5. The Villain
The original Guardians of the Galaxy had a lot of great characters. Ronan was not one of them. The power-mad villain from the first film looked cool, and carried a certain amount of menace, but when all was said and done, he was just another crazed alien looking to conquer the galaxy. Ronan didn’t have a real connection to any of our protagonists, so there was no reason to care about him.
Luckily, Vol. 2 fixes this flaw successfully with the introduction of Peter Quill’s father, Ego. Though Kurt Russel’s Celestial narcissist carries similar galaxy-conquering tendencies, his standing as Peter’s father, and his attempts to corrupt his son, make Ego so much more compelling than Ronan. Evil fathers trying to turn their sons to the dark side has been a successful villain formula since The Empire Strikes Back, and Guardians Vol 2. is no exception.
The reason Ego works much better than Ronan as an antagonist is his direct relationship to Peter Quill. We had known about Peter’s longing to meet his father since the first film. So the fact that Ego shows up and appears to be such a cool dude only makes it so much more devastating when Peter learns about his betrayal. Kurt Russell does a terrific job playing up Ego’s charisma, and false caricature of humanity. Ronan was a very aggressive alien absent of any pretense of decency, and lacked the kind of nuances and subtlety that bring weight to Russell’s performance as Ego.
One of the movie’s most powerful moments is when Ego casually reveals that he gave Peter’s mother the brain tumor that killed her. Star-Lord’s reaction is instantaneous, pulling out his weapons and blasting the hell out of his father. It’s the kind of reaction that’s powerful, appropriate and human. We develop an instant hatred for Ego, seeing him through Peter’s eyes. It’s the kind of hatred reserved only for a true villain, with a deep connection to our hero.
It’s the kind of villain the first film lacked, and just one area where Vol. 2 was able to improve upon its predecessor.