Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 – How to have your cake and eat it

As promised I’m back to talk about GotGV2. This post is rated Spoiler Medium for Volume 2 and Spoiler Heavy for Volume 1. Most of the spoilers for Volume 2 are about stuff that could be extrapolated from the trailer and the clips posted everywhere but proceed with caution if you haven’t seen it yet.

Today I’m going to talk about Groot, Baby Groot, and how to kill off your most popular character, and keep them, and still honor their sacrifice.

Writer-Director James Gunn was clearly owed a favour by some dark God of narrative or demon of film making. That’s the only way he could have pulled this off.

Near the end of Volume 1 Groot, the ambulatory tree voiced by Vin Diesel, sacrificed himself to save his friends in an act that paved the way for the rest of the Guardians to redeem themselves for their lives of crime, violence and selfishness by saving the Galaxy. It’s a poignant moment. However it was almost immediately undercut because Superheroes don’t die and because by the end of the film Rocket (genius talking racoon voiced by Bradley Cooper) had planted up one of the late Groot’s twigs and then we saw the twig dancing through the closing credits. One of the few criticisms leveled at the film was that this cheapened Groot’s sacrifice.

I’m here to say that bringing Groot back for the sequel only demonstrates the value of his sacrifice.

Many people have pointed out that while Groot was the sweetest character in Volume 1 Baby Groot is easily the biggest arsehole in Volume 2. Well of course he is. He’s a toddler. All toddlers are arseholes most of the time. They’re like that one friend you have where you’re not sure why you’re still friends. They are self obsessed drama queens, they get into everything, they’re simultaneously fragile and apparently made of rubber, they have no sense of danger or proprietary, they’re capricious, they don’t listen, and just when you are at breaking point they pat you on the hand, or give you an unprompted hug, or say something incredibly profound or tell you that you’re beautiful and you just melt. And then they fart in your face while trying to eat a crayon.

Groot in Volume 2 is a toddler. Not only is he tiny but he’s clearly lacking the intellectual capacity he had in Volume 1. It’s not even clear that he remembers anything from before. This isn’t a continuation of Groot in the same way that the Doctor from Doctor Who continues when he regenerates. The Doctor changes but remains essentially the same. He remembers everything from before and after a brief period of ‘post regeneration brain crazies’ he’s fine. This is more like original Groot’s clone or child.

Even if Groot eventually recovers memories from before it will only be after a lengthy period of dependence on a bunch of people I wouldn’t trust to watch my pet rock. And that’s the other part of Groot’s sacrifice. It’s clear that caring for Groot is forcing the other Guardians to grow up. They now all have someone that they have chosen to protect and care for. Being around toddlers forces adults to be adult, to be parental. So we get to see the others being parental figures. Which allows us to compare them to the plethora of failed parental figures littering their own backstories.

What can we as writers learn from all this? For one thing I think we can learn that honoring a character’s sacrifice can be a lot more complicated and interesting than we usually think. I think we’ve learned that you can bring a character back from the dead but it needs to be earned and they need to have lost something. We’ve learned that when a character goes through a major change it should change how every other character interacts with them.

We might also have learned that we should add a little picture of James Gunn to our shrines next to Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Stephen King and JK Rowling.

Next week I’ll be back talking about the themes of parenting in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. Truly a family film.

Tell me in the comments what lessons you took from Baby Groot and whose pictures are on your shrine to creativity.

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Thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy V2

More than a week ago now I took my son into see Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. I’ve already said that I recommend it to anyone who likes action, sci fi, superhero or family movies and anyone who aspires to be a writer. Now I’m going to talk about why I recommend it so highly. There will be mild spoilers.

GotG V2 is a fantastic example of how you tell a compelling story with a large cast of characters that has a strong central narrative but takes time to give most of the supporting casts their own story arc. You never get the feeling that the secondary characters exist only to further the hero’s quest. Even though Starlord/Peter Quill is clearly the primary character every other character is the protagonist of their own story.

If you want a masterclass in info-dumps that don’t feel like info-dumps, exposition that reveals character, and backstory that informs the action then you need to see this film.  There’s a massive amount of narrative stuff that has to be shoehorned into the film without slowing it down and somehow it works.

GotG V2 is a film that does not compromise. Just as Volume 1 was unashamed of the ambulatory tree, the talking racoon and the dance off Volume 2 is unafraid to set a massive fight scene in the background of baby groot putting on Peter’s tunes and dancing and reveal Peter’s father to be a planet.

There’s a lot of lazy storytelling in the world and action films are usually rife with it but not this one. No-one ever does anything for reasons of plot. Every action taken by every character is driven by that character’s internal logic. Yes they do stupid and illogical things but they do them because they are frail and flawed in entirely believable ways. And those flaws are revealed to stem from their personal traumas and struggles.

Throughout the film people make terrible decisions because of the terrible decisions of the past but one of the film’s themes is moving past that to make better decisions in the future. Some characters double down on their previous poor decision making and some learn from their mistakes. Guess which ones have the more positive arcs.

I really have to stop talking about it now or I will drop some serious spoilers. This is not the last you’re going to hear from me on this subject. In the coming weeks I’m going to take some of the themes of the film apart and show you why I think they’re remarkably good.

A writer is always writing

The thing about writing is that there is no down time. Regardless of what they’re doing with their hands or their brain or where they currently are a writer’s imagination is always at work. Once you get into that mindset there’s no getting out of it.

I took my son in to see Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2 this weekend. I’m not going to talk about the film yet. All I’ll say now is that if you even slightly enjoy action movies, family movies, superhero movies, or soft sci-fi you should go and see it at the next opportunity. Also stand by for spoiler heavy posts about it in the coming weeks. If you’re a writer you should definitely go and see it even if you don’t usually like the kind of thing that it is. I will be talking about why in future posts once more of you have had the chance to see it.

After we saw the film we went for coffee. Well, I had coffee, my husband and son had some milkshake type thing from Costa. We got to discussing the details of the film and what we liked about it and what were its narrative components and my son did something that made me very proud and also reminded me that a writer is always writing even when they think they’re parenting.

My son, who is only 12 years old, broke out the word hubris. I wasn’t even talking about the classical flaws but he correctly identified a fantastic example of that one while I was still talking about how people sometimes behave like dicks because they’re afraid of losing themselves. I can’t wait to see the kind of critical essays he writes for his English classes.