What Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Gets Right About the “Bunch of Misfits” Trope
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’s writer and director, James Gunn, recently opened up on Facebook about his early life struggles with isolation and suicidal thoughts. He described how movies, comics and music were what got him through and how that experience informed his writing of the Guardians of the Galaxy films.
“[I work] because I like connecting with people, and the easiest way I know how to do that is through filmmaking … [The guardians are] a group of heartbroken misfits whose lives have been bereft of tenderness and connection and who have a nearly impossible time trusting themselves or others. But they’re learning, one step at a time.”
I confess I teared up reading that post because it captured exactly what I love about the Guardians franchise.
For all its humor, irreverence, and status as a big budget property of the Marvel/Disney Empire, the Guardians movies have heart and spine for featuring an ensemble of truly damaged individuals.
The concept of the “ragtag bunch of misfits” is overused at this point, of course, but the problem isn’t its prominence so much as its misuse. So, often, the term Outcast™ is slapped onto a group of good looking and perfectly well adjusted individuals (apart from the ol’ I’m-a-genius-not-an-athlete dilemma), but the script tells us that they Don’t Fit In and so we’re intended to relate to them.
James Gunn, bless him, follows through on his own conceit that his guardians are “heartbroken misfits,” particularly in the sequel. Not only is each character saddled with specific defects, like desperation for a father figure to the exclusion of reason (Quill), callousness born of survival (Gamora), a limited comprehension of social behavior (Drax and Mantis), an inability to accept or express affection (Rocket and Yondu) and deep-seated anger from an abusive childhood (Nebula), these defects have consequences.
They inform the story. Rocket’s decision to steal
harbulary anulax batteries kicks off the plot in Act 1 and, of course, Quill’s daddy issues form the basis of the central conflict. Moreover, our heroes’ brokenness is the source of much of the film’s widely praised emotional core, most notably Nebula and Gamora’s commiseration over the abuse they suffered under Thanos, as well as Yondu’s distinction between a “father” and a “daddy.”
Rocket’s arc is particularly interesting, as his compulsion to push those who care about him away doesn’t have any real plot payoff but is, instead, given a quiet resolution. There’s no flashy self-sacrifice or stirring speech, just an exchange between Rocket and Quill in which Rocket seemingly observes that Yondu didn’t drive his friends away after all and then reveals that he’s actually talking about himself in the third person … and admits that he didn’t need the batteries he stole.
It’s because of this sincerity and open-heartedness that the Guardians franchise gets away with concepts like crying raccoons and games of catch with cosmic energy balls that, in lesser films, would fall spectacularly flat.
By no means should every ensemble cast feature a group of misfits. However, if you’re going to take that approach, take a note from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and do something with it. Because, ironic as it is, loneliness is a universal experience. When stories, no matter how outrageous or far-fetched, commit to representing that experience, they can mean quite a lot to a lot of people.
“[The guardians] are me,” Gunn wrote. “They are you. We are Groot. And no matter how much world leaders are telling you we aren’t in this together, we are. You are not alone.”
Petra Halbur is a professional over-thinker with an abiding love for movie scores, campy TV shows and broken, twisted characters she’d never get along with in real life. You can follow her on Twitter.
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