Last week Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 writer-director James Gunn tweeted out that new cast member Kurt Russell had completed his shooting at the film’s Atlanta, Georgia Pinewood Studios location.
“And that’s a wrap on Kurt Russell on #GOTGVol2,” wrote Gunn. “A true talent and pleasure in every way. I will admit to a small tear in my eye.”
Gunn’s sentiment makes this as good a time as any to follow-up on our November 2014 piece on who we’re pretty sure Peter Quill-Star-Lord’s father really is.
If you haven’t read it, our hypothesis is Peter’s father has been hiding in plain sight under our noses all along. And yes, despite Kurt Russell’s high-profile casting, we’re still sticking with our story.
That’s right, that means we do not think Kurt Russell will be playing Peter’s dad when the film debuts on May 5, 2017, and do you want to know why?
Because it’s May 18, 2016 and pretty much everyone on the Milky Way side of Knowhere believes Kurt Russell is playing Peter’s dad.
And that’s a problem.
Let’s reiterate parts of our thesis last time we tackled this subject. First of all, James Gunn is a very savvy writer-director, and second, James Gunn is a very savvy Internet marketer.
The dude knew the second Russell was leaked and then officially announced as part of the cast rampant speculation and assumption would immediately turn towards his role being Peter’s father. And while it makes perfect sense on some level that an actor of his stature and age being one of the few significant addition to the cast = ‘dad.’ The dilemma is Marvel has already signaled the identity of his father is the central theme of the sequel.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the team’s adventures as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill’s true parentage,” reads Marvel’s press release about the start of production.
Now what word stands out for you in that sentence? For us, it’s “mystery.” The film is being touted as … well, not a ‘whodunit,’ but at least a ‘whoisit.’ And there are basic rules to the mystery structure of storytelling
One rule is mysteries are almost always revealed/solved the third act. How this applies to Guardians Vol. 2 is that the basic story structure itself is compromised if we already know the answer is or will be Kurt Russell, however and whenever he appears and whoever he appears as.
Whether it’s the first, second or third act, the second he steps onto the screen it would be instantly anti-climactic if he’s the known answer to the “mystery.”
And no, hardcore Marvel readers, making him some existing Marvel Universe character doesn’t solve that problem. As we argued extensively in our previous piece on the topic, Guardians was a surprise global hit and the property is a relatively obscure one from a relatively obscure corner of what, to most people, is the obscure Marvel Universe. The payoff has to register equally to fans with no background knowledge of Marvel cosmic characters and strictly within the internal logic of the two films. Making Russell Eon does nothing for the millions of moviegoers who don’t know (or care) who the f--- Eon is.
That violates other rules of mystery storytelling. Many writers have taken cracks at the rules over the years, and one one the earliest was S. S. Van Dine, a mystery writer during the 1920s-30s golden age of detective fiction. In 1928, he wrote 20 rules for a great detective story, including:
1.) "The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described."
10.) “The culprit must turn out to be a person who has played a more or less prominent part in the story — that is, a person with whom the reader is familiar and in whom he takes an interest.”
And especially in the case of #10, that means the "culprit" — the character at the center of the mystery has to have played a prominent part when the mystery was first introduced – meaning the last minutes of the 2014 original – which doesn’t apply to whoever Russell is playing.
Now Guardians of the Galaxy is not a 1920’s pulp detective story, but the storytelling rules are still relevant. You just can’t introduce the object of what Marvel describes at the central mystery at the climax of the story. So Russell being the actual father and showing up in the story early almost certainly undermines the entire point of the film – solving said mystery. Russell being introduced late violates the rule, undermining what the last minutes of Guardians and Vol. 2 will have built up to over three years. Again, not even mentioning how anti-climactic it would be.
No, what makes the most sense as and what we think Gunn knows full well is Russell as the presumptive father is the perfect, and in this case necessary, red herring, which became necessary not when Russell was cast, but in the final moments of Guardians. The “mystery” is for now and will be at least until the climax of Vol. 2 the central preoccupation of the property.
In magic terms (at least according to Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige), Russell is the film’s “Pledge” – the first part of the trick, the ordinary thing Gunn is showing the audience.
And he may have picked the ideal pledge. Even before he was cast, Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill reminded us of Russell’s Jack Burton from 1986’s Big Trouble in Little China, an immensely appealing but scoundrel-y braggart who must become a hero despite himself. Russell could play the perfect wish fulfilment father-figure to Peter (and audiences) with all indications pointing towards him being dear old dad. But just when Peter contently thinks he finds his father, Gunn pulls the rug out from under him (and audiences), and Peter learns the truth – very possibly from Russell – setting up the continuing story for vol. 3.
Then of course, there is another possibility – that Russell is playing Peter’s father.
Waitaminute, we just spent 23 paragraphs arguing that he isn’t and now we’re suggesting maybe he is? Indulge us for a moment…
Again the whole point of our theory is Gunn and Marvel cannot step on the payoff of what they’ve described is the entire thrust of the sequel. There has to an unforeseen reveal at the climax of the film – some piece of information about Peter that comes as a surprise to the moviegoer and there is one way to make Russell the father and still deliver on that promise.
Let’s review some of what we know about the additions to the cast – we know Pom Klementieff is playing Mantis. The other significant additions to the cast including Russell and Elizabeth Debicki, are all so-far playing secret roles. Taking a stab at the 6’3” statuesque Debicki, it’s hard not to at least consider Moondragon, one of the few significant female characters with ties to the Marvel cosmic-verse left outside of Gamora, Nebula and Mantis. And in a film series largely about friendship (if Guardians had a sub-title, it should be “Friendship is Magic”) and about family, Drax’s daughter makes a certain amount of sense.
So imagine a scenario in which Mantis – the potential “Celestial Madonna” is Vol. 2’s MacGuffin (ala Serenity or The Fifth Element) – the ‘object’ that drives the conflict of the story, with the Guardians team and Nebula (as Thanos’ agent) warring over her. And let’s add maybe a third party to the mix – Moondragon (once a Celestial Madonna candidate herself and trained by the same cosmic monks who trained Mantis), introducing a three-way Mexican stand-off dynamic also present in Guardians. So what character could Moondragon serve as an agent for?
How about the Eternal named Mentor, who neatly fits into the Marvel cosmic corner of things? Mentor was Moondragon’s savior, adopted father figure (starting to see a theme here?) and well … mentor … and does satisfy the “ancient race” qualification for Peter’s father, and his shock white hair (like our #1 candidate) connects with the "angelic" description given by Peter's dying mother.
Of course all our resident Marvel genealogists immediately recognize the potential ‘pull the rug out' significance of Russell playing Mentor and being revealed as Peter’s father for Peter, his teammates and non-hardcore moviegers who only saw Guardians, not to mention the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole...
… that would make Peter and Thanos half-brothers.
We’re going to let you contemplate that one and its potential ramifications for the future of Guardians and the Infinity War two-parter for a few months before we even go into the Star-Lord-Starfox parallels…