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Monday, July 25, 2016

Kurt Russell to play Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy 2

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Edited by Robert Beach 

And so another San Diego Comic Con comes to a close.  At this point, the SDCC exists as a trade expo, showcasing the various upcoming film and television projects the nerds of the Internet can obsess over for the next year.  

SDCC has made Marvel Studios king of the castle for the last several years, but, if we’re honest, this year and last year Marvel has been pretty underwhelming in their SDCC presentation. This year, Marvel’s heightened security and strike prohibition of filming makes it hard to get on board with a lot of their announcements. 

At the same time, pretty much all of their announcements were casting news, mainly revolving around Spider-Man: Homecoming and Black Panther. While I’m looking forward to those films, the roles announced have all been small.  

It’s a neat fact that Michael B. Jordan is playing Killmonger or that Tom Rivolo is Flash Thompson. Those aren’t barn burner announcements.  Thankfully, there were two pretty big casting announcements made: the first being Kurt Russell will be playing Ego, the living planet, in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.

So let’s start from the end and work our way backward here. Ego the living planet is going to both be in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 and will be Peter Quill’s father. That’s a pretty eclectic choice of character for Star Lord’s dad. I really can’t say it makes much sense for Marvel’s overall plan. 

As much as I liked Guardians of the Galaxy, a lot of it just felt a little too compromised by being forced to fit into the overall Thanos narrative. Shedding those elements for a story all its own is a good step in my mind. What’s more, Ego is exactly the character to fit into director James Gunn’s corner of the Marvel cosmos.  

The Guardians and their attendant mythos define by their weird, ’60s-infused Star Trek approach to sci-fi, and Ego is an excellent example of that. Marvel has always run rings around DC in the arena of cosmic beings. Short of Galactus, Ego is one of their bests.

Who or what is Ego?The question most non-comic nerds are probably wondering. Here's your answer: Created in 1966 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Ego first appeared as part of the Thor mythology. By this point, Marvel had realized having Thor just rough up crooks and communists on Earth wasn’t hacking it, so they shot him into space. All sorts of weird and unrestrained adventures were had. At this point, Kirby, a big fan of space fantasy, handled most of the writing as well as the artwork.  

Ego is essentially a giant sentient life form, one the size of a planet that can reshape its visual appearance. He usually chooses to appear as a giant bearded face on the side of a planet because, as a sentient celestial body, his standards of beauty are much more evolved than our own. Although, he can form a human-sized body for himself on the planet’s surface.

Ego has been around for almost the entire Marvel history, first appearing as a Thor antagonist before briefly becoming an ally. In what would become one of the prime crossover stories of Marvel’s early shared universe endeavors, Ego ended up engaged in a protracted struggle with the Fantastic Four foe of Galactus, the devourer of worlds.  

Galactus was the reason Thor was out in space in the first place as Odin was worried the devourer might someday threaten Asgard. Given the opportunity, Thor teamed up with Ego to defeat Galactus. It’s one of the best Thor stories ever published and a great piece of work from Kirby’s golden age at Marvel. 

Despite that initially noble period, Ego tended to end up a villain over the next several decades, not always by choice. Mostly, Ego’s schemes stem from being a living planet in a universe that’s notoriously hard on planets. At one point, people tried to colonize him, an act which drove him insane. Later, he’d seek elaborate revenge on Galactus for the various planets that’d died at the devourer’s hands. 

Most of his history suggests him to be acting out of self-defense or anger. He's not evil, just easily manipulated or favors to do bad things when things don't go his way. His most evil recent story was when he joined the Nova Corp and tried to brainwash everyone for reasons that weren’t made terribly clear.  

I’m not sure if we’ll see Ego join the MCU’s Novas in the upcoming film, but it’d certainly be impressive if he did. Conversely, it’d be pretty cool if they brought in “Alter Ego,” a second living planetoid that, after a brief battle of the planets, ended up Ego’s moon and brother. 

As to the casting choice, it’s a fun (not terribly impressive) decision. Ego doesn’t have much of a character traditionally, so Kurt Russell pretty much has free reign to be as Kurt Russell as he may want. The malleable canon of Ego goes hand-in-hand with how weird Ego is, as a choice of character to include. As far as plotting out the story from characters and casting, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 seems to defy understanding so far. 

We all pretty much know that Adam Warlock will be involved along with some version of The Goddess, his villainous female counterpart. And yet, I have no conceivable idea on how that will tie to Ego or Star Lord or anything else. It might be that this is all setting up the High Evolutionary, another cosmic being who specializes in creating weird life forms. If that’s true, they’ve done a good job of hiding it. I just have no clear idea of what the story could be from the disparate parts we’ve seen, and that’s pretty damn exciting. 

A common complaint about the Marvel films is that they’re too confined by formula and blockbuster-by-committee set-up to be intriguing. While I don’t agree with that, I totally agree that a slavish devotion to the blockbuster template Marvel Studios marred Marvel’s Phase 2 effort. 

If Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has found a way to throw off the expected structure and truly embrace something new and thoroughly informed by the creator’s sensibilities, I’m all for it. I like seeing people inspired to create something new with these characters a lot more as much as I like seeing faithful adaptions of them. 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is scheduled to release on May 5, 2017

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