Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 brings major new elements of the Marvel comic book world to the screen, while also providing a lot of small moments, blink-and-you-missed-it references, that are a lot of fun for long-time fans.
Note, mild spoilers ahead.
The main story folds in two characters well-known to readers of Marvel’s cosmic quadrant, albeit with their own distinct cinematic spins. The more straightforward translation is Mantis, a young woman, with antennae on her forehead, who has empathic abilities. The biggest difference between MCU Mantis and her printed forebear is that the comic book version was an Earthwoman, an Amerasian whose origins related to the Vietnam War. That Mantis eventually left Earth to become the Celestial Madonna, later residing on Knowhere, the interstellar hub for Marvel’s space set.
In Guardians, Mantis is instead a member of an alien species of bug-like humanoids. Fans can probably thank the film for ditching one of the character’s most grating affectations: referring to herself as “this one” instead of using personal pronouns, like “I” or “me.”
Cinematic Mantis is a servant of Ego, presented in a different light than his comic book counterpart for much of the film. In the comics, his full title is “Ego the Living Planet” and he’s run afoul of many of the MU’s big cosmic guns. By the movie’s end, fans indeed get a taste of that classic version of Ego, which is a decent example of the MCU nodding at a concept’s comic book roots while going its own way.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the cinematic ego is the script’s decision to make him one of the Celestials. Those characters were referenced, at least obliquely, in the previous Guardians movie. In the comics, the Celestials are a race of ancient space gods whose arrival on a planet often leads to some massive upheaval. Developing the concept of the Eternals in Guardians II could foreshadow a bigger role for the concept elsewhere in the MCU.
There were a couple of interesting cameos. Cult favorite Howard the Duck turned up again, this time in a bar scene, while a frequent background character from the comics, The Watcher, made his MCU debut in a quick scene that also featured Stan Lee’s obligatory appearance. Taserface, possibly the movie’s most enjoyable punchline, was a fun riff on an obscure, absurdly named villain from the ‘90s.
More interesting for long-time fans was the introduction of variations on several characters from the original, futuristic Guardians from the comics. While a version of Yondu was a key part of both Guardians movies, his other teammates from the original Guardians weren’t in sight. But by the end of this sequel, MCU variants on Martinex, Charlie-27, and Stakar and Aleta (the mortals who merge to form the cosmic demi-god Starhawk) all turned up, with a past connection to Yondu. The credits scene teased them teaming up. Might these “O.G.” Guardians play a larger role in the third movie? Given that the actors involved in this grouping include Sylvester Stallone, Ving Rhames and Michelle Yeoh, a more prominent place in a future story would seem a good bet.
Whatever the future holds, it’s a smart idea for the MCU to continue to seed its movies with these kinds of subtle references. They don’t detract from the enjoyment of casual fans, but give the long-time die-hards a little something extra to chew over.