Creating Mythic Characters
Notes on Notes on Guardians of the Galaxy
Creating large than life characters in part means giving characters larger than life goals. Guardians of the Galaxy became hugely successful in part because of the spectacle and humor, but also because it's a well told story with clearly dramatically defined characters.
The film starts with a boy, Peter Quill, in a hospital waiting room nervously holding a cassette player playing some early 70's music. His grandfather comes out and wants him to see his dying mother; he is clearly reluctant. When she asks him to take her hand, he refuses, and she dies.
This will haunt Peter for the rest of the film. The audience is allowed to share and experience this moment.
The scene shifts to 26 years later and the now young man sets down on a mysterious moon with a scanner that shows him the inhabitants in the past. He plays some music from his 70's mix tape. He tracks down an orb and manages to escape with it while being chased and fired on.
He tells his pursuers his name is Star Lord.
It's a visually exciting scene, but it comes after introducing Peter and his central issue.
Peter gets a call from his criminal boss who kidnapped him from earth as a boy, who now wants the orb.
This raises a question that plays out through the film, will the boss get the orb? And another question, why did the boss kidnap a young Peter from earth and protect him?
Ronan, a brutal, crazed religious leader of a race called the Kree, wants the orb and sends out Gamora to retrieve it; she's a green-skinned young woman assassin.
The scene shifts to a planet called Xander, where a bounty-hunting raccoon named Rocket and an intelligent tree-like character named Groot have spotted Peter and want to collect on his bounty. Peter tries to cash in the orb, but when he mentions it's going to Ronan, he's turned away.
What follows is everyone trying to get their hands on the orb and everyone finally being arrested and sent to prison.
The question now, who will survive (the assassin Gamora is hated by many prisoners), and how will they escape?
These questions give shape to the next section of the story.
When a muscle-bound brute named the Destroyer tries to kill Gamora, Peter intervenes and saves her life.
Ronan, in turn, seeks the orb for another brutal leader, Thantos.
The wise-cracking Rocket plans and kinda executes a prison escape with Groot's help.
Peter realizes his mix-tape is not with his belongings, so he prolongs the escape to retrieve it.
It turns out Peter still has the unopened present from his mother on his space ship.
This helps the audience to stay in touch with Peter's wound.
Ronan and his followers are on their trail.
Gamora asks Peter why he would risk his life for his mix tape. It turns out his mother gave it to him, and it has her favorite songs.
The group meets with the Collector. He explains that the orb contains an infinity stone, which can be used to destroy an entire world.
A slave girl tries to hold the stone, setting off an explosion. The group now needs to get the orb to some aliens who can contain its power and not allow it to be used by Ronan to destroy the planet Xander.
Now the film has another simple question, can they get this orb to a place of safe keeping?
Possibly, until the Destroyer has called Ronan to the scene just as Peter's boss arrives. The Destroyer wants to kill Ronan to avenge the death of his wife and child
Ronan gets the orb, and Peter allows himself to be captured by his old boss to save Gamora.
Once in captivity, Peter appeals to his group as losers, those who have all lost family and normal lives, to "not run away" as Peter did as a child and help others.
Again, the audience knows what Peter is speaking about.
Rocket states the obvious, that Peter is asking them to die to help others.
The question of whether they can regain the stone now gives structure to this part of the film.
The group come up with a plan to attack Ronan and regain the infinity stone. They gain access to Ronan's ship.
Someone finally refers to Peter as Star Lord.
The audience knows what this means for Peter. It's another small point carefully fulfilled.
On the ship, mayhem ensues.
The group reaches Ronan, but their main weapon fails to defeat Ronan as long as he holds the infinity stone.
Rocket, the seemingly self-centered raccoon, appears to sacrifice himself to defeat Ronan.
As Ronan's ship is crashing, Groot envelopes the others in a protective ball of limbs, but this will kill Groot.
All the movie, Groot has had one line, "I am Groot." Now he says, "We are Groot."
We hear music play from Peter's mix tape.
And it turns out that Ronan survives and if he touches the planet with the infinity stone, it will destroy this world.
Now the question becomes, can Ronan be stopped?
Note that every section of the film has a simple plot question that allows the audience to assign meaning to the action.
Peter gets his hand on the stone and as he is being destroyed, Gamora asks that he take her hand. Peter sees his mother holding out her hand. As Peter takes Gamora's hand they are joined by the Destroyer and Rocket, and by joining together they are able to destroy Ronan.
Peter's boss then shows up and demands the orb, and Peter gives him a fake orb.
Peter mentions to Gamora that the boss was the only family he had left, but she answers that is not true. He has a new family now.
The Destroyer sits with Rocket, who mourns over a small twig of Groot.
It turns out Peter could hold the infinity stone because he's only half human, that his father was not.
This raises a major question that can be resolved in a sequel.
Peter returns to his shop and the unopened present and card from his mother. She wrote that he is the 'light of her life' and "my little Star Lord."
Which, considering who Peter's father might be, has a new meaning.
Her final gift to him was another mix tape, Awesome Songs volume 2, which he immediately plugs in and listens to with Gamora.
With Peter piloting his ship and Rocket with a newly coming to life baby Groot, the ship lifts off into the sky for a new adventure.
For all the action and spectacle and humor, this is a heart-felt story about family. It was hugely successful for a reason.
Copyright 2017 Bill Johnson