Inspired by a post on the Emerging Scholars Network blog on Avengers: Age of Ultron , I want to try to capture something similar with Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2. I watched the film during my retreat day this month and was pleasantly surprised by the theme of family. I expected the film to have a tongue-in-cheek tone, but not for the film to leverage its absurdity (seriously though, the high kill count music montages were something else…) around the Guardians’ family dynamics. That is, they’re learning to navigate conflict and personalities and make room for each other.
That’s not really the interesting thing though. For me, it’s the family’s centralizing experience that offers the most thought: Peter’s father re-entering his life and offering him, well, godhood. When Ego first reveals that he’s a Celestial, I had to mentally pause and recap the power level of everything in MCU. In the comics they’re literally top ten on the power rankings, and even though MCU plays by different rules, the first Guardians movie establishes Celestials via flashback: planet destroyers, given an Infinity Stone. It’s no surprise that Ego is on the same scale, as a living planet.
Context aside, here’s our research question: based on frail Ego’s godhood, what does it mean to have Godhood – to be a being without weakness, and wholly complete? If Ego’s Celestial vision comes from a critique of human frailty, how does Ego’s godly frailty offer insight into true divinity?
Ego certainly has power – probably a few orders of magnitude above what we’ve seen in the MCU so far. During the Guardians’ introductory escape from the Sovereign, Rocket ponders something along the lines of: “who can destroy 50 ships with a wave of their hand?” Later, Ego reveals himself as a Celestial with enough power to shape a planet by will, while still taking human form. When Peter shoots him as Ego reveals his big plans, we see that his human form is held together by energy and will alone.
We’re not comparing his power level to other MCU beings though – we’re asking whether it’s enough power to count as godhood. My two marks against: 1) the giant brain that the Guardians eventually blow up; 2) His lack of self-sufficiency, relying on Mantis for companionship and sleep, and needing a second Celestial for his plan.
I’m willing to write off the first one to, “this film needs a resolution,” especially because we’re teasing out a secondary theme in Ego’s characterization. The film’s primary theme is still family, and Ego is a plot device, and event for the family relationships to overcome. Maybe, Ego is a Tarrasque (a plot problem, not a monster); regardless, it establishes Ego as a god that isn’t actually immortal.
The second, though, tells us something about his godhood: that for all of Ego’s immortality, he couldn’t create immortal works. Despite Ego’s ability to bend reality, he still had to kidnap Mantis as a larva and take on a physical form to procreate. Of his half-celestial offspring, all but Peter failed to unlock their powers. Even his plan to spread immortality throughout the galaxy has two key flaws: First, the immortality he’s spreading are just extensions of himself. Second, and more damning, Ego’s power is insufficient to germinate his self-extensions throughout the galaxy – he needs a second celestial to carry out his plans.
As a god figure, Ego’s limit is creation, specifically in creating life and immortal works. This power limit reveals a lack of self-sufficiency: Ego relies on other beings to carry out his will, and their defiance fully ruins his plans. Faced with Yondu’s defiance in handing a younger Peter over, Ego spent years searching and agonizing; faced with the adult Peter’s defiance to join him, his plans fully came to crumble.
What does it look like for a Divine God with full self-sufficiency to operate in the universe? At the very least, mere mortals couldn’t ruin his plans, and at the most, a plan that requires defiance.
Ego shares his vision in two stages. First during the Guardians’ arrival on the planet, Ego describes his growth in the stars: his millions of years of learning, crafting with his powers, and emphasizing his love for Peter’s mother. Second, during the plot twist, Ego reveals that he had fathered children from different planets in order to create a second Celestial to make his plan possible: spread the seed of immortality throughout the galaxy.
In their conversation, Ego offers Peter equality and immortality if Peter joined him. He invites Peter into a father-son relationship (see catch scene) via his expansion project. Ego wants Peter to be his co-laborer, a fellow immortal heralding the end of the mortal galaxy. While of course, in reality, Ego is prepared to have his way regardless of Peter’s choice, his offer reveals the scope of his godly imagination. Ego’s sense of purpose, into which he directs his power, is an immortal universe that answers his disappointment with the mortal one.
Yet, Ego’s vision highlights the limits of his ability to give meaning to what exists. He offers Peter the power to create with a sense of immortal beauty and ideal formed out of disappointment rather than standing on it’s own merit; and his endgame proves itself incompatible with mortal love. In fact, Ego himself proves his godhood to be incompatible with mortal love, as he chooses his plans over his love for Peter’s mother.
Ego is incapable of imagining mortality to be anything but disappointing, and in doing so, excludes them from his vision of a perfect world. He faces the power of love head on with force: he kills the source of his love in Peter’s mother, and he physically attacks the Guardians, the source of Peter’s eventual realization of what loving family looks like.
In the end, even Ego’s galactic project has limited space for making meaning. Mortals, perpetually disappointing, have no place in his immortal galaxy; he only has vision to destroy and replace, and could never imagine them to have a place. Challenged by Peter’s imagination: that mortal love is superior to a Celestial eternity, he aptly falls.
What does it look like for a Divine God to operate with full vision and capability? I think of one that imagines a way for the mortal to become immortal – an imagination for place that includes all things.
I know of a Divine God, fully capable and fully imaginative. I recommend reading Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy.