Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 is a film every bit as full of color and character as the first, a bit lighter on laughs but heavier with drama. Like the first, I spent most of the time smiling. But unlike the first, the sequel doesn’t launch to the top of films in the MCU or comic book movies in general. I enjoyed it, I recommend it, but it is middle-of-the-pack for me.
All of the actors gave great performances.I don’t have a complaint about a single one. A couple stood out, though: Michael Rooker as Yondu has some great, unexpected moments. Chris Pratt surprised me by making a potentially cheesy scene feel real. And Kurt Russell brought just the swagger his role needed (and made me happy every time he was on screen).
The action was great. Even in scenes where multiple characters were fighting on multiple fronts, I was never confused as to who was where or why. I always knew what was going on. And all of the carnage was both gorgeous and funny.
Anyone going into Guardians 2 expecting a fun, Sci-Fi/Action Comedy will be happy.
What brings it down for me, then? A couple of things. First, its pacing is all over the place, almost to the point of being nonexistent. Its plot is disjointed, due to the first half hour being an extended prologue. And yet, what really hurt the movie is harder to explain.
The movie doesn’t know the meaning of words like “subtle” or “understated”. That’s fine when they’re blowing things up. But Guardians 2 prides itself on spending more time on character. And in drama, a lack of subtlety can kill a movie.
Warning: I am going to spoil the original Guardians. Yeah, I know, I’m spoiling Guardians for the second post in a row, and focusing on the same scene! But it’s a safe bet that many of the people who might want to watch the sequel have seen the original. And I need something to compare to in order to explain what Guardians 2 gets wrong.
Imagine when Groot surrounds the group to save them from the crash, and Rocket tearfully says, “You’ll die!”, and Groot smiles sagely down to him and responds, “We are Groot.” Imagine that punch to the gut, and how you felt the first time you saw it? What does that phrase mean to you? If you’re anything like me, it has layers of meaning, layers of emotion. It’s such a resonant, powerful phrase, because it lets the viewer understand through context.
Now imagine Groot saying that, and then Rocket explaining just what it meant. “It means he sees us all as part of him. We’re together, we’re family. We’re one. He will survive as long as we survive, because we are him. Oh, and also, he stashed a bit of himself away and will survive and regenerate eventually.” How robbed would you feel, if Guardians had built that beautiful moment, and then interrupted it, and your own emotional reaction, to tell you how you should be feeling?
But no. All it gives us is Groot’s zen, and Rocket’s pain.
Guardians 2 constantly sets up meaningful moments that would have impact, and then rips away any emotion by giving us the lines that make explicit what we had been processing emotionally before. It got to the point where an emotional scene started to build, and I never fell into that raw emotional place, because I was waiting for the line to betray it. And I was rarely wrong.
It’s the difference between Batman movies where we focus on Bruce Wayne’s dead parents, and movies where they’re never mentioned.
The other problem that emotional scenes had was that they didn’t feel properly motivated. Why are these characters in the mindset to spew sappy backstory? And why are the characters they’re speaking to the ones they trust with this information?
In a movie where absolutely everyone is doing their best, the writer brought their B game.
The last main problem I had was with the villain. And this coming from someone who usually thinks Marvel’s villains are fine for what they’re doing (and thought Ronan was awesome). I’ll be writing very carefully here to avoid spoilers, but if you don’t want to risk it, I’ll just say: The type of villain in this movie needed more screentime than they got.
In the first movie, Ronan was a villain unto himself, and a threat that had very little to do with the main characters except by way of Thanos. Because Ronan was so self-contained, having only a handful of scenes worked perfectly.
However, in Guardians 2, the impact of the villain is in direct proportion to the main characters. It is the villain’s relationship with these characters that makes us care about them. Because of this connection to the characters, and the reliance on them, the villain here needed a lot more time with the heroes than they got.
(I’m going to go into much greater detail on this last point in the spoiler section.)
The movie is pretty awesome. It’s a good follow-up to the first, remains true to the characters and the world they’ve established, actually brings some meaningful development to those characters. And it’s a ton of fun. None of that can be taken lightly.
Sylvester Stallone is in this movie? I should have been focusing on the scene itself, the backstory involved, but all I could think about was that question, in all caps. (Sly and Rooker would make an amazing buddy action team, by the way.)
When Yondu turns to look at the prostitute android, she deactivates herself. I found it a thoughtful establishing of his loneliness. That whole shot re-introducing Yondu belonged in a darker, more meaningful Sci-Fi movie. Blade Runner-esque.
Yondu’s funeral did NOT warrant ten minutes. I understand that they’re closing out the conflict from Yondu’s first scene, but it breaks the pacing of the ending. Spock got less than half that time in Wrath of Khan!
YOUNG KURT RUSSELL! And he didn’t look creepy! I know exactly what young Kurt Russell looks like, and even knowing that it was CG, he looked ripped straight out of the 70’s and 80’s. Bravo, Disney/Marvel. It worked this time.
Ego, The Living Planet, turned out to be a bad guy, eh? Go figure. I didn’t know much about the character, but I knew enough about the meaning of the word that I wasn’t exactly surprised. Was him being a villain supposed to be a secret? It’s written that way, but any even slightly savvy viewer knows he’s bad from moment one, don’t they?
Speaking of which! The part I mentioned above, about the villain. Ego works as a villain in direct proportion to the attachment that Peter has with him. It is a villain who, in essence, gains the hero’s trust and then betrays him. So the most essential part is to show that relationship developing. We need 15-20 minutes with Quill and Ego together, see Ego become important to Peter not as an idea, but as a person (well, give or take). What do we get? A game of energy-ball and a story about how I met your mother. To look at this done right, watch Frozen. Yes, I said it.
“I guess sometimes we’re looking for something, and it turns out it’s been right next to us all along.” Paraphrased. Are you kidding me? This is a basic character arc, a simple children’s story moral. It’s fine, if uninspired, to give your character this journey. But here’s the thing: You do not, under any circumstances, put this in your film. It’s almost like the director gave Pratt motivation for his scene, and Pratt threw it in there as actual dialogue. How did this make it to theaters?
Even if that was supposed to be Peter’s journey, where is it? Where is the part where we establish that? The Point A of everyone’s journey is eaten by the prologue. If Part C is him learning that he has a family beside him all along, then Part A is him starting his search for his father (which he doesn’t; Ego finds him), and Part B is him rejecting his real family in favor of the pleasant lie of his father. There is some of Part B, but again, that’s in the rushed, antsy-to-get-to-the-ending second act, and I never really feel it. So Part C just becomes, “Oh, is this what the movie was about?”
All the raunchy humor in this movie, the innuendo and genitalia jokes. The movie uses a villain that’s all about male fertility, is all about toxic fatherhood from multiple angles. In a more subtle script I’d say that the humor was just trying to play up this theme? I’m not sure it works. It just feels out of place compared to the first.
And Nebula! She continues to be my favorite character! Yes, more than Groot. Yes, more than Drax, who gets all the best lines in the movie. Nebula. And I love that she basically goes good, but retains the dignity and strong will to strike off on her own. She’s the Vegeta of Guardians, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.