Warning: This post contains spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
When the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is written, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 can be cited as a transitional movie in its ongoing move toward gender parity. Up until this point, the MCU has been graced by a number of accomplished professional women — from Thor‘s Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) to Doctor Strange‘s Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) — who, at one point or another, are put in the position of requiring rescue by a costume-clad male hero. Fortunately, there’s reason to hope that this longtime comic-book trope — ported over to the big screen from decades’ worth of back issues — is on track to be upended. For example, Brie Larson‘s Captain Marvel is inching ever closer to her debut, and Evangeline Lily’s Wasp has deservedly scored equal billing with Ant-Man on that in-the-works sequel.
To be sure, the Guardians series already features a supremely capable female warrior in the form of Gamora (Zoe Saldana). But the original 2014 blockbuster, written and directed by James Gunn, still places a quippy white guy, Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), at the center of its narrative. He hasn’t exactly been displaced in Vol. 2, but if you step back and look at how Star-Lord fits in the sequel’s expanded storytelling canvas, you’ll notice that he fulfills a role that, in the past, has been typically delegated to the overqualified actress cast as the token girlfriend. Through a combination of stubbornness and emotional short-sightedness, he stumbles into a sticky situation that he has to be rescued from by a group of savvier heroes — led by Gamora, who accurately assesses the danger they’re all in from the very beginning. In other words, Star-Lord is the movie’s dude in distress.
Here’s how he earns that designation: As you may recall from the previous film, even though he has acquired the gear and attitude of a grown-up hero, Peter is still a sad little boy at heart, mourning the mother he lost at a young age and the father he never knew. Early on in Vol. 2, though, he comes face-to-face with that long-absent dad: Ego (Kurt Russell), a being possessing galactic (if not Galactus)-size power. Initially suspicious, Peter’s defenses melt after he, Gamora, and Drax (Dave Bautista) accompany Ego back to his world, and father and son make up for all the bonding they’ve missed … up to and including a Field of Dreams-style game of catch. With their nominal leader having regressed to a form of childhood, it’s up to the rest of the Guardians — including Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), who spend the middle section of the movie off on a side adventure with Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Yondu (Michael Rooker) — to remain attuned to the foes in front of them and blow stuff up accordingly.
It’s rare, and exciting, to see a blockbuster remove its ostensible male lead from the fisticuffs as completely as this second Guardians film does. Granted, Pratt does heavily factor into the rousing set piece that opens the film and leaps in with laser guns blazing during the Guardians’ final confrontation with his old man after Ego is inevitably revealed to have evil intentions. But for the bulk of the movie, Star-Lord functions as an impediment to the action rather than an instigator of it. Similarly, his ultimate survival is owed primarily to his comrades rather than his own actions, which, more often than not, put the team in jeopardy.
To his credit, Pratt doesn’t seem to mind his character’s reduced heroics; he certainly hasn’t publicly bristled as Wonder Woman sidekick Chris Pine has. In fact, Pratt’s performance is only enhanced by Gunn’s choice to emphasize Star-Lord’s emotional journey this time around. That even extends to his relationship with Gamora, in which Peter becomes the one pushing for a firmer romantic commitment rather than the more traditional reverse scenario. There’s always a chance that Star-Lord could revert to familiar action-hero ground as Gunn sits down to chart out Vol. 3. But Vol. 2 illustrates how a little distress can deepen, rather than detract from, a hero’s journey.
Watch Chris Pratt Reveal How Star-Lord Would (Hypothetically) Introduce Himself to the Avengers:
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