Posts Tagged ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’

GotG_Vol2_posterGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Starring- Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn

Director- James Gunn

PG-13- sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content


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The Guardians of the Galaxy — Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) — face a new set of challenges when Quill bumps into Ego (Kurt Russell), a celestial being who also happens to be the father he never knew.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will not win any new converts, and for once, I mean that in the best possible way — if you thought the first one was too weird, too trippy, too silly, just wait until you get a load of this. Only when a director has earned significant clout — or a franchise has a big enough built-in fanbase to guarantee profits no matter what — does a massive-budget blockbuster go this far off its rocker. Guardians 2 is the most delightfully insane blockbuster this side of Mad Max: Fury Road, and while it isn’t operating anywhere near that level of craftsmanship, God help me, I loved it.

The first Guardians of the Galaxy is one of my favorite tentpole films of the last several years; it’s exactly what I want out of my effects-driven junk food. By comparison, Guardians 2 is less consistent in its execution but also considerably more ambitious, so as far as I’m concerned, it evens out. The first movie is fairly straightforward; it exists in the same gleeful, boyish headspace throughout most of its runtime and mostly paints inside the lines, just with uncommon vibrancy. If it was a sci-fi action movie with a lot of comedy, Guardians 2 is a comedy with a lot of sci-fi action — except for when it gets weirdly emotional.

That’s the contradiction it invokes — it’s somehow both a lighter and darker version of its predecessor. It just depends on the scene. And despite running that far up and down the spectrum, it’s strangely graceful — it has room for the larger-than-life humor and the considerably more grounded drama.

Anyone worried that Marvel would moderate the tone somewhat now that Guardians of the Galaxy is one of its flagship film series (I would love to travel back in time a decade and a half and tell a comic book nerd that) will be relieved within the first five minutes — one of the most purely enjoyable opening sequences in recent memory, in which the Guardians battle a giant monster entirely in the background while Baby Groot dances to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky.” If anything, Guardians 2 has doubled down on the original’s excesses — this is not, for the most part, a movie that takes itself at all seriously. It’s a Saturday morning cartoon of a motion picture, filled with slapstick, bumbling villains, and catastrophic antiheroes who still haven’t gotten far beyond the emotional maturity level of a thirteen-year-old.

Its strength, as with the original, is in its characters. The secret to these movies’ success — quite a lot of Marvel movies, actually — is that James Gunn understands these characters and knows exactly how to play them off one another, and how to to inflict them upon an unsuspecting galaxy. Their interactions are hilarious but also feel true on some level; they have a very specific relationship that makes it easy for the script to establish and develop their dysfunctional personalities. This entry also makes it clear that Gunn knows how to introduce new characters into that dynamic — I’m very excited to see what future entries do with the new Guardian, Mantis (Pom Klementieff). She’s an isolated being who’s never really socialized outside of Ego, and she also has empathic abilities, so the Guardians are essentially teaching her how people interact and introducing her to the concept of emotions, which…yeah, goes about as well as you’d expect (they can basically say or do whatever they want to her and then just tell her everyone acts like this, and they take full advantage of that). She’s funny here, and I suspect she’ll be a scene-stealer in future sequels, once the Guardians’ backwards behavior and broken logic are the entire foundation of her personality.

The returning characters are the same greatness, but expanded upon. I think Chris Pratt has the same problem I increasingly believe Ryan Gosling has — he keeps getting cast as a leading man, but he’s at his best when his character is at least kind of a loser. Star-Lord is the perfect middle ground — competent in action, but nowhere near as cool as he thinks he is, and his interactions with Ego really bring out the character’s endearing dorkiness. Gamora still functions more or less as the straight-man, the only member of the crew getting frustrated with everyone else’s antics, but her kind-of-sort-of-not-really thing with Quill and the narrative choices the movie makes give her life outside of her comedic function, which was somewhat missing from the original. Rocket is still mean and fragile, a volatile combination that makes for great comedy and occasionally great drama. Baby Groot is just as spacey and weird as the original, combined with a newfound inability to understand what anyone is telling him (Drax perhaps summarizes it best when he calls him “smaller, dumber Groot”). And much as there are those who dance and those who don’t, there are two types of people in this world: those who recognize that Drax the Destroyer is the greatest fictional character of all time, and those who are incorrect. Reason No. 82 of roughly four million why I am not in charge of the Motion Picture Academy is that I would probably try to give former professional wrestler Dave Bautista an Oscar for what Drax does to my funny bone. Even his first line in the movie had me in stitches. His blunt honesty is so undiscerning, he’s impossible to embarrass, and he suffers from one of the most specific cases of dumb-smart I’ve seen in a character like this. Seriously, how often is the muscle the funniest character in the movie?

I’m even more impressed with the way the movie takes Yondu (Michael Rooker), a mostly unmemorable supporting character the first time around, and not only foregrounds and deepens him but hangs a significant portion of its emotional weight on his shoulders — and actually pulls it off.

Also — and you’d better buckle in for this one — a Marvel movie with a functional, interesting villain, who has a compelling connection with the heroes and is capable of meaningfully tempting them toward the darkness! I was starting to think there was a law against that. Anyway, the less said about that, the better; it’s best left a surprise.

In short, the cast once again perfectly matches the anarchic fun that comprises the majority of Guardians 2 — it’s fast-paced, hilarious, playful, and visually the best-looking Marvel movie to date (that may sound like faint praise given the wonky direction that has defined a bit too much of the MCU, but Guardians 2 is good-looking by the standards of movies in general, the neon colors of the 70s splashed across the canvas of a modern sci-fi flick).

But then, in the last half hour or so, Guardians 2 suddenly gets very emotional…and I’m not sure how, but it actually kind of works? More than “kind of,” actually — it’s some of the strongest stuff in either of these movies. The first movie, in keeping things simple, made the characters’ personal baggage secondary; it wasn’t about broken people fixing themselves so much as finding a home with each other. Guardians 2 actually forces its heroes to confront their flaws, and does so in a surprisingly organic and effective way. Of the bunch, only Quill’s abandonment issues resolve themselves in a way that feels trite, or at least generic. Meanwhile, Yondu wrestles with his legacy — the person he’s been, what he wants to be, the things he regrets about the way he raised Quill as well as the things he cherishes. He and Rocket (who I will remind you, once again, is a talking raccoon) find a strange sort of brotherhood in this regard, both of them deliberately driving people away because of how they were hurt and exploited in the past. Gamora and her sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), a minor villain from the first movie, are thrust back together and act out a surprisingly nuanced story of siblings dealing with the long-term effects of their abusive parents and how that mistreatment affected the way they see each other, one child having been the less-abused “favorite.” And the movie allows the over-the-top comedy to play a part in this, which makes the shift feel less jarring — Drax’s exuberance only highlights the moments when something triggers a memory of his family and the light suddenly drains from his face. After the first movie, you’d be forgiven for going into this unprepared for these characters to make you cry, but consider yourself warned that they very well might — and you’ll probably be surprised which ones, too.

There’s a critical problem, though — the reason Vol. 2 is a bit more uneven than the first — and you can easily identify it with a close study of the above plot description: There kind of isn’t one. Guardians 2 is a movie that needs its third-act reveal in order to give it something to be about; prior to that, it just wanders. It makes the mistake of separating the Guardians, for one thing, and then otherwise either avoids intensive conflict or invents uninteresting conflict to keep from becoming an extra-weird relationship drama. So, Star-Lord is hanging out with his father and occasionally having tense exchanges with Gamora as they figure out what their relationship is; Drax and Mantis are on the same planet but off to themselves, doing their own thing; Rocket, Groot, and Yondu are halfway across the galaxy dealing with Yondu’s mutinous crew; and there’s an alien race pursuing everyone. There are essentially two plots here: the opening half-hour, which moves the characters to Ego’s planet, and then the third-act reveal, which sets the climax in motion. Both are excellent, but that makes the middle third’s slack quality even more noticeable. There’s fun to be had, of course, because the characters are enjoyable and the movie never runs out of absurd things to show you, but it isn’t going anywhere or building to much of anything, and the secondary villains aren’t particularly threatening and don’t really matter to begin with. The movie enters a bit of a lull until it shifts gears for the final reel. It’s rarely boring, but there could definitely be more to it.

Even so, the movie’s uniqueness and — yes — intelligence more than make up for it. Most of the time, it’s a fantastic ride, and when it’s through with that, it’s surprisingly engaging. Guardians 2 doesn’t want you to know how smart it is, but it is, in fact, very smart. And fun, and funny, and well-acted, and it has that “heart” we always seem to be looking for in our action comedies. Not quite a sequel better than the original, but still, in a lot of ways, how sequels should be done.