Guardians of the Galaxy is Marvel Studios’ final Phase 2 film before next spring’s Avengers: Age of Ultron (maybe you’ve heard it mentioned in passing here…?) and though it’s more stand-alone than other installments in the franchise, it expands on Thanos’ and the Infinity stones’ roles in this universe in a big way.
Salivating comic nerd details aside, Guardians of the Galaxy has gotta be the funniest Marvel movie since the first Iron Man. Case in point: this is the first movie I’ve seen in many moons in which someone shouts at a raccoon, “Put the gun down! You’re drunk!” Though the stakes are high the film refuses to take itself too seriously and maintains its equilibrium with great grace. A prison break and an enormous aerial battle coexist alongside a sentient tree who exclusively speaks to identify himself and a dance-off against a genocidal autocrat. Gravity and levity are dual anchors onboard Guardians of the Galaxy. The dialogue is crisp, as effortless as the improvisations of a well-rehearsed troupe. Its wit is matched by its heart, however; while its tone is frequently irreverent, its story never becomes flippant action fare or mired in irony run amok. Guardians, you see, develops the theme of found family in a way that surpasses even The Avengers. While Earth’s Mightiest discovered that 1) they couldn’t defeat the baddies without one another and 2) that only with another could they be the heroes they were always meant to be, Guardians‘ band of misfits reach the film’s climax literally unable to survive without one another. The Avengers were a volatile crew, to be sure, but one you could invite over to your parents’ for Scrabble; by contrast, every square centimeter of the Guardians of the Galaxy is lawless, broken glass exterior.
But they themselves are broken. Guardians‘ ecclesiology emphasizes the protagonists’ contemptibility as a cosmic sci-fi echo of 1 Corinthians 1:26-29: “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no flesh might boast in the presence of God.” These Guardians (a scornful barb launched by the film’s primary villain) are the scum of the universe: criminal low-lifes, mercenaries, and stooges to tyrants. The film brings vivid, comic book exhilaration to the scandal of the cross by raising up the dregs of the galaxy, the pariahs with dismal track records and virtually zero integrity, to deliver justice against Ronan the Accuser. Ronan is a Kree religious zealot who refuses to accept his people’s peace treaty with their ancient foes, the Xandarians. Ronan is a ruthless moralist who will not compromise the demands of righteousness one iota and thus condemns Xandar to extermination. The drama that unfolds illustrates the theology of the cross as the galaxy’s losers rescue guilty sinners and bring the Satanic power of self-righteousness to nothing. In Guardians of the Galaxy, mercy triumphs over judgment as rebels and reprobates discover new identities and exoneration from the accusations of the Law. They lay claim to these things as the new reality of family seizes them all and binds together in a strange new narrative trajectory that leads them to die to themselves. But this only comes after acknowledging the truth:
Peter Quill: I need your help. I look around at us…you know what I see? Losers. I mean, like, folks who have lost stuff. And we have. Man, we have — all of us. Our homes. Our families. Normal lives. And usually life takes more than it gives, but not today. Today it’s given us something. It has given us a chance.
Drax: To do what?
Peter: To give a shit. For once. And not run away. I for one am not going to stand by and watch as Ronan wipes out billions of innocent lives.
Rocket: But Quill, stopping Ronan — it’s impossible. You’re asking us to die.
Peter: Yes. I guess I am.
Gamora: Quill. I lived most of my life surrounded by my enemies. I will be grateful to die among my friends.
Confession frees them to see their places in this new story, to see that none of them are at the center of that story and that that is good news. Owning the reality of being losers frees them for a purpose none of them could possibly have foreseen but now would never refuse. Calling a thing what it is unleashes the grace that transforms reasons for despair into reasons for hope and permits them to at last love unselfishly. No longer afraid to love, the Guardians can commit themselves to death; family supplies them with the grammar that makes sacrifice make sense for the very first time. And though hilarity and adrenaline abound the rest of the way, the gospel glimmers through every second as well. Go see it now, and call me if you do!