I often see a lot of my fellow comic book movie watchers, specifically Christian ones, decry the “arrow” sequence in Guardians of the Galaxy II. It’s seen as a crass glorification of cheap violence, or tonally upsetting because of the combination of death and humor, or just a pointless bloodbath. Words like "murder" and "slaughter" are thrown around.
But is this a fair representation?
It never bugged me, but seeing this criticism pop up so often got me to look at myself. Am I numb to violence? In other projects/books I’ve decried people excusing murder because they like the character enough to want to see them redeemed in other stories. Why, then, doesn’t this bug me, and why do I still root for Yondu, and even mourn him. So I started dissecting not just this scene but the scenes leading up to it, and I realized why this is. It comes down to two reasons: Story Context and Tonal Context.
The scene is extremely memorable for several reasons, from the catchy song choice to the way it is shot, and I think this leads to people examining the scene as a narrative of its own rather than considering the place it plays in the greater story.
Let’s backtrack a few scenes.
Taserface, one of Yondu’s lieutenants, has led a mutiny. He’s taken over the ship, and executes all those still loyal to Yondu, with the help of those who joined him in the mutiny.
Assuming maritime law=space law, the mutiny alone would be considered grounds for execution, but even that aside, Taserface has just systematically murdered men who were Yondu’s responsibility. Whether you inform this as a crime or an act of war, letting THESE actions go unpunished would be an injustice. To put it bluntly, everyone who Yondu killed deserved to die.
That aside, the arrow scene is an escape scene. The men are actively attacking Yondu, though none of them get a chance to really fire off a shot. Any of the men Yondu kills would have stopped him from trying to escape or killed him if they could, and if he doesn’t destroy them and their ship, they are likely to come after him and his allies. This sequence is an act of war, but it is not an act of murder.
My husband likes to say, if you let a murderer go, you’re not showing mercy, you’re just making yourself complicit in his next crime. Walking away and letting the bad guys go was, in my opinion as well, not a moral option.
While if someone is a pure pacifist, I can respect it, my reading of the Bible has always clearly made a distinction between murder and killing as an act of warfare. This is a complicated issue, of course, and many different Christian teachers have come down on different sides. That said, if you are purely against violence and killing in any context, the superhero genre is probably not the best place for you to be hanging out.
I think, honestly, this is MOST of the objections. If Yondu had sneaked out of his cell, got into an escape pod, and triggered the self-destruct on his way out, the body count would’ve been just as high, but instead of a stylized scene set to peppy music, with some clearly comedic shots, it would’ve just been a fireball and no one in the theater would’ve blinked. We probably wouldn’t even think twice of it, any more than we would call Luke a mass murderer for blowing up the Death Star (for definitely a higher body count than Yondu carries in this scene).
While I wouldn’t put GotGI or II in my top five Marvel movies, I do enjoy them (I have yet to see volume three, so don’t at me, as the kids say… I think kids say that?). It does, definitely, have a flippant, stylized tone that delves into dark humor and tends to go by the rule of cool.
If that is not your thing or you find it off-putting, that’s fine. I have my own list of things I find off-putting because of stylized choices like this … but at heart, this is a stylized choice. As superhero and action fans, we’ve all sort of entered a contract at this point that we are okay with violence being played out as entertainment.
Sometimes that entertainment is found in adrenaline-spiking thrills. Sometimes in high emotion. Sometimes in humor. We don’t expect superhero action to be grounded. We expect it to be stylized and cool.
Personally, humorous violence bothers me less than gritty, dramatic violence because it is a step removed from reality and plays into my acknowledgment that, yeah, in real life I would not be able to stomach a man taking out a bunch of enemies (justified or not) in front of me, but if you add this exaggerated reality on top of it, then I don’t mind. As someone who thinks Yondu executing his opponents was not only justified, but quite frankly the right thing to do (both from a justice standpoint and to stop them from causing further harm), I’d rather see it played out this way than I would in a more serious manner (admittedly the self-destruct option would also not bother me, but it also wouldn’t have been as memorable.).
So, if you have a problem with the portrayal tonally, I am not going to say you are wrong. Dark humor, especially around violence, is a tricky thing. I’m not going to tell someone they are wrong for not liking a thing.
That said, I will also admit that “don’t kill the bad guy or you become the bad guy” is one of my least favorite tropes. Sometimes, for the greater good, you have to take the shot. Sometimes you have to take a lot of shots, and well, if you can do so with a single arrow, more power to you.