Guardians of The Galaxy: It’s a Metaphor!

[spb_text_block pb_margin_bottom=”no” pb_border_bottom=”no” width=”1/1″ el_position=”first last”]

Guardians of The Galaxy: It’s a Metaphor!

By Jacob Krueger

[/spb_text_block] [divider type=”thin” text=”Go to top” full_width=”no” width=”1/1″ el_position=”first last”] [blank_spacer height=”30px” width=”1/1″ el_position=”first last”] [spb_text_block title=”TRANSCRIPT” pb_margin_bottom=”no” pb_border_bottom=”no” width=”1/1″ el_position=”first last”]

Hello, I’m Jacob Krueger and this is my Write Your Screenplay podcast. On this podcast we look at all kinds of movies, not just great movies but also flawed movies. And rather than looking at them in terms of what’s good or what’s bad, two thumbs up or two thumbs down, we look at them in terms of what can you learn from these movies as a screenwriter.

Today, we’re going to be looking at James Gunn’s shockingly successful script for Guardians of the Galaxy.

Most of us go into superhero movies with low expectations.

It’s not that we don’t expect to have a good time. It’s just that we don’t expect to have a lot more than a good time. It’s not that we don’t expect to be shocked and dazzled by incredible action sequences and made to laugh with funny one-liners. It’s that we’re not used to seeing the kind of psychological underpinning, the kind of emotional underpinning, the kind of truthful writing that we see in Guardians of the Galaxy.

And, for this reason, James Gunn’s script actually redefines our expectations for what a superhero movie can be.

The difference between what James Gunn is doing in his script and what a lesser writer would be doing in their script is actually very small. It all comes down to theme.

There’s a very funny line late in the movie when Star Lord (played by Chris Pratt of “Parks & Rec”) is trying to motivate his band of misfit bandits to risk their lives to save the world.  He says, “I look around and I see losers. We’re all losers. Well… I mean, we’ve all lost something.”

And although this line is played for humor, it actually points us directly towards the thematic glue that holds this entire screenplay together.

Because, even though it’s a ridiculous, over-the-top, hilarious, action-paced, completely unrealistic, silly movie, Guardians of the Galaxy is actually about loss.

There’s another scene between Rocket Raccoon and Drax the Destroyer (the Dave Bautista character) in which Drax has pretty much destroyed the entire plan by summoning the great evil character, Ronan, directly to them.  And he’s done it because he wants revenge for his dead wife and his dead kids, who Ronan killed.

Rocket Raccoon (played by Bradley Cooper) confronts Drax about doing stupid things because of loss by saying, “we’ve all got dead people.”

And you can see in these lines that Guardians of the Galaxy is not a movie about capturing some crazy crystal, defeating some evil lord, or saving the galaxy. Guardians of the Galaxy is about coming to grips with the loss of the people you love and somehow holding onto your spirit of adventure, to your ability to connect to people, and to your ability to have family.


Guardians of the Galaxy is just a giant metaphor for loss. And it’s fun to watch James Gunn as he plays with this idea through the Dave Bautista character, Drax, who has absolutely no understanding of metaphor.

In a way, Drax is a stand-in for the audience. You see, the audience of your movie also doesn’t think about your metaphor. The audience doesn’t think about your theme. Your audience feels you theme.

So, while very few people are leaving Guardians of the Galaxy saying, “hmmm…what an interesting meditation on loss” (and god forbid if they did leave an action adventure movie like that), by tying the movie together around a common theme, James Gunn puts something of himself into the script that the audience can experience. By allowing his script to be driven by theme, rather than by plot, James Gunn has an internal compass for every single decision he has to make in his storytelling. And this is what makes Guardians of the Galaxy such a successful script.

You get to the end of an early draft of any screenplay and chances are you’re going to have a big mess. You’re going to have a bunch of stuff that fits and a bunch of stuff that doesn’t, and you’re going to have ideas for ten different things a character could do at every single moment. And the truth is that all of these ideas are good.

But if you watch the average action movie, you’ll actually see that many of these movies are completely thematically chaotic. It seems, in many of these action movies, like every possible theme just got thrown into the pot, shaken up and all mixed together. And although this can lead to great scenes, we’re often left without that feeling of unity we get from Guardians of the Galaxy.

Unless you’re a fan boy or unless you’re somebody who is already in love with the character, we’re not going to be taken on the same kind of powerful journey that Guardians of the Galaxy takes us. We’re not allowed to fully surrender our suspension of disbelief in the way that Guardians of the Galaxy allows us to surrender, knowing that we are in good hands and we are being taken on a journey that means something.

You can think of theme like a giant spaghetti strainer. When you’re making spaghetti, you start off with a bunch of things: you start off with water, you start off with spaghetti, you start off with a little bit of salt, maybe a little olive oil, if you’re getting fancy. And, taken separately, all of these things are good: spaghetti is good, water is good, salt is good, oil is good. But if you don’t boil the spaghetti long enough – if you don’t explore enough to allow yourself to actually boil the spaghetti – that crunchy un-boiled spaghetti tastes terrible. And it doesn’t matter what kind of sauce you put on your un-boiled spaghetti, it’s going to taste like crap.

Unfortunately, this is what many screenwriters do with their writing. They are so focused on plot and they are so focused on getting to the end that they never give themselves the chance to boil the spaghetti. And the plot ends up feeling crunchy. It doesn’t taste good.

There’s actually a story about that, in relation to Guardians of the Galaxy, about James Gunn finishing a draft of the script and showing it to Marvel and everybody being just so, so, so happy with the structure of the script.

And then, finally, he met with Joss Whedon and Joss said, “well, I’m happy.” But he wasn’t happy the way everybody else was happy. And he said, “I want you to put more of you into this script. It doesn’t feel like James Gunn yet.”

And that actually inspired James Gunn to do a whole new draft of the script – a draft that actually is a lot closer to what you see on the screen.

Sometimes, we just don’t allow ourselves to boil the spaghetti long enough to get it to that perfect al dente. Because we’re so focused on plot, we forget what it’s really about for us.

Writing is an exploration and journey. It’s supposed to take us somewhere beyond where we plan to go. So, you might not sit down to write Guardians of the Galaxy with the thought of “I’m going to make this about loss.” It may come to you later through the process of writing where you start to realize “oh my G-d, all of these characters…they have all lost somebody.”

Other writers boil their spaghetti too long. And you know what that feels like. That feels like mush. So, sometimes we overcook our spaghetti. We’re so focused on theme that we end up writing the idea of the movie rather than the movie itself. At some point, our characters need to start making choices. At some point we need to start driving the movie forward. At some point, we can’t just be sitting in emotion anymore. We need to have a structure for our film.

But in early drafts, we want to make sure that we are boiling the spaghetti enough to get it to that perfect al dente. And that means writing scenes that aren’t going to go into the movie, writing scenes that aren’t perfect. That means taking chances and trying it three or four different ways. Sometimes, even ten different ways.

Now, once you’ve boiled your spaghetti to the perfect al dente, you have to strain the extra stuff out. As delicious as water may be on its own – and salt and oil and all these things that go into boiling spaghetti – if you leave the water in, it doesn’t matter how good your sauce is. Your spaghetti is going to taste terrible. Once you boil the spaghetti, you need to take the stuff out that doesn’t fit. And that is about connecting to your theme. That’s about looking at what’s already in your movie and coming to an understanding about what you subconsciously are actually exploring in this movie, what you’re actually trying to say.

Once you’ve done that, you can imagine yourself pouring all of your pages into that spaghetti strainer and shaking out the stuff that’s not thematically related. When you have three different things that the character can do in any given scene, you can start to ask yourself which is the right thing. When you have three brilliant monologues for Rocket Raccoon to put Dave Bautista’s character, Drax, in his place and one monologue is about loss and the other one is about “you’re a big, dumb buffoon,” it’s theme that lets you know: “I’ve got to use the one about loss.”

It’s theme that allows you to look at the things that don’t fit in your movie and ask “how can I make them fit so that they stay in the spaghetti strainer? How can I make it about loss?” How can you even make a joke like, “we’re all losers,” land with the theme of this story when we’ve seen that kind of scene a million times before?  We’ve seen that scene a million times but it becomes a completely fresh and new scene because of the theme of loss.


In fact, in the first scene of this movie, James Gunn does something that absolutely nobody should do. You should not start your ridiculous, hilarious, raucous, superhero, sci-fi, comedy, adventure movie, with the death of a little boy’s mom.

Now look, we have seen in many superhero movies the loss of a parent. In fact, it’s part of that superhero genre. But we’ve never seen it like this. We’ve never seen it played for such dramatic purpose. In fact, most action movies start with action sequences, but this action movie starts with something straight out of independent character-driven drama.

We’re watching a little boy lose his mom. And yes, James Gunn is already establishing some important objects in this movie. He’s establishing that Walkman and that mix tape – that symbol of who mom was and the spirit of adventure that she passed on to her son– that was given to our main character before his mom’s death.

We’re watching this little boy sitting in the waiting room of a hospital, listening to that Walkman that his mom gave him. And he’s listening to this powerfully contrasting tune: this upbeat ‘70s music that contrasts with the power of the situation.

And he’s called in and his dying, bald mother (who is barely coherent) reaches out to him and asks him to take her hand.

And he can’t do it. He turns away from his mom because he’s a scared child. And before he can turn back, she’s already dead.

You don’t see that often in an action movie; a dramatic scene played for drama at the very start of a hilarious story. It works because of the theme.

So, when you’re looking at yourself and you’re thinking, “Oh my G-d, did I just make the biggest mistake ever? Did I just start my comedy with a dramatic scene? What have I done?” You can use the spaghetti strainer of your theme to answer that question to tell you if it’s right or if it’s wrong.

In later podcasts we’re going to talk about tone. And you can see in this example the way that James Gunn, as both writer and director, controls the tone of this movie. That tone is not about everything being funny or everything being dramatic. That tone actually comes from the contrast between dramatic and comedic. Tone actually grows from the contrast between what’s happening in the soundtrack and what’s happening on the screen. Tone is something that we can control.

It’s important to understand that theme is like a spaghetti strainer. You want to pour your pages in, pour your choices into that spaghetti strainer of your theme and strain out the stuff that doesn’t fit. And this is how you bring a feeling of unity to your movie. This is how you let your audience know that they’re in good hands. This is how you take a silly, sci-fi, adventure about infinity gems and turn it into a metaphor about loss.

This is what distinguishes Guardians of the Galaxy from so many other action movies. Because Guardians of the Galaxy is not about infinity gems and evil maniacs. Those things are just the plot. Guardians of the Galaxy is about a dude who is afraid to take a woman’s hand, who halfway through the movie risks his life to protect a woman who tried to kill him. And who, by the end of the movie, has found the courage to finally take her hand, in the way he never could take his mother’s.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a metaphor for what it means to allow yourself to care for people in the face of devastating loss. What it means to find a family again. What it means to take another person’s hand in the face of all that pain. What it takes to go from being a loser, being another victim of an unfair world, to being a Guardian of the Galaxy.

I hope you enjoyed this podcast. If you’d like to learn more about an organic approach to screenwriting based on character and theme and the kinds of concepts we talk about in this podcast, you can check out any of our upcoming classes in NYC and Online, our 6 Month One-on-One ProTrack Program and our international retreats.




Share this...

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Participant Agreement

By registering for the course, you are agreeing to the following terms, which form a legal contract between you and Jacob Krueger Studio, LLC (“Company”) and govern your attendance at and/or participation in Company’s course (the “Course”). 

  1. Course Participation.
    1. Admittance.  Your registration entitles you to admittance to the Course.  Any and all other costs associated with your attendance (including, without limitation, any travel or accommodation expenses) shall be borne solely by you and Company shall not be liable for any such costs.
    2. Media.  For good and valuable consideration, the receipt and sufficiency of which are hereby acknowledged, you grant Company the right to record, film, photograph or capture your likeness in connection with the Course, in any media now available and hereafter developed (“Course Footage”).  You further grant to Company in perpetuity the rights to use, license, edit, copy, distribute, publicly display and make derivative works of the Course Footage, including exploitation for marketing, advertising or merchandising related to the Course, throughout the universe.  You hereby waive any and all approval rights you may have over Company’s use of the Course Footage and acknowledge these rights are granted without any payment, including royalties or residuals, to you.
    3. Conduct.  You acknowledge that Company reserves the right to request your removal from the Course if Company, in its sole discretion, considers your presence or behavior to create a disruption or to hinder the Course or the enjoyment of the Course by other attendees or speakers.
  2. Fee(s).
    • Payment.  The payment of the applicable fee(s) for the Course is due upon registration or per your payment plan.  If such payment is insufficient or declined for any reason, you acknowledge that Company has the right and sole discretion to refuse your admission to the Course.
    • Taxes. The fee(s) may be subject sales tax, value added tax, or any other taxes and duties which, if applicable, will be charged to you in addition to the fee(s).
  3. Intellectual Property. All intellectual property rights, including trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and patents, in and to the Course, the Course content and all materials distributed at or in connection with the Course (the “Course Materials”) are owned by Company. You may not use, license, copy, display, or make derivative works of the Course Materials without the prior written permission of Company.  For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this agreement shall be deemed to vest in you any legal or beneficial right in or to any trademarks or other intellectual property rights owned or used under license by Company or grant to you any right or license to any other intellectual property rights of Company, all of which shall at all times remain the exclusive property of Company.
  4. Warranties; Limitation of Liability.
    • Other than to the extent required as a matter of law: (i) neither Company nor its employees, agents or affiliates (“Company Parties”) shall be liable for any direct, indirect, special, incidental, or consequential costs, damages or losses arising directly or indirectly from the Course or other aspect related thereto or in connection with this agreement.  The maximum aggregate liability of Company Parties for any claim in any way connected with therewith or this agreement whether in contract, tort or otherwise (including any negligent act or omission) shall be limited to the amount paid by you to Company under this agreement to attend the Course.
    • You represent and warrant that you have the full right and authority to grant Company the rights provided in this agreement and that you have made no commitments which conflict with this agreement or the rights granted herein.  You agree that your participation in the Course is entirely at your own risk and accept full responsibility for your decision to participate in the Course.  In no event shall you have the right to enjoin the development, production, exploitation or use of the Course and/or your Contributions to it. 
  5. Governing Law and Venue.  This agreement shall be governed by the laws of the State of New York without regard to its conflict of laws provisions.  The parties hereto agree to submit to personal and subject matter jurisdiction in the federal or state courts located in the City and State of New York, United States of America.
  6. Dispute Resolution.  All claims and disputes arising under or relating to this agreement are to be settled by binding arbitration in the state of New York or another location mutually agreeable to the parties.  The arbitration shall be conducted on a confidential basis pursuant to the Commercial Arbitration Rules of the American Arbitration Association.  Any decision or award as a result of any such arbitration proceeding shall be in writing and shall provide an explanation for all conclusions of law and fact and shall include the assessment of costs, expenses, and reasonable attorneys’ fees by the winner against the loser.  Any such arbitration shall include a written record of the arbitration hearing.  An award of arbitration may be confirmed in a court of competent jurisdiction.
  7. Miscellaneous.  Company may transfer and assign this agreement or all or any of its rights or privileges hereunder to any entity or individual without restriction.  This agreement shall be binding on all of your successors-in-interest, heirs and assigns.  This agreement sets forth the entire agreement between you and the Company in relation to the Course, and you acknowledge that in entering into it, you are not relying upon any promises or statements made by anyone about the nature of the Course or your Contributions or the identity of any other participants or persons involved with the Course.  This agreement may not be altered or amended except in writing signed by both parties.
  8. Prevention of “Zoom-Bomber” Disruptions; Unauthorized Publication of Class Videos. Company will record each class session, including your participation in the session, entitled “The Videos”. To prevent disruptions by “zoom-bombers” and provide Company and

    participants the legal standing to remove unauthorized content from platforms such as YouTube and social media sites, you agree that

    (1) you are prohibited from recording any portion of the Course;

    (2) in exchange for the opportunity to participate in the Course, you assign to Company your verbal contributions to the session discussions.

    To be clear, you assign to Company only your oral statements during recorded Course sessions. You retain all copyright to any and all written materials you submit to the class and the right to use them in any way you choose without permission from or compensation to the Company.

Welcom Back!

Log in to access your account

Our website uses cookies to provide a better user experience. By using our site, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn more about cookies and how you can refuse them.

We will see you this Thursday!

7pm ET / 4pm PT

Check Your Email For The Link

(Don’t see it? Check your spam folder)

Donate To Our Scholarship Fund

We match every donation we receive dollar for dollar, and use the funds to offset the cost of our programs for students who otherwise could not afford to attend.

We have given away over 140,000 of scholarships in the past year.

Thank you for your support!

Other Amount? CONTACT US

Get Your Video Seminar


Where should we send it?

"*" indicates required fields

Would You Like More Information About Our Classes?
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Need A Payment Plan?

We like working with artists and strive not to leave writers behind over money.

If you need a payment plan or another arrangement to participate in our programs, we are happy to help.

Chat us or give us a call at 917-464-3594 and we will figure out a plan that fits your budget.

Join the waitlist!

Fill in the form below to be placed on the waitlist. We'll let you know once a slot opens up!