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Edited by Robert Beach
We’re currently in a bizarre dead zone for Marvel movie news. After dominating the spring of 2016 through the double barrel punch of Daredevil season 2 and Captain America: Civil War, Marvel has more or less ceded the summer to its competition and aren’t even beginning to push Dr. Strange despite its fall release date. Instead, Marvel’s spent the last couple months heavily emphasizing 2017’s slate of Marvel features, where they aim to dominate the entire calendar with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 in the spring, Spider-Man: Homecoming in the summer and Thor: Ragnarok in the fall.
We’ve learned a lot about Thor’s casting breakdown, and Spider-Man can’t stop announcing new cast members. So far, we haven’t heard much about Guardians of the Galaxy. That changed this past week when we got our first look at the concept art for the new film, which revealed a trio of unexpected characters that seemed to be set for the movie.
The big surprise of this art has got to be Nebula, the blue alien played by Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan. Nebula was a supporting villain in the first Guardians of the Galaxy, working as Thanos’ agent inside Ronan the Accuser's operation and a primary enemy of Zoe Saldana’s character Gamora.
Both women were framed as “daughters” of Thanos, though that’s meant in a much more metaphorical sense than literal. The idea behind these two in the movies is that they’re a pair of deadly woman assassins with physical augmentations created by Thanos as his key hench-people in his ongoing quest to assemble the Infinity Stones.
I don’t think anybody expected Nebula to return for the sequel, especially after it was announced that Thanos and the Infinity Stones weren’t intended to play a role in the follow-up film. It makes a certain amount of sense that she’d come back as Kevin Feige teased a possible spin-off film for one of the villains in the 1st Guardians film. I think a lot of folks expected that to be Ronan or the Collector as Nebula didn’t have much of a role in the movie. She was a fun and intimidating presence, but she didn’t have much screen time. Aside from the premise of her character, there wasn’t much development of what she was capable of or even what drives her.
However, there is a certain amount of sense in her return as far as the long term is concerned. See, even though Marvel is calling their phase 3 finale Infinity War, it seems to be much more in line with the event Infinity Gauntlet, in which Thanos assembled the titular gauntlet, gained the power of God, and nearly destroyed all of reality. Nebula played a major role in that event when she stole the gauntlet from Thanos. If Marvel is setting her up to return for such a twist, it would fit for them to keep her around in Guardians 2.
Another surprising return character from this art is Yondu, head of the space mercenary group the Ravagers and one of Peter Quill’s surrogate fathers. Yondu’s presence makes a bit more sense than Nebula as he did team-up with the heroes for the first film’s finale and is a founding member of the Guardians in the comic.
Yeah, this is one of those weird little set-ups about the Guardians of the Galaxy that everyone glossed over now because their film was such a massive cultural hit. The original Guardians were a team of freedom fighters from the distant future where a race of lizard men called the Badoon had enslaved humanity. The team we know as the Guardians are a more recent revamp with Yondu as the only character from the original group to make it to the new one, though he’s undergone some alterations.
Aside from his history as a Guardian of the Galaxy, Yondu would also fit the rumored plot of going after Starlord’s missing father. It was confirmed in the first film that Yondu at least knew where Starlord’s dad might be, and director James Gunn has stated the quest for daddy Quill will be central to the upcoming film.
I do wonder if the movie will address the way Quill stiffed Yondu out of the power gem at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy. Given he’s seen here fighting alongside the team, I suspect that probably won’t be too much of a deterrent in their team-up.
Finally, there’s the team’s newest member, revealed here to be Mantis. Mantis is a very strange and obscure Marvel hero from the ‘70s, one of the most low-level characters to emerge from the Marvel cosmic mythos alongside folks like Moon Knight and Quasar. Her history is terrible and informed by a lot of stuff that probably won’t be featured in the movie.
She’s a lot like Spider-Woman in that she has an incredibly convoluted and asinine origin story that most authors don’t bother with when writing her character. The important thing about her is that she’s part person and part bug. She's also a space martial artist with ties to the alien race of the Kree, Ronan the Accuser's race.
Mantis joined the modern Guardians of the Galaxy in their inaugural run under author Dan Abnett as a counselor/logistical support character. She could throw down the cosmic kung-fu, but for the most part, she was there to run the base and take care of Groot in his diminished form, which I suspect will be part of her duties in the upcoming film as well.
Other than that, her ties to the Kree could be part of the film’s antagonist set-up depending on where Nebula falls. More likely, she’s there to help expand the roster and increase the team’s diversity, which is not a bad thing. Her relative obscurity and hodgepodge of an origin story makes her ripe for the serious reworking that made Drax and Rocket Raccoon household names.
Overall, the big take away from this Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 concept art seems to be “more of the same.” I don’t necessarily mean that as a bad thing, Guardians of the Galaxy was a great movie with a lot of great elements and doubling down on the stuff that works is certainly a logical move given how hard it can be to replicate success.
However, I have to wonder if that’s the best attitude to take when it comes to superhero material; after all, DC has been staying the course on grim and grit since 2008, and their films have gone down the toilet. Even for Marvel, their best film series, Captain America, works so well because each film reinvents itself and its genre.
Granted, Guardians of the Galaxy is a lot more space opera than superhero, but it’d be a shame if this flick ended up doubling down on the familiar when what made the first movie, so memorable was its weirdness and off-beat, unfamiliar elements.
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