Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about God?—Tyler Durden, Fight Club
When journalist Bill Moyers interviewed narratologist Joseph Campbell in 1988, he asked why hero stories could be found in every culture, every religion across the globe. Campbell’s reply was simple: “Because that’s what’s worth writing about.”
There is another component to the universality of the hero’s journey, the one between fathers and sons. Sometimes the son must vanquish the father or some facsimile. Other times, the son saves the father from himself. These tropes, which rear their heads in the everyday psychologically, are not only universal; they’re eternal. No matter how long we’ve told the same story or how long we’ll keep telling them, Atonement With the Father will persist.
That atonement, here between Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), and his long-lost father, Ego (Kurt Russell), form the crux of the latest Marvel Studios release, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
Released in 2014, the first Guardians brought together Star-Lord, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and everyone’s favorite sentient tree, Groot (Vin Diesel), into a rag-tag group of misfits. When Vol. 2 picks up, this makeshift family is solidly in their element as four of them battle a giant space squid with an endless array of teeth while super kawaii Baby Groot moves and grooves to the swinging sounds of ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky.”
With this opening, writer/director James Gunn announces that Vol. 2 will carry over the same components that made Guardians a success: a solid 70s soundtrack, irreverent and cartoonish violence, wise-cracks, and the notion that togetherness and family are what matters most. The remainder of Vol. 2’s 136-minute runtime—which never once drags—will play out in similar fashion, with Gunn swiftly moving the story from one big bad, the golden and hoity-toity Sovereigns led by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), to the over-thrown Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his mutinous crew now led by Taserface (Chris Sullivan).
But these ancillary stories, including Gamora’s never-ending battle with her bitter sister, Nebula (Karen Gillian), and Yondu’s quest for redemption, are merely window dressing for Vol. 2’s main concern: Quill trying to put a little cat’s-in-the-cradle time in with Daddy. Ego, with a beaming, bearded face of Moses and a palace worthy of Zeus, is both a being and a planet; a “Celestial” and like Zeus, Ego took the form of a man to bed Quill’s mother—if any god wanted to seduce a woman in the 1980s, then the visage of Kurt Russell would surely have done the trick. That makes Quill half-man, half-god and Ego convinces Quill to help him in his never-ending quest to spread his seed, figuratively and literally, across the universe in hopes of bringing order to chaos.
Throw in a new character, Ego’s long-suffering assistant, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), whose comprehension of subtext and irony is as broad as Drax’s, neon-colored battle after battle, whiz-bang special effects, an emphasis on family, both nuclear and adopted, plenty of 70s classic rock—The Looking Glass’s “Brandy You’re a Fine Girl” becomes a strained metaphor but Jay & The American’s “Come a Little Bit Closer” provides the backdrop to a scene of giddy cartoonish carnage and visual poetry—and Vol. 2 proves to be a worthy sequel in a series of irreverent space operas.
Not all the pieces fit, particularly the climactic battle that exists somewhere between Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Dragonball Z, but what doesn’t work never sticks around long enough to ruin the whole shebang. And there’s Baby Groot. That’s enough for some people to hand over their money by the fistful.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Written & Directed by James Gunn
Based on the Marvel comics by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Based on characters created by Steve Englehart, Steve Gan, Jim Starlin, Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby, Bill Mantlo, Keith Giffen
Produced by Kevin Feige
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Rated PG-13, Running time 136 minutes, Opens May 5, 2016