Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

Movie: Directed by James Gunn.

Inciting Event: After Rocket steals the Sovereign people’s priceless batteries, the Guardians are saved by a mysterious man riding his own spaceship. This man (Ego) will drive the main conflict, ergo his appearance is the first brush with that conflict.

Meanwhile, protagonist Peter Quill’s old boss Yondu (who has been kicked out of the Ravagers for trafficking in children) is hired by the Sovereign to fulfill their bounty on the Guardians.

First Plot Point: After crashing their ship, Peter and the other Guardians meet Ego—who reveals himself as the father Peter never met (this is the Key Event). At Gamora’s urging, Peter takes her and Drax with him to visit Ego’s home planet (which Ego himself created).

Meanwhile, Rocket and Baby Groot stay behind to repair the ship and are captured when Yondu’s crew mutinies and Gamora’s vendetta-driven sister Nebula takes over.

First Pinch Point: And… this is where the structure largely falls apart. It grazes over its Pinch Points and Midpoint, but it becomes increasingly busy and scattered between its two plotlines (Peter’s and Rocket’s). It has a ton going on (Peter’s relationship with his dad, Rocket and Yondu trying to escape, Nebula coming after Gamora, Mantis hinting to Drax that something deeply sinister is really going on, the Sovereign out for vengeance), but the plotlines don’t tie together seamlessly.

Peter’s plotline with his dad is definitively the main conflict and yet because of Ego’s incognito facade as a “nice guy” for most of the movie, there isn’t much conflict. Peter’s only goal is to learn about Ego; the only nominal obstacle to that goal is Gamora’s insistence there’s something creepy about Ego.

The only true pinch at this point in the story is Yondu’s loyal crew members being ejected into space—which raises the stakes for what happens to Rocket (and Yondu—although viewers haven’t yet been given a true reason to care about him).

In Peter’s plotline, there isn’t really much of a pinch at all. He arrives on Ego’s planet, effectively completing the First Plot Point by entering the Adventure World of the Second Act. However, he doesn’t yet have any idea that Ego is a threat. Ego explains who he is and how he met Peter’s mother—which will take on a sinister meaning later, but at this point is not a turning point that emphasizes the antagonistic force.

Midpoint: Peter learns that, as a half-Celestial, he has the ability to tap into Ego’s “planet power.” He creates a ball of light and finally realizes his childhood dream of playing catch with his dad.

This is a Moment of Truth that turns the plot on the larger scale, but Peter’s realization of his power prompts no immediate new goal within the plot. He’s pretty much just content to play around, while Gamora tries to convince him something is wrong just because she can’t raise Rocket on the com.

Meanwhile, Rocket and Yondu once again get the more heavy-duty scene when they engineer an escape and kill off the mutineers.

Second Pinch Point: Ego finally reveals his plan to Peter when he tells him he intends to take over the universe by physically inhabiting every planet. However, he requires Peter’s powers to augment his own. Mantis confesses to Drax and Gamora that Ego has killed thousands of his own children looking for the one who could tap into the Celestial power.

Yondu and Rocket don’t experience a “pinch” so much as a late Moment of Truth/mirror moment in which Yondu insists he and Rocket are alike—afraid they will be rejected by the people they love.

Third Plot Point: Ego confesses he was the one who implanted the deadly tumor in the brain of Peter’s mother. This provides Peter the strength to blast his way through Ego’s hypnosis—but only briefly before Ego forces him to become a “battery” that will augment his own power. The rest of the Guardians, including Rocket, finally arrive to temporarily rescue Peter. They to fight their way to the planet core to destroy Ego’s brain.

Climax: After the Guardians are once again attacked by the Sovereign fleet, they are pushed back onto the defensive by Ego’s powers. Peter and Ego battle it out, one on one.

Climactic Moment: Peter destroys Ego, and Yondu sacrifices himself to save Peter.

Resolution: The Guardians give Yondu the Ravager funeral he always wanted.

Notes: Thematically, there is so much great material here. The movie does an excellent job making every single plotline hark back to its main theme of what it really means to be family. That’s the saving grace of what is, otherwise, one of the messiest entries in the series. The main conflict is basically a nonstarter for two full acts, right up until Ego actually reveals himself to be the antagonist (up until that point he and Peter do not have any conflicting goals and therefore generate no conflict).

Rocket and Yondu’s plotline, although arguably the best part of the film, is ultimately extraneous and could have been almost completely yanked from the film without changing the outcome—as could the character of Nebula altogether. The whole framing conflict with the Sovereign at least gets points for coming full circle, but it is also pretty ancillary (although I suspect it’s also setup for the next film).

The timing’s a mess, and the structural beats are weak to nonexistent in places. Objectively, it’s not a good movie. But it survives because its parts are significantly better than the whole, with its heaping doses of heart, heroics, and humor.

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