The universe is mostly empty. Physicists tell us that just 4% of it is made of normal matter—molecules, dust, planets, stars, galaxies. And while they debate on what other strange, undetectable forces the universe might hold, there’s little question what it looks like to us: darkness. Cold. Absence.
Yep, it’s rare to find something warm and tangible in this infinite vacuum of ours. And when we do, it’s good to hold it close.
The Guardians of the Galaxy know that as well as anyone. They’ve spent a lot of time hopping through this ol’ universe. And each of them, in their own way, has felt its empty ache.
Missouri native Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord) lost his mother and never knew his father; he was raised, essentially, by space pirates. Gamora, the green warrior, at least knew her father; but alas, the guy’s kind of a jerk. A galactic supervillain, in fact. Blue muscleman Drax lost his family. Tree-like Groot might be the last of his whole race. The closest thing Rocket Raccoon has to a biological family might be a Pyrex petri dish.
They came together by accident and (despite their frequent protests to the contrary) are glad they did. Hey, what good is saving the galaxy if you don’t have someone to save it with, right?
But hold the galactic phone there, partner. Seems this makeshift family is getting some company.
The Guardians are soon called upon to defeat an interdimensional beastie at the behest of a race known as The Sovereign. Part of their payment? Gamora’s semi-cyborg sister, Nebula, whom the Guardians want to turn in for the substantial bounty on her head.
But when Rocket burgles a boatload of expensive batteries from the rather touchy Sovereign, the planet’s leader hires Yandu—the blue-skinned pirate who kidnapped a young Peter decades ago and essentially raised the boy—to haul the Guardians back to face their crimes.
And if that wasn’t enough to make for a super-awkward family reunion, in comes Ego, a turbo-powered galactic Celestial who claims to be Peter Quill’s father. Oh, and in addition to looking a bit like Kurt Russell, he simultaneously serves as his very own planet. Yep, in this case, the pull toward family is truly gravitational.
Ego knows he’s been a bit of an absentee dad all these years, but he’d like to make it up to Peter by taking him back home with himself, teaching him all he knows.
It’s a tempting offer. I mean, not many guys can say their dads have their very own time zones. But now that Peter’s found his father, what does it mean for his other family—the family that bonded over heroism, wisecracks and classic rock?
The universe can indeed be a cold, empty void. When you find someone to fill that void, it’s hard to let go.
Hey, this motley band of misfits ain’t called Guardians of the Galaxy on a whim. They do a lot of, um, guardianing. Ing. They’re not only willing to put their lives on the line for each other (which they do regularly), but for the myriad beings who call the Milky Way home.
But the positive themes in play here go deeper than mere derring-do. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is very much a family movie—that is, a movie about family. It asks us just what a family really is and uncovers some heartening, and perhaps even surprising, answers.
Take a look at the pirate Yondu, for instance. Now, the guy’s no role model, that’s for sure. But on the other hand, his blue skin doesn’t cover a pitch-black heart. Sure, Yondu essentially kidnapped Peter and turned him into a pirate: Why? Peter was small, we’re told. He could get into places other folks couldn’t. “Good for thievin’,” Yondu says. But as Vol. 2 unfolds, we realize that Yondu’s unsympathetic explanations hide genuine affection for the boy. He did more than turn Peter into a pirate: He raised him and taught him how to be a man (albeit imperfectly). He and Peter both come to a belated understanding of how much each means to the other.
Nebula’s also not the wholly evil person we might’ve thought she was. All the hate and anger she holds inside—much of it directed at her sister, Gamora—was the result of a forced sibling rivalry orchestrated by their father. “You wanted to win,” she tells Gamora. “I just wanted a sister.”
Peter asks Ego whether he’s a god. “Small ‘g’, son,” Ego says. But he does indeed boast the sorts of powers that Christians reserve for our “big G” God, such as creation. He shares some commonality with the Demiurge in Gnosticism—a creator who, feeling himself alone in the universe, decides to start building. In Ego’s case, he fashions a planet from himself. And then, in an effort to get to know the rest of the universe a bit better, he fashions himself into a human being, too—down to the last detail.
“Do you have a penis?” Drax asks Ego, leading to much discomfort for Peter. Ego says that he does. His relationship with Peter’s mother led, of course, to Peter himself. We learn that Ego had intimate relationships with plenty of other beings throughout the galaxy, as well. (We see virtual statues of a young, human Ego embracing a variety of species.)
Yondu and others visit a planetary brothel staffed by robots. Yondu is shown hitching up his pants, while others lounge around with their scantily clad synthetic lovers. Some other outfits can be a bit revealing, as well. Peter takes off his shirt a bit gratuitously, and Drax, of course, spends the entire movie shirtless.
Ego’s only apparent companion is Mantis, an antennae-sporting empath who can detect someone’s emotions via physical contact. She touches Peter and announces (much to Peter’s embarrassment) that he feels romantic, “sexual” love for Gamora. Though she does not express her own feelings toward Peter, the two dance, touch hands and eventually hug each other. Peter compares their relationship to that of Sam and Diane on NBC’s 1980s sitcom Cheers: Both like each other but can’t say so, because if they did the ratings would fall.
Whatever lurks between the two, though, does not stop Peter from flirting with Ayesha, a leader of the Sovereign. While their race is essentially created via genetically pure scientific know-how now, she suggests she’d be open to spending time with Peter and engage in more “primitive” mating practices. Peter says he’d be open to that.
Drax says that his now-dead wife “would make my nether-regions engorge.” In contrast, he tells Mantis that she’s “hideous.” He gags (or pantomimes gagging) when he imagines being physical with her. (But he may simply be hiding his true feelings.) There’s also a reference to men thinking with what’s “between your legs.”
Dozens of people are skewered by Yondu’s whistle-driven arrow: We see the rod dart through many a body, apparently cauterizing the mortal wound as it passes through (thus minimizing any blood). Several more die in the cold vacuum of space; we see a couple of victims close up as they expire from exposure and/or asphyxiation. Others string out behind a spaceship, their lifeless corpses floating grimly in the void. Still others tumble (or are yanked) from high bridges. A cave is filled with the bones of seemingly hundreds of innocent victims. “They didn’t feel a thing,” their killer says.
The Guardians fight a massive, toothy beastie, pummeling its tough skin with laser blasts. The skin’s too tough to punch through, so Drax decides to leap into the thing’s mouth and try to slice his way out from the inside. (Peter belatedly points out that the skin’s thickness doesn’t really differ, no matter where you slice it from; but we still see Drax in the creature’s innards, battering away at the thing’s flesh.) Gamora eventually finds a small cut in the creature’s skin and makes it larger, cutting the creature open and unleashing a tsunami of green goo (and a celebratory Drax).
Several people are shocked in the head, rendering them unconscious. (We see the electricity course through them, revealing their skeletal structure.) Others are technologically bounced into the air and left to fall, painfully, to the ground below. Rocket physically tears and scratches at a few would-be assailants, knocking them out. Someone is repeatedly skewered by what seem to be bands of energy. Others are wrapped up in these same energy tentacles. Some people are nearly buried alive. Gamora and Nebula fight—first with lasers (crashing a ship in the process), and later with their fists and feet. One nearly strangles the other and threatens to stab her face with a knife. Someone is seriously burned in an exploding spaceship.
Drax gets bounced through a forest rather roughly. People are hit and smacked and pounded. Groot finds a severed toe. A massive explosion proves very destructive. Gigantic blobs consume parts of Earth and other planets.
Groot still says nothing beyond “I am Groot.” But Rocket can interpret for the twig-sized Guardian, and he interprets one of Groot’s missives as “‘We are freakin’ Guardians of the Galaxy—only he didn’t say ‘freakin’.'” Elsewhere, we hear about four s-words and a smattering of other profanities, including “a–,” “d–n,” “h—,” “p-ss” and “d–k.” God’s name is misused four times. “Douchebag” is used as a demeaning epithet, too.
Groot is doused with bottles of what I assume are alcoholic beverages. Someone recalls being drunk.
Rocket steals a bunch of batteries from a planet—a bad move that he, and everyone around him, later regrets. There’s some talk about Rocket planting feces into Peter’s bed.
Ego urinates. Poor Groot is mocked mercilessly by pirates. Groot—a toddler by Grootish standards—throws tantrums and sometimes hits his Guardian partners. He also beats up creatures whom he thinks looked at him funny.
We hear some talk about Drax’s “sensitive nipples.” Someone squashes and eats a spider. Groot tries to eat a fly. Groot tosses his metaphorical cookies during a long, fast journey. There’s a reference to a “scrotum hat.”
When the first Guardians of the Galaxy blasted into theaters in 2014, it was a surprise revelation. It came out in late July—a certain sign that producers didn’t expect much from the movie—and it featured a bevy of second-tier stars playing almost unheard-of Marvel characters.
Three years, a Chris Pratt supernova and three-quarters of a billion dollars later, Vol. 2 won’t sneak up on anyone. The movie’ll make a mint, and it’s a known quantity, for better or worse.
Just that familiarity takes some bloom off this frenetic sci-fi rose. The jokes, while just as frequent, don’t have quite the same impact. The action, though duly unhinged, feels like an extension of what we’ve seen before. Everything feels like it’s just a wee bit more than what we saw in 2014, but its impact is just a wee bit less.
The film’s problematic content is also incrementally worse, but not gratuitously so. The body count is huge, but the action is strictly by the comic book: a largely bloodless, painless excursion in fantastic excess. The sensual content and asides we see and hear are a skosh stronger. Language? Vol. 2 increases the s-word count from three to four.
So whether you saw or avoided the original Guardians, that choice will likely inform what you do with Vol. 2, because this sequel flies in the same content universe.
But in the midst of that problematic starscape, strong messages of family also emerge. If there is a surprise to be found here, it’s in the emotional impact of the story, with moments of true poignancy lodged between the laser blasts and laughs. “We’re family,” Drax says. “We leave no one behind.”
And in the end, it suggests that the universe need not be so cold and empty after all.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.