In May of 2017, I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 twice in theaters – once with my movie-going friends, and then again only days later with my coworkers as part of a Teacher Appreciation Day surprise. I enjoyed it even more the second time. A movie this stocked with the goodies is always going to be worth a revisit.
I would discuss this movie with friends for weeks after. We would laugh about the same jokes and express amazement at how understandable yet awful Ego’s plan was. We expressed our love of the new characters and the new relationships that formed with them.
We had a lot of movie to work with. A lot to appreciate.
But I left, both times, with the same astonishment at one fact: “I never thought I’d hear ‘The Chain’ played in the action climax of a superhero movie.”
Yes, the song is pounding, with that unmissable bass line and drum kick. But it’s still a song about discord, about pain and commitment and the way the two intertwine. It’s about a bond that’s tested to the point of being broken. The chain will at some point snap. It’s a matter of when, not if. It’s a matter of deciding what will be done with the loose ends.
In the context of the film – and for the characters involved – the song completely clicks. The Guardians of the Galaxy, especially as writer/director James Gunn has configured them, have always been a group of cast-offs who found family in each other. Peter Quill is a thief raised by the Ravagers. Gamora and Nebula are the extremely deadly adopted daughters of Thanos. Rocket Raccoon is a military experiment gone awry. Drax is a warrior bent on revenge. Groot is Groot, the one they don’t really deserve. They have all been, at some point, rejected, pushed away, or told they were not good enough. They hated each other before they found family in each other.
Everyone grows up with two families: the one they’re born with, and the one they find.
The Guardians of the Galaxy were given shitty cards. They couldn’t do anything about that. So they found, when not bickering with each other, some solace in their bond. They fought and sacrificed for each other. They became a family.
I, Tonya reminds us, from the very beginning, that this is a story told by a collection of unreliable narrators. Everyone is telling the story they want us to believe. And we often have no way of knowing who’s right or wrong. Even better, the characters – and the film’s writers – know this. They know the best card an emotionally burnt person can play is the one where the truth can be bent.
The movie doesn’t hide some key facts, though, particularly the reality of Tonya Harding’s upbringing. We see the familial discord she grew up in. The hardscrabble economic life. The mother who truly believed she skated better when she was made to feel like shit. The husband who continued a cycle of abuse that neither could pull themselves up from out of.
Each individual character closely echoes the emotional lives of each member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, at least until they found each other: a place that’s never quite emotionally secure or supportive. A place where promises mean little and boundaries are temporary lines meant to be pissed upon.
When “The Chain” comes on late in I, Tonya, a violent splinter has formed. Tonya Harding – as presented in the film – has finally pushed away every awful influence in her life. She has been failed and wronged too many times. She’s had it. It is time for everyone to go. There is no going back. Every relationship we have seen up to that point – with her mother, her husband, even her coach – is severed. She is officially, for better or worse, on her own.
The chain has been broken.
They don’t love her now, and they’ll never love her again. At least never the same way.
GOTG Vol. 2, on the other hand, employs “The Chain” twice. First, when they go to see Ego, Peter Quill’s long-lost father. It’s a moment of discovery meant to suggest a bond about to be made. Quill’s always wondered where and who his father is. A truth is about to be laid over a crack in his heart.
Except his father doesn’t turn out to be quite the father Quill expects him to be. The bond he hoped to form is violently broken in a most heartbreaking way. And yet, just as the chain breaks between him and Ego, it grows stronger around him as the rest of the gang – his true, new family – comes back to help him fight the good fight in the film’s major action climax.
The way these two movies use Fleetwood Mac’s classic tune – with wildly different intentions and outcomes – shows just how malleable the song is. It also shows just how easy it is to walk upon that fine edge, of commitment and rejection, and how badly we need someone in our lives who truly believe in us and stand by us on our best, worst, and in-between moments.