Warning: Major spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to follow!
I know what you're thinking. In what cosmos can #GuardiansOfTheGalaxyVol2 be described as dark? I mean, you're talking one of Marvel's most psychedelic movies to date, complete with a stunning retro '80s soundtrack, and more dazzling CGI than you can throw a blue-screen at!
Here's the beauty of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, though. Dig beneath that beautiful, brilliant surface, and you'll find a movie that's bursting to the seams with some of the darkest themes and concepts you've ever seen in a #Marvel movie. That's the genius of #JamesGunn; he's used those surface features to cloak the bleak, devastatingly real universe he's created. Don't believe me? Let's break it down...
Let's start by discussing the family dynamics in the film — because there are some pretty dark ones! Take Gamora and Nebula; their backstory clearly positions the two sisters as victims of pretty extreme child abuse. #Thanos took them as his children, training them in the ways of war, and launching them into battle against one another. The winner remained unscathed; but Thanos would literally take a body part from the loser, and replace it with cybernetics. Gamora tended to win; and needless to say, Nebula learned to hate her sister.
It's an incredibly dark backstory, and it plays out in a scene that's actually pretty shocking. When Nebula arrives on Ego's planet, she makes an all-out attempt to kill Gamora. In response, when Nebula's ship is downed Gamora herself surrenders to her bloodlust and briefly cuts loose. For a few horrific seconds, two sisters are literally trying to kill each other. Sure, they sort things out, but that's hardly a pleasant family dynamic!
Meanwhile, cast your eyes to another family; Peter Quill's. Let's face it, this is one seriously dysfunctional family unit; we learn that Ego sired Peter as nothing more than a tool, a way to expand his power. In a shocking twist, Ego revealed that he was actually responsible for the death of Peter's mother; he killed her, lest his love mean he gave in and failed to fulfil his "purpose." The climatic battle features a father and son lashing out at one another, with Peter choosing to commit patricide — both for the sake of the galaxy, and for personal vengeance. He literally holds his father's "body" as it crumbles to dust. You see what I mean about some dark themes?
Child Slavery And Child Abduction
Now, let's cast our eyes to another of the darker plots. In one scene, Yondu presents his backstory, and it's one of the darkest in the MCU to date. As a child, he was sold to the Kree as a battle-slave. This is harrowing, and it reveals a dark underbelly of child slavery in the galaxy that we'd never known. Somehow, Yondu broke away from the Kree, and became a Ravager. Sickeningly, though, he betrayed even the Ravagers.
Yondu broke the Ravager Code. Tempted by greed, he agreed to work for Ego and abduct children from across the galaxy, taking them to Ego — who would kill them. Remember the cavern of bones Gamora and Nebula stumble into? That's how many times Yondu abducted children and took them to Ego. Sure, in the end, he had second thoughts when he realized what Ego was doing with the children, and he became a true father-figure for Peter by the end of the film. But his story is an incredibly dark one, all the same.
Let's stick with Yondu. One of the darkest scenes in the whole movie is aboard the Ravager ship, when Yondu and Rocket have escaped the treacherous Ravagers. Yondu leads them to a room filled with screens from the ship's security cameras, and he and Rocket then proceed in what can only be described as a massacre. Yondu uses his whistles to control his dart as it sweeps through a series of lethal attacks; he coordinates his strikes using the images from the screens. The film uses upbeat music to hide the truth of this, but it's actually a bloody, brutal act of revenge. And you just know that Yondu is enjoying himself.
Finally, Yondu lashes out at one of the ship's generators, triggering a massive explosion. This, though, is the coup de grâce; it's the final deathblow, a move that he could have carried out at any time but held back on until his desire for vengeance was satisfied.
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By now, hopefully, you'll have seen exactly what I mean; the themes and concepts in this film are far darker than anything Marvel has ever produced before. I mean, you're talking a movie that ends with an act of patricide; that explores backstories of child abuse and child slavery; and that, incredibly, redeems a man who once made a living abducting children. And yet, at first glance, you don't realize how dark these themes are.
The trick, it seems, is that James Gunn has carefully balanced these dark concepts with a brilliant, beautiful style that simply dazzles the eye. There's a sort of dissonance between the plot itself and the visuals and soundtrack; one is dark, the other is light. It's smart directing, ensuring that the film gets its PG-13 rating while rooting so many character arcs in seriously disturbing backstories. The truth is, during the first viewing, you don't even realize just how dark this film actually is; it's only when you take a step back, and actually think about the narrative, that you begin to realize what it is you've just sat back and watched.
Do you agree that 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2' is Marvel's darkest film to date?
(Poll Image Credit: Marvel Studios)