Who does ‘family’ best? Not ‘Fast & Furious.’ It’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’
This word, “family.”
It gets thrown around a lot in movies nowadays. And it’s come to mean something quite different for a cinematic universe vs., say, a stern ER admitting nurse.
Yeah, the Fast and the Furious franchise has squatted on “family” as a catchphrase for some years now. But that association was forged less through its characters’ shared experiences and traditions, and more through endless word repetition.
“I don’t have friends, I got family” Dom Toretto tells us in 2015’s Furious 7, putting it squarely on the nose. In that moment, Vin Diesel finally verbalized a mythology that the franchise had long been preaching, if not practicing all that well.
And let’s face it — that could also be the aspirational tagline of most summer blockbusters, these countless tales of rag-tag misfits, outsiders, rebels, wildly diverse wandering weirdos who find each other, have adventures and slot into familial roles. Marvel’s Avengers team-ups. Suicide Squad. All the Pixar films. Pick a movie, any movie.
In films, family has become a fluid concept — just like in real life, where easy relocation and social deconstruction have caused us to examine our relationships, re-labeling them in accordance not with lineage, but deeper connective needs.
“Friends are the family we choose for ourselves” isn’t just a platitude. It’s our modern truth.
And here’s the thing: No film franchise has depicted this dynamic more authentically, or with more payoffs both comic and emotional, than Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
‘Friends are the family we choose for ourselves’ isn’t just a platitude. It’s our truth.
“Our movie was … finding this group and living for something bigger than yourself, and not leaving anyone behind despite your differences,” Guardians star Chris Pratt told Mashable during last week’s press tour. “All the emotional stuff comes from profound loss, expectations that aren’t met, failing to recognize what’s in front of us … really deep things. That [Guardians] does that better than other movies — and I want to say this humbly — is just a testament to [director] James Gunn.”
Gunn’s 2014 original certainly earned that “family” title, and the sequel spends it lavishly. Or as Gunn said during Mashable‘s visit to the set in Atlanta: “The first film is about becoming a family … and the second film is about being a family.”
And that means trouble. At one point in Guardians Vol. 2, Nebula [Karen Gillan] scolds the Guardians for their constant bickering and infighting, saying “You are not friends.” That’s where Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) all but steals Dominic Toretto’s most famous line:
“No,” he replies. “We’re family.”
There’s that word again. Family. Not just for The Godfather anymore.
Tracing the ‘Family’ tree
To be fair to the Fast and Furious folk, the concept has been in the franchise’s DNA since its humble beginnings — it’s spoken a few times, and embedded right in the marrow of the 2001 original’s script. From page 80, the first time Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) break bread together:
The word itself curiously skips 2 Fast, 2 Furious — maybe because Vin Diesel’s not in it? — then comes up again in Tokyo Drift:
But the fam thing really picks up steam by Fast & Furious (2009), the first to feature an end-of-mission barbecue, where Dom mutters it while saying grace. By Fast Five (2011), Dom is tagging in Hobbs by saying “Our family just got bigger.” And in Fast & Furious 6 (2013) it all comes back to Mia, who says “We’re family. If we got a problem, we deal with it together.”
The real problem here, of course, is that the Fast & Furious characters are often so busy talking about family that they have little time to actually be one (except at those barbecues, which look like a pretty chill and fun way to unwind after two full hours of cartoonish car chases).
Still, this is all a whole lot of telling. Guardians is more about showing.
The ‘Special Circle of Love’
One guy who’s a member of both of blockbuster cinema’s most powerful families is Kurt Russell, who reprised Mr. Nobody in Fate of the Furious and is introduced as Ego, Star-Lord’s father, in Guardians Vol. 2.
‘We partied that night, and I’m telling you, that was family‘
Russell was quick to parallel his onscreen “families” with the bonds that cast and crew developed while making both. In fact, it often forms fast in showbiz, and you never know where it’ll come from, he told Mashable.
“You can do something as silly as Challenge of the Network Stars (where Russell and nine teammates competed for Team NBC in 1977),” he said. “We partied that night, and I’m telling you, that was family. We had become, in three short days, a unit. And we were all very different. And when we first met, there was no reason to connect with anybody. But we were going at this goal together.”
Russell says that phenomenon even has a corny showbiz name of its own.
“On a movie set, we call it the ‘special circle of love.’ And nobody outside that circle of love is allowed in it. Not the spouses, not the families — nobody. But everybody inside that circle is fighting that war … that’s why you see actors say really what appear to be really silly, stupid things when they win awards. Because they’re remembering the experience that was really special to them.”
Drax the Doggo Dad
Drax the Destroyer is the Guardians’ resident madman and enforcer, and probably their biggest outsider. Dave Bautista, the sweetly thoughtful and soft-spoken former pro wrestler who plays him, can certainly relate to having a family that’s not your blood relatives — or even your species.
‘I see Gamora as a maternal figure, Star-Lord as the paternal figure, and the rest of them are siblings.’
“It’s never been out of the norm for me, because I grew up with a different childhood,” Bautista told Mashable. “Even now, I’m remarried, and my wife doesn’t want to have kids so our children are our dogs. And that’s how we look at it — that’s our family — and it doesn’t seem at all odd to me. We usually refer to our dogs (two pitbulls and a Catahoula) as our babies.”
Bautista sees Drax as the big brother of the Guardians, in particular to Mantis, their newest member. It’s an idea that gets him thinking about the team’s other familial roles.
“You know, [Star-Lord] is very much the father figure,” he says. “I absolutely believe … when I watch the film, I see Gamora [Zoe Saldana] as a maternal figure, Star-Lord as the paternal figure, and the rest of them are siblings. They’re a little dysfunctional, they’re arguing like kids would argue. But as the movie builds, at the end of the day, they really love each other.”
And the family that slays together …
Those well-defined roles are a big part of why the Guardians’ “family” theme works so well, allowing for familiar dynamics. Pratt agrees that Star-Lord has grown into the paterfamilias — though he has daddy issues of his own to work out in Vol. 2.
“This does feel really contemporary in the family dynamic, because you’ve got a father-son relationship that’s an absentee father, and you’ve got a father-son relationship that’s a step-father,” Pratt told Mashable.”And you don’t get a lot of that (in blockbusters) these days.”
The other big push-pull that many will recognize: the rivalry between sisters, a downright murderous friction between Gamora and Nebula, both daughters of mega-villain Thanos.
“You’ve also got a relationship about sisters — and specifically sisters, not just siblings, sisters — I can tell you I’ve had a few different girls say ‘You have no idea, that’s my relationship with my sister,'” Pratt said. “Oftentimes we have family members who we can’t stand, and that’s because they remind us of ourselves.”
But perhaps the biggest surprise of the character growth in Vol. 2 is how Gamora, who doesn’t suffer fools for even a minute of the first film, is starting to really care for her shipmates — Baby Groot in particular.
“Quill and Gamora do feel like the mom and dad of the group,” Pratt said. “And Gamora has become more maternal — and I don’t know that it was even written that way, but maybe it was cut together that way. Zoe’s got three kids, she is absolutely a mom. She’s got a strong maternal instinct. She’s like … a lioness. When she was looking at the little doll that was standing in for Groot, you can see it in her eyes that she wants to pick it up and care for it.”
And so it is with the Guardians, in that you just want to pick them up and care for them, or join them, or just spend some time with them. By the end of two movies — not eight, mind you, two — you understand their crisscrossing relationships well, care about their happiness and well-being, and want to see them get along.
Not that that’s ever gonna happen. This is a family, after all.