Warning: This post contains spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
Just like its predecessor, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 gleefully mashes up of some of director James Gunn‘s favorite sci-fi films and TV shows. A close look at the film, which opened to an out-of-this-world $145 million gross, reveals shout-outs to the cult space opera Farscape, as well as A Wrinkle in Time, Dune, Star Wars, and Stargate. But the movie that arguably boasts the strongest connection to Vol. 2 is another second chapter in a franchise about a close-knit crew patrolling the edge of the galaxy’s final frontier: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, Wrath of Khan has long since been enshrined among the finest of sequels, right up there with The Godfather Part 2, The Empire Strikes Back, and Toy Story 2. And Gunn owes several of his Vol. 2 storytelling cues to the bold choices that co-writer and director Nicholas Meyer and the rest of the Khan creative crew made three decades ago. Here are four key ways that the crews of the Enterprise and the Milano overlap.
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt)’s daddy issues take center stage in Vol. 2, as he meets the father he never knew, Ego (Kurt Russell), and says goodbye to the dad who raised him, Yondu (Michael Rooker). Wrath of Khan also depicts the first meeting between a long-separated father and son: James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and David Marcus (Merritt Butrick), the result of the Enterprise captain’s brief dalliance with scientist Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch).
Like Peter, David was kept in the dark about who his real father was, but he also didn’t have to endure the trauma of losing Mom at a young age. That makes him more a little more skeptical of Kirk than Quill is of Ego — poor Star-Lord just wants to be somebody’s child again. (For the record, David also doesn’t have to kill his father because he’s planning to remake the galaxy in his image.) While they travel somewhat different emotional routes, both sons end up in the same destination: acceptance and affection for a roguish father figure — for David, it’s the guy who bested the Kobayashi Maru, and for Peter, it’s the guy who is totally blue.
The McGuffin at the heart of Wrath of Khan is named the Genesis Device — essentially a giant eco-bomb that, once dropped, can terraform a desolate planet within minutes, transforming it into a lush green world. Carol and David have been refining Genesis for years with only the noblest intentions at heart. But then Khan comes along and blows up those intentions by threatening to detonate the device in a place where it can wipe out existing life as well.
As the personification of a living planet, Ego’s grand plan splits the difference between Khan and Carol. He wants to remake every planet into the Eden-like paradise that his own celestial body resembles. But doing that potentially involves wiping out the life forms that already exist on those other worlds — including Earth. On the one hand, Ego’s involvement would mean a quick, easy solution to our many environmental problems. The only problem is that no one would be around to appreciate the new, improved Earth.
Why so serious?
Both Wrath of Khan and Vol. 2 introduce a new female face into the existing crew. The aging Enterprise bridge team is joined by young Vulcan Starfleet recruit Lieutenant Saavik (future Cheers star Kirstie Alley), while the Guardians add Ego’s helper Mantis (Pom Klementieff, in a breakout performance) to their ranks after her boss’s demise. As an empath, Mantis is more in touch with her (and other peoples’) emotions than the logic-minded Saavik. But both women are united by the fact that they’re outsiders to the group’s established dynamic and sense of humor. Saavik, for example, struggles to understand the humor in the fact that Kirk mastered the unwinnable Kobayashi Maru test by cheating — something that makes the always wry “Bones” McCoy chuckle.
Meanwhile, Mantis fails to see the comedy in exposing the unspoken love between Peter and Gamora, even as Drax laughs uproariously. We desperately want to see these two women headline the galaxy’s first anti-comedy tour.
Funeral for a friend
When it comes to instantly quotable lines from ’80s sequels, we’ll see your “I am your father” and raise you with “I have been and always shall be your friend.” Spock’s dying words at the end of Wrath of Khan provide the perfect ending to the Star Trek franchise’s most popular character and established a storytelling precedent that countless other blockbuster sequels have employed since. There’s no question that Gunn had Spock on the brain when he chose to make Yondu’s death the emotional climax of Vol. 2, complete with a fireworks-accompanied space funeral.
Of course, the Vulcan quickly returned to live long and prosper through four additional sequels, plus two chapters of the rebooted film franchise. (Spock was laid to rest, for good this time, in last summer’s Star Trek: Beyond.) And Michael Rooker, at least, seems to believe that his Ravager alter ego isn’t gone for good. “Think about that whole sequence,” the actor tells Yahoo Movies. “Your whole concept of the ‘D word’ will be totally opened up.'”
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