The cathartic story of family in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’

“Sometimes the thing you’re searching for your whole life is right there by your side all along.”

Please note: the following contains spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: please do not read if you have not seen the film.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 concludes the storyline of Peter Quill’s search for his father, and perhaps unsurprisingly to Marvel Comics fans or those just paying extra attention to the first film, Ego the Living Planet turns out to be a colossal douchebag. As Yondu notes in the film’s climax, Ego may have been Star-Lord’s father, but he certainly wasn’t his dad.

Kurt Russell as Ego: a false god in every respect

It’s perfect that Kurt Russell, whose performance as Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China seemed to be the template for Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, was cast as the seemingly affable Ego, lulling the audience into a false sense of security. Audiences will quickly regret how likeable they found him once Ego is revealed to be a truly alien monster, whose attempts at empathy are merely cynical ploys to extend his own power.

“Yeah, Quill turned out okay. It’s probably good we didn’t deliver him to his dad like we was hired to do.”
“Yeah, that guy was a jackass!”

What he have with Ego is perhaps the creepiest, most abusive villain in any Marvel Comics film to date, and arguably the worst father in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (if it’s possible to be worse than Thanos). One will look back and realise his ward Mantis’s behaviour was filled with signs that she was traumatised by him. Even Ego’s body is as frighteningly artificial as his emotions, grotesquely reconstructing itself like an anatomical model throughout the third act when Quill realises his intentions are as phony as his appearance.

As a child, I was confused and uncertain about why my parents divorced. Sometimes I wondered if they would get back together. My father was so pleasant to be around I couldn’t understand the tension between my parents. As I grew older, it became easier to see just why they separated, to the point I wonder just how they got together. Needless to say, realising you’re the product of an illogical union has not been great for my self-confidence.

“Of course I have issues, that thing is MY FATHER!”

We need to discuss the film’s iconoclast subtext too. Gunn is not religious, and his version of Ego plays as a twisted version of God the Father, with Russell’s bearded visage resembling Michelangelo’s God on the Sistine Chapel. Ego conceives multiple children across the cosmos to bring about the singularity, which plays as a cynical take on Christian belief. James Gunn has told Buzzfeed that his school’s monsignor participated in sexually abusing students (he states he himself was not targeted), likely contributing to his antipathy to religion and the deep-seated anger perhaps at the root of the film. The divorce rate has also led to an increase in non-religious people: perhaps a loss of faith in the traditional family has also led to resentment of the institution that insists families must remain together?

Funnily enough, divorce did not leave me irreligious. My mum eventually remarried with a doctor from our church, something I was reluctant about partly because I feared she’d have her heart broken again. Hilariously, I recall she didn’t like my stepdad when they initially met. Me and my stepdad get on well with each other, and he’s actually more receptive to my love of Marvel and all things geeky than my mother. Despite that, I’m still reluctant to call him ‘dad’, partly because he technically isn’t, but also because I’m too macho to acknowledge how close we are.

In the film, Peter Quill is reluctant to recognise that Yondu raised him, which is probably Yondu’s fault given he wanted to spare Peter the pain of knowing what his father was. Quill’s stupefied when Drax mentions he thought Yondu actually was his father, though that’s probably because he hadn’t realised Drax is colour blind. That amazing gag is all the more brilliant because it has a dramatic payoff in the climax, rather than being a set-up for another joke.

So Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ends with Peter not just losing his biological father, but also the man who raised him in lieu of his parents, tragically too late to acknowledge it but nevertheless enriched by the realisation. In life our original families don’t often work out, and we form new ones to replace them. We realise someone doesn’t have to related by blood to be your personal David Hassellhoff, and perhaps they’re stronger because you realise they love you even without the biology of unconditional love.