Marvel’s newest movie, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, hit theaters this weekend, and people everywhere are absolutely in love with it. The film earned an A from CinemaScore, and has an 89 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s no wonder GotG2 is so well received by fans, because the movie touches on themes of family, friendship, and heartbreak, and in doing so GotG2 reclaims what it means to be a family — a message that’s incredibly important in 2017, a time where Americans are more divided than ever.
Right now, the politicians in power seem to thrive off our polarized country. They celebrate a so-called health care victory that aims to take benefits from those in need, and support executive orders that encourage us to judge each other by race, ancestry, and religious backgrounds. Because of our unstable, frustrating landscape, people are flocking to movies for an opportunity to escape reality, and lucky for us, there are movies like GotG2 to not only distract us, but remind us how important it is to be surrounded by people who love and care for you no matter what.
In the new film, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) learns that family is not just the people you're biologically connected you, but the ones who care for you and put your well-being first. There’s a touching scene towards the middle of the movie where Quill, having discovered that he (spoiler alert) shares the same Celestial power as his father Ego (Kurt Russell), harnesses the power to form it into a ball that he throws to his father. Ego then tosses the ball back to Quill, and the camera pans out to a scene of a father and his fully grown son playing catch for the first time. The moment is cliche and cheesy, possibly meant just to get an "aww" from the audience, but it actually doesn't represent family the way that Quill's interactions with his adoptive father, Yondu (Michael Rooker), do instead.
As we learn in the film, Ego, a Celestial who can manipulate matter and extend his consciousness, was the one who created the cancer that killed Quill’s mother. After this occurred, he sent Yondu to retrieve Quill. However, after learning that Ego had killed his other children upon realizing they didn't share his powers, Yondu decided not to turn Quill over to Ego, and instead raised him as a member of the Ravagers. It was a decision which caused the rest of the Ravagers to resent Yondu, and eventually orchestrate a mutiny.
Yet while in GotG2, Yondu jokes that he kept Quill around because he was "skinny" and could fit into small spaces, making him a valuable asset in theft and bounty hunting, it becomes clear that Quill means so much more to Yondu, when he sacrifices his own life to save his adoptive son's. At this moment, Yondu makes a declaration that actually caused a tear to swell in my eye. "He may have been your father boy," Yondu says to Quill, "but he wasn't your daddy." This statement is so important, and true. A parent isn’t always the person whose DNA you share; a parent is the person who raises and cares for you, who is there for you when you need them, and is willing to sacrifice for your well being.
It’s an issue that is especially close to my own heart. As a gay, married man, my husband and I will never be able to conceive a child that shares both of our genes. We plan to adopt in the upcoming years, and I struggle with the concept of eventually having to explain to our future child that her two daddies aren’t her birth parents. I tease my husband at times, saying that I intend to play dumb when it comes to the topic. It just seems like such an emotionally difficult discussion to have, and those are precisely the types of conversations I oft avoid. However, I know that wouldn’t be fair to our child, and that she’ll deserve to have the option to know as much as she wants — and is able to handle — about her birth parents. I absolutely look forward to watching GotG2 with her one day so that she’ll have the opportunity to relate to a superhero with parents who aren't biological relatives.
And even beyond the Ego, Quill, and Yondu plot line, the entire film helps define what a family is in 2017. Just take the dynamic between sisters Gamora and Nebula (Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan, respectively). The characters don't make up what one might call a "traditional" family, but they’re connected nonetheless. And so are the rest of the Guardians. As is pointed out by Dave Bautista’s Drax after a comment from Nebula that the Guardians always fight, they're not friends, they're family. They're there for each other, no matter how they're related or what fights they might have.
Families argue, they disagree, they may feel differently about political topics, but at the end of the day, your loved ones are there for you when you need them. And in today's world, as we adjust to an administration that seems bent on dividing the nation, GotG2's message of togetherness and the reclaimed definition of a family couldn't be more essential.