'Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2' Is Totally About Jesus
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the rare Marvel comic book sequel that doesn't rely on Avengers history or a magic-rock-from-the-comics to build a plot. The result is a darker, more character-dependant Guardians movie that reunites Chris Pratt's Peter Quill with his father, Ego (Kurt Russell), an ethereal entity who describes himself as "God with a little g." By that logic, Peter is something like "Jesus with a little j," adding a whole other dimension to Vol. 2. As long as you know where, and how, to look.
"And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come." (Matthew 24:14, NIV)
I was raised a Lutheran. From the day I was baptized through my confirmation, I attended church, Sunday school, and Christian summer camps. A father god asking his human-born son to give up a mortal life to spread the father’s light through the galaxy had me viewing the end of this movie in a very specific way. It’s not a direct one-to-one connection -- Ego's grand scheme doesn't involve preaching and employing Christian values -- but there are enough parallels to evangelism to read Vol. 2 has a take on Jesus in his final living days.
The New Testament is a pillar of Western Culture's modern myths of, and superhero blockbusters in particular. The movies are filled with themes of father figures asking lost sons to sacrifice their lives for a greater good, and Superman, possessing near-unlimited power, became the easiest hero to bend around these tropes. Originally conceived by Jewish teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster in the 1930s, Superman started as a Moses stand-in, sent from Krypton to Earth down the Nile River of space.
In 1992, when DC Comics decided to kill the character for a publicity stunt, they inadvertently married the culture of comic book death (no profitable character really dies) with the final canonical pieces needed by fans and believers to adapt Superman into a Christ figure. Since then, the movie adaptations have pushed the concept harder and harder. Bryan Singer began Superman Returns with parallels to a post-resurrection Godhead returning to his people to inspire faith. Zack Snyder's 2013 film Man of Steel saw Superman journey across the globe, work as an oil rig worker (carpenter… ish), and gain an empowered reputation as he aged into his 30s. The character went full god, with all the backlash that entails, in 2016’s Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Jesus's story is easy to riff on, especially the marquee events in the Gospel, but rarely do we see the themes of the New Testament explored through Christlike heroes. The Amazing Spider-Man reboot series slowly revealed itself to be about the Parker bloodline, with Peter asked to protect his father’s research in a series of posthumous interactions. Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy recast the story for audiences' demonic pleasure. Because the protagonists are super-human in nature, Biblical themes can easily be grafted on without fully exploring what it is to have The Almighty as a father. That's where Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 comes in.
"The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.'" (Luke 1:28 NIV)
Vol. 2 opens in 1980, the day Ego's humanoid form whisks Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock) off her feet and plants a part of himself behind a Dairy Queen in Missouri. Meredith falls hard for Ego, and while we don't see the conclusion of the relationship, we know from the first Guardians that the couple consummates their relationship before Ego hightails it off Earth. When the movie jump cuts to the planet Sovereign, we see the end product of the fling: 33-year-old Peter Quill a.k.a. Star-Lord. Emphasis on Lord.
If the first Guardians was about a team, the sequel is about friends who become family through trials and separation. Vol. 2 splits the party Empire Strikes Back-style, sending Peter, Drax (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to Ego’s planet. What starts as a rewarding father-son dynamic -- complete with a round of catch -- is revealed something more sinister than Russell's good-natured Ego would have Peter or the audience believe. Ego is a "Celestial" who granted himself a human form to explore the nooks and crannies of life. Ultimately disappointed by it, the bored god spread his seed around the universe, both literally, planting cuttings of his being around countless planets, and sexually, impregnating beings to sire a progeny that kept his godhood.
Eons of hook-ups with mortals fail to result in demigod sons. That is, until Peter comes along, who we know from the first movie is able to hold an Infinity Stone. The power tips Ego off that Star-Lord may be the one offspring carrying his godly genes. The living planet brings Peter to his home base, built around a giant pulsating brain, and tells him that Peter will assist him in terraforming the galaxy in his image, granting the Celestial eternal life. Ego doesn’t have enough power to do it on his own. He needs his son.
"Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him." (Mark 14:35, NIV)
Peter finds himself at a crossroads. One path leads towards what he understands to be an all-knowing God. The other is his better judgement. The confusion mirrors Jesus's night at the Garden of Gethsemane, where he is betrayed and denied before his crucifixion. In Matthew 26:39 and 26:42 Jesus prays for God to take the responsibility of his death away, should that be allowed in His will. The son would soon have to die for the sins of all Christians and in service to his father, at an age most historians agree was around 33.
Jesus lucked out with a merciful God of the meek. Star-Lord is indebted to a being that abandoned and murdered his mother, all while facing the same parental request: sacrifice to spread what could be a holy light.
As a child learning of Jesus, and as a son of a father, the scant passages in the Garden were always the most humanizing moments for my religious figurehead. It’s a choice between responsibility: do you do what you think is best, or do you trust the father who is a god? The God? Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 poses the question and finds ways to resolve it Biblically and comment on how modern Christians view the decision.
"Then an angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him." (Luke 22: 43, NIV)
In the Garden of Gethsemane, an angel descended to comfort Jesus in anticipation of his followers' denial. In Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, Quill finds himself standing alone in the imploding core of his father. His teammates reluctantly fled, except for Yondu, his surrogate father. At a key moment, Yondu instructs Peter to use his heart to turn the tables on Ego’s final big play. Like Jesus, our hero must singularly reject doubt in the face of his father, God, but can't make the decision on his own. He needs a little encouragement from the mortal world.
Star-Lord passes on immortality and godship so that he can save the universe. In the New Testament, Jesus allows himself to be killed so he can be resurrected as an example for future generations who would follow his words and teachings. This is where the movie finesses the themes from a religious text into a statement on evangelism.
Besides Peter Quill’s arc in the film, every other character (with maybe the exception of Baby Groot, whose only sin is innocence) has to take responsibility for his or her past, even if the actions that weren't all that thought out. Jesus’s arc in the Bible says something similar: ask forgiveness from God and love thy neighbor. Guardians divorces the devotion from the message. Star-Lord's journey advocates for personal choice and responsibility beyond what’s expected of you by your family and community. The New Testament is much less forgiving when it comes to denying your father and taking personal responsibility.
After his death, Christ rose from the grave and told his disciples to spread his Gospel on the new Christian way of life. They followed, which is how we wound up with scripture, The Bible, and church. Peter rejects Ego's plans to "spread" his message i.e. blueberry jelly blobs that consume entire planets. That may feel like a drastically different plot outcome, but both Christ figures sacrifice for all life after identifying the human experience. Jesus decided to spread his father’s light throughout the universe, bathing us all in it’s comfortable and limiting glow. Peter Quill decides that the best way to do that is to be the best individual you can be, which is why, unlike Jesus, he'll be back for an inevitable sequel.