Guardians of the Galaxy (Vol. 2) poses this question: Does God have a penis? No doubt, if God is played by Kurt Russell. This is merely one of many peculiar issues intrinsic to this film, a creepy psychosexual drama hidden within a typically bombastic summer action film. Although one of the characters in the movie, either lizard-headed or blue-skinned, overtly asks this question about the deity's genitalia, the issue taps into a simmering stew of family-based neurosis lurking just below the explosions and supernovae cluttering the screen in this film.
But, first, an assessment: Guardians (2) is a lot less fun than its predecessor, one of the best films of the genre. Since fun is all a popcorn-movie of this sort offers, Guardians (2) is a failure. Audiences expecting the larky Mad-magazine inventiveness of the first film, a dazzling display of imagination from the first frame to the last, will be sadly disappointed, although if the crowd's reaction at the packed theater where I attended the show is any measure, no one will admit to this disappointment -- at least, in public. Most of the zany spoof in the first Guardians doesn't make it into the Wagnerian-scaled super-epic -- indeed, large sections of the film are played straight, a serious deficiency since the script is clogged with lines and speeches that are too bathetic or exclamation-point-ridden to be taken seriously. The special effects are brilliant -- but this is no more than what we expect from a summer blockbuster. And, of course, the film is too long and simply too chaotic. The climax is sheer din, a confused triple or quadruple battle in which God as Kurt Russell battles his creations who are themselves engaged in aerial dogfights ala Star Wars whilst the entire planet where this deafening combat is occurring collapses into its own fiery core -- and there's a ticking time bomb to boot. This is simply too much. New characters are introduced as apparent auxiliaries but, then, turn out to have key roles and, even, deliver long and heartfelt speeches -- we wonder who are these people? The wise-cracking group of Guardians are inexplicably divided up for much of the movie and so we don't see them together for much of the proceedings. Of course, Baby Groot is adorable although the movie is so self-admiring that it requires someone say this out loud to drive home the point. The best thing in the picture is the opening titles: Baby Groot dances disco-style to an eighties pop-tune while the rest of the Guardians engage in a touch-and-go, pitched battle with a vast flailing monster, a creature somewhat like a carp but with multiple, hinged jaws -- as the Guardians are flung about Baby Groot amuses us with his dance, all the action tangential to his antics. It's a cinematic tour de force, shot in a continuous fluidly executed shot and the most impressive sequence in the movie. Unfortunately, it's all downhill from this sequence and the slope is long -- the movie is about two hours and 20 minutes in length, at least a half hour too long.
So what is all this sound and fury about? Any description of the movie's plot quickly devolves into seriously creepy, even kinky, psycho-sexual issues. Simply put the film is about fatherhood and the damage that fathers inflict on their children. This theme is developed both through perverse allegory and overt stretches of dialogue that sound more than a little like an Eugene O'Neil play set in outer space. Kurt Russell as God has used his magnificent virile member to inseminate a number of planets, hoping to beget an offspring worthy of him. But, alas, this project has failed and God, like Blake's Nobodaddy or Goya's Saturn has simply exterminated those of his progeny that don't meet his specifications. In effect, this means that whole races have been wiped-out and reduced to sooty looking skulls and femurs stored in the cellars of the planet Ego, the name for the Eden where he lives. (The place is colorful -- it looks like a Terry Redling canvas fitted out with glass appendages by Dale Chihualy.) Russell is a "celestial," that means immortal, and he apparently tests his millions of children by trying to kill them -- so far only one of his offspring seems suited for immortality: of course, this is "Star Lord", as Chris Pratt's character is called. Star Lord, however, has another father, or, at least, step- or foster-father. This is a "colored man" -- I think he is either green or blue -- named Vondu the Ravager. Vondu speaks with a good ole boy West Texas accent and is a space pirate. He kidnaped Pratt's character when he was a little boy, apparently to use him for thieving valuables stored in tight places. The Ravager is "daddy" -- he's warmly affectionate, non-judgmental, exceptionally violent, and loving when he's not torturing or murdering people. In effect, our hero has two fathers, both of them lethally flawed: Kurt Russell is the Celestial, a lawgiver, and some kind of interplanetary sadist -- he kills his children for not living up to his standards. The Ravager is like Fagin to Dickens' Oliver Twist -- he's a criminal and brute but, at least, he doesn't have aspirations to be God. (At one point, Russell's God begins to destroy planets out of some obscure fit of pique -- we see a vast gelatinous tsunami, a tidal wave of gunk, pouring forward and just about to obliterate a cowering woman with her baby in her arms.) As I watched the film, I wondered how many children, the product of first marriages that had failed, owe fealty to two fathers: the cold Celestial lawgiver for whom you can never be good enough and the Ravager, a warm-hearted but irrational pirate. Indeed, even those not entrapped in divorce probably experience their father as two avatars: a cold, critical destroyer of worlds and a happy-go-lucky mostly drunken brute who mingles beatings with affectionate embraces. Guardians goes so far as to transfer this scenario to its female characters as well -- it is hinted that father-figures amuse themselves by compelling their daughters to compete with one another for daddy's affection. This leads to savage sibling rivalries, exemplified in this film as a murderous internecine battle between Gamora and her mostly robotic sister. Since fathers seem to be deeply destructive, the film suggests a third-way -- this is some kind female parthenogenesis as practiced by the golden people. The goldens are a race that arises without copulation or male interference except as sources for DNA. Eugenically perfect, the goldens have been constructed by gene-splicing and they are attractive, slender, personages made entirely of gold. Needless to say, there are no fathers interfering in this world. The goldens are led by a dominatrix Queen, a platinum-colored woman who controls her drones with an iron fist. (The drones attack our heroes from a myriad of pretty gem-like intergalactic dive bombers, all remotely piloted from separate consoles like old arcade video games -- it's a very neat idea.) All of this oedipal hysteria reaches an allegorical climax when the Guardians must penetrate the bowels of the planet Ego to destroy the brain of the Great Father embedded there within a spiraling fibrous architecture of petrified tissue. The attack on the brain is an attack on God the Father and he responds with suitable fury, flooding planets and causing super novas to erupt and, at last, unleashing a horde of rock-solid erections, huge monolithic obelisks that burst upward through the surface of Ego. In this apocalyptic battle, the Guardians seem to suggest another non-patriarchal form of family. (In one snippet of dialogue, someone says that the Guardians are "friends". "Friends," is the rejoinder, "but you are always shouting at one another?" "Then family," one of them answers.) This is the post-nuclear family, however, the queer family with GLBTQ aspects -- all the siblings in this family look completely different and, thus, they all seem to have separate fathers. It's a rainbow family comprised of people with different skin colors (red, green, blue) and skin textures (scales, metal, fur or bark). The rainbow family is the inevitable enemy of the evil and controlling father. But it's all oedipal hysteria, the weird engine that drives the summer's first Blockbuster, the tiresome Guardians of the Galaxy (Vol. 2).