Please don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say–I never intend to be demeaning or step on anyone’s toes, and I definitely don’t like to deal in controversy. Just so … Guardians of the Galaxy is kinda the best superhero movie ever made.
The movie famously follows a handful of outlaws living on the edges of the universe. Outcasts in their galaxy, and desperate to get their lottery ticket out, the five of them strike up an alliance to deliver an enigmatic artifact for a hefty sum. But when they learn that this relic contains devastating power, enough to annihilate a planet, this band of criminals finds a pool of inner goodness that neither they nor the world at large would have ever expected from them to protect the universe.
I know more than a few individuals within my congregation who write this movie off for simply being overly crude and depraved. I understand this. For some, this movie’s brash sense of humor is even the film’s main appeal. But I think it’s worth examining the psychology of this film’s presentation of vulgarity. Therein lies the film’s real spiritual value.
This cast isn’t just some random trash bag of nobodies who were all born obnoxious and aggressive. These are all survivors who’ve endured horrific loss and trauma. Crassness and sarcasm became their defense mechanisms (maladaptive defense mechanisms, but nonetheless …) against a universe that has never given them a break. And so, their society has only ever seen them as miscreants.
Perhaps at some point, many of us have felt as though we could never be part of the work because we don’t fit a certain mold. Perhaps the culture of our congregation has told us implicitly or explicitly that we aren’t wanted in society or that society would be better off if we were all locked up in some forgotten floating spacerock forever.
But much like how the Guardians of the Galaxy become the saving grace of the galaxy that rejected them, the church-going populace needs the vital support of the non-traditional worshiper. Fringe voices and perspectives offer special insights, without which the church body can never be complete.
The relationship goes both ways. Our team needs to have its own reckoning with what it means to suddenly help a galaxy that has turned its back on all of them. “What’s the universe ever done for you?” Rocket cries in frustration. Peter’s initial retort is humorous, “I’m just one of the idiots who lives in it!” but there’s a deeper principle at work. These rugged outlaws started looking out only for themselves, but through their experiences, they’ve come to respect and care for one another. This rises in tandem with their awareness of their responsibility for the world at large, and it breaks their cycle of pain.
It’s especially worth noting that initiating themselves into high society doesn’t fundamentally change their identities. Drax is still a hyper-literal, driven fighter for justice. Rocket is still a little too clever for his own good. Peter will still do anything to evade the fact that his altruistic heart betrays his ruggish affect. And collectively, they’re still a bunch of misfits who do things their own way. But they are a bunch of better misfits who live for a higher purpose. It mirrors how conversion asks that we live as our best selves, but it does not ask that fundamentally change who we are.
Arguably the movie’s biggest legacy on the modern superhero craze is normalizing the comedic superhero film. Yet for all the movie’s nonsensery, for all the rough edges of these interstellar outlaws, the movie seems pretty secure that, yes, these guys are heroes. Not comedic heroes. Not unconventional heroes. Just heroes. Unquestionably. Unironically. In that moment when the team emerges from the energy cloud of the infinity stone, the audience is feeling nothing but awe.
This film shows that being the “good guy” isn’t a matter of possessing an assortment of arbitrary characteristics society has deemed “acceptable.” Turns out all it takes is wanting to do the right thing.
Marvel Studios via “MCU Exchange”