up one day and turn on Thanos, for one thing. She ALWAYS hated Thanos and took the opportunity after leaving her home to break away and go after him herself. And then a movie is spent showing how she reshapes her bonds and thought processes, and even – as is pointed out in this movie – accepts that there are more important things in life than revenge.

Nebula, meanwhile, was messed up worse than Gamora – as she says, Gamora was the clear favorite – and she becomes obsessed with murdering Gamora before wreaking bloody revenge. By the end of the film, after Gamora saves her life at great risk to herself, she refuses to associate with the Guardians because she doesn’t believe her moral code to be up to snuff with theirs, and tentatively hugs Gamora at Gamora’s prompting. And then still leaves, not yet reaching Gamora’s conclusion that there might be more to her life than vengeance on Thanos.

See? Parenting, a stable home, consistent love – none of these are needed to be a good person! You just are! And no amount of neglect, abuse bordering on torture, or use as a tool by those who should love you can change that!

This really isn’t what we see at all, though. The reason Peter has a better moral compass is that, as a young child, he DID have a family who loved him. He adored his mother, and in the first scene his (presumed) grandfather immediately sets out to comfort him. The Ravagers have an explicit moral code that they follow; they’re more than mere criminals, and something more akin to Mafia families. They have consciences – or most do. It’s implied that because of Yondu’s early dabbling with human trafficking he tends to attract some of the worst of the Ravagers, and while he becomes ashamed of it not all of them did.

It’s also telling that Drax the Destroyer is the one character who, in his digressions, mentions a father and a mother fondly, a wife and daughter with affection – and he’s the comic relief, and a bloodthirsty madman.

They’re basically all the comic relief (Drax was the MVP here, but not for lack of mugging by the others). Drax’s backstory was treated in the original with great respect, I thought. By this point he’s basically calmed down, and is almost certainly less bloodthirsty than Rocket.

I agree with you that the scene of Rocket and Yondu killing everyone was a bit messed up (though they were all trying to kill them). But – again, with the caveat that maybe I’m making excuses the movie doesn’t really deserve – I think this was probably more due to brainlessness than malice. “Guardians” has a heart, but not really a brain – the reason “Serenity” is the superior film (I’ve consistently held that “Guardians of the Galaxy” is basically a dumb version of “serenity”, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even a dumb version of “Serenity” is better than a lot of films).

That’s not to say the movie had nothing to object to. Once again we see the elevation of familial love to an unhealthy degree and the degradation of the love of friendship. I fight with my friends sometimes; that doesn’t make them not be my friends. And maybe Peter and Rocket disliked each other too much to really be called friends, but then that’s a decision I don’t necessarily support. Christ said that one who lays down one’s life for one’s FRIENDS is the greatest sort of love. The implication is that the love between friends is not just different but inferior to the love between family members. But this is absolutely, 110% wrong.

And, of course, Mom is awesome, Dad is a psychopath. This isn’t necessarily bad storytelling, or even necessarily unrealistic, but it’s also not a coincidence; fathers are being minimized in society left and right. This movie is another drop in that bucket, but it’s a popular drop.

All of that said, the movie had a big heart and was mostly successful in what it set out to do, and I appreciated it for that; it was really fun and as long as you have the proper moral compass to point you in the right direction, and probably something kids could watch without too much trouble. I really enjoyed it, and highly recommend it.