Guardians of the Galaxy part 2

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After its heart-rending “cold open” in the hospital, the narrative of Guardians leaps ahead a few decades. Peter is now in his 30s, and is engaged in some high-tech sci-fi shenanigans. As the titles roll, a one-man heist sequence plays out, an affectionate parody of the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Peter is no longer a sobbing boy or a helpless victim, he’s now a swaggering space-pirate looting ancient cities for lost treasure. His Walkman is no longer his shield, exactly; it’s now more like the vessel of his mojo. Instead of Indiana Jones carefully reading clues, dodging traps and insisting “That belongs in a museum!” we have Peter casually jiving his way through a ruined planet’s rainy landscape, kicking deadly lizards out of his way and even using one as a pretend microphone.


Yep, Peter has really landed on his feet, part John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, part Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain, part Tom Cruise in Risky Business as he dances his way to steal a glowing whatsit from its hiding place. And again, the nods to the past are not merely cute in-jokes, they’re the key to what the movie is actually about. We, as people, love mass culture, whether we want to admit it or not (“I’m Not in Love”). Peter dances when he’s alone on a deserted planet, would he do so on a crowded street? Probably, that’s how a passer-by would be able to tell by the way he uses his walk, he’s a woman’s man, no time to talk. The way mass culture works is that it conceals deep truths in layers of irony, makes it “fun,” makes it go “pop.”

(The Rolling Stones were a respectful blues band when they started out; it was only when they laid a layer of irony onto the blues that they exploded. Robert Johnson sang about a hellhound on his trail, Mick Jagger sang about being annoyed by TV commercials. The result was a deliberate parody of a serious subject that nevertheless revealed the truth of its own time and help made rock-n-roll grow up.)




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Peter is such an easy-going guy, such an obvious “winner,” he doesn’t even lose a beat when he’s caught by a gang of goons in the midst of swiping the whatsit. Which raises the question — the only question — What does the protagonist want? The answer lies in the obvious joke made right after getting caught. “You might know me by another name,” says Peter. “Starlord.” “Who?” responds the head goon, and Peter sighs. “Starlord, man, legendary outlaw?”

So we could say that What Peter Wants is “to be taken seriously.” Under all his joking, all his easy-breezy hep-cat demeanor, under all his irony, Peter, like mass culture, wants to be taken seriously. “I’m Not in Love” is about a man who denies emotion before admitting that he’s fooling himself, and Guardians is about poking fun at mass culture before admitting that its capable of great profundity. It’s a satire that secretly wants to be taken seriously, a hep-cat who would like you to notice he’s actually a poet. It has “cool” down, and it uses its cool to disguise its warmth, like Peter using his Walkman to hold the world at arm’s length.


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But back to the action. Peter pulls some fast moves and gets away from the goons sent to collect him, taking off in his spaceship. No sooner does he escape the goons but he’s reminded that he has a date on board his ship, a woman in his 1988 summer-camp t-shirt, whose name he can’t remember. So Peter, we see, in addition to being a pirate and a joker, is also a cad. Long-term relationships aren’t his forte. That’s the sign of a rogue, but it is also the sign of a damaged individual, the kind of guy who pretends to be a jerk so you won’t find out how he is deeply sad.

He also now has his Awesome Mix tape enshrined, along with some other 1970s artifacts, in what appears to be a custom-made tape deck on his ship. We gather that the Awesome Mix is all the music he ever listens to, wherever he travels in the galaxy, and that that has been the case for decades. The Awesome Mix tape is Peter’s soul, like Davey Jones’s heart in Pirates II. Take his Awesome Mix and you take everything he has.

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Peter’s poor relationship skills are revealed next in a phone call from Yondu, who is the closest thing Peter has to a father. Yondu (we will learn) is the space-pirate who kidnapped Peter way back when on the night his mother died. He was supposed to take Peter to his father, but, being a space-pirate, opted not to. And yet, here he is now, berating Peter for not delivering the whatsit to the appointed place at the appointed time. “We don’t do that to each other!” he grows, “We’re Ravagers!” without any sense of irony.

Yondu, we soon learn, is yet another gruff-but-lovable character, a man (or alien, I guess) who loves Peter but hides his love under a display of seething anger (“I’m Not in Love”). He’s got a hard outer shell to hide from the world his squishy nougat center. He puts a bounty on Peter, 40,000 whatevers, just to get him back. That is what passes as love among the space-pirates.


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6 Responses to “Guardians of the Galaxy part 2”
  1. Glenn Peters says:

    I was lucky enough to see Guardians on a big screen. The shift from Peter dancing around, to tiny Peter dancing in a vast cavern, then BAM, giant title card (as you show above) really kicked the movie into high gear fun mode for me. I dare say it gave me chills.

    The timing of Ronan’s goons confuse me, though. The don’t seem to have any idea who Peter is, so they can’t have been hunting him. I first thought they were responding to an alarm, but why would Ronan set an alarm for on of the most important objects in the universe and not keep it with him?

    • Joe Fulgham says:

      The timing of Ronan’s goons was weird to me too, until I watched GotG with director commentary. Gunn explains that the area Quill is in was completely underwater until just recently. This is why everything is dripping wet, the life-forms bothering him are amphibious in nature, and how the huge eels living in that small “creek” got there — the water receded and they all moved to the only place they could still live.

      Ronan’s goons were taking advantage of the receded water, just like Quill.

    • Mark says:

      I was going to make the same comment, about almost laughing when the title card shows up.
      I like that Redbone song, and was waiting for the first “Hey”, so was caught off guard by the titles.

  2. BenjaminJB says:

    I keep thinking that one of the movie’s axes–along with the cool/warm (or satire/affection or jokey/serious) axis that you identify–is something like “awesome vs. awesome”: things that are cool vs. things that are awe-inspiring and perhaps terrifying.

    Like in the opening sequence, there’s the awesome cool mix against the awesome terrifyingness of death–and then the spaceship, which is a bit awesome and a bit awesome. (Or put another way: dying and being taken by aliens are two different ways of leaving the world, both awesome, for some definition of “awesome.”)

    So here on the planet, Quill is confronted with death again, not just of a person, but of an entire culture/world, and his response is… a singing and dancing routine? It marks him as something of a badass, but also something of an idiot, I think.

    (Also, I love that one of his main toys are the rockets, because, sure, rockets are fun, and they’re probably in the comic book, but another way to characterize the main axis here would be something like “floating above it all / groundedness.” I’m sure we could say more about groundedness vs. flying/galaxyness with the rest of the movie.)