The average Marvel Cinematic Universe film is a good time at the movies. The best of them, however, transcend the studio’s house style and deliver a personal vision. Taika Waititi’s spectacularly funny anti-colonialism comedy “Thor: Ragnarok,” Ryan Cooger’s politically-charged afro-futuristic “Black Panther,” and Scott Derrickson’s exploration of faith and free will in “Doctor Strange” come to mind. But the best MCU movie is also the one that feels the most painful, the most achingly personal, and the most ripped from its filmmaker’s wounded heart.
That’s James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”
On the surface, it’s a funny and exciting space opera where goofy character save the universe, again. But linger on any given plot point, and the film becomes a tragedy about broken relationships, bad fathers, and the families we make. Peter Quill’s dynamic with his father, the powerful cosmic being Ego, is unnervingly specific. An absentee dad returns to his son’s life, charismatic and fun and handsome and promising the world, only to reveal himself to be an abuser and a scoundrel. The disappointment is palpable for the characters, whose thick skins should protect them from this kind of thing by now, but instead it only serves to keep their pain trapped within.
Gunn knows that family penetrates all armor, for better and worse. No one can wound Gamora and Nebula, embattled sisters, quite like one another. Rocket, the tormented and cynical experiment, finally allows himself permission to grieve when he knows he’s loved. And Peter understands that Yondu was always the real dad in his life, and he never paused to consider that until it was too late. It’s thematically coherent, a real gut punch, and feels like a filmmaker using the Marvel platform to bare his soul. (Jacob Hall)