Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (2017) – Movie Review

Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2
Directed by: James Gunn
Written by: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker & Kurt Russell
Music: Tyler Bates
Certificate: 12A
Release Date: April 28th 2017

Before 2014 almost nobody had heard of Marvel Comics’ “Guardians of the Galaxy”. Even hardcore comic-book readers had to spend their afternoons browsing Wikipedia when it was announced Marvel Studios would be adapting the property and it was to be helmed by quirky indie filmmaker James Gunn. When ‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘ was being promoted the trailers touted its cast members; Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper etc. However, 2017 is an entirely different landscape. After ‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘ became the 3rd highest grossing movie of 2014, its sequel’s trailers don’t tout the cast, instead they put the characters front and centre; Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket etc.

It was a no-brainer that a sequel was going to be made, but the Guardians seem to currently exist in their own little bubble removed from the rest of the MCU characters like Iron Man and Captain America. That could have been the reason for the first movie’s breakout success but as we get closer to the MCU end-game with ‘Avengers: Infinity War‘ that can only stay true for so long. Can Marvel Studios and James Gunn stick the landing twice in a row and can they still make the Guardians a fun family-unit on their own terms while becoming more entrenched with the over-arching plot of the MCU?

It’s been a few months since the events of the first movie with the “Guardians of the Galaxy” still working as Galaxy-Defenders for a price, led by Star-Lord a.k.a. Peter Quill (Pratt), Gamora (Saldana), Drax (Bautista), Rocket (Cooper) and Baby Groot (Diesel). After a mission goes awry, the group encounter Ego (Russell), a cosmic entity claiming to be Peter’s biological father. As Peter, Gamora and Drax investigate this mysterious stranger, Rocket and Baby Groot get kidnapped by Ravagers who have turned on their former leader and former adoptive father to Peter; Yondu (Rooker). The trio need to escape and re-join the rest of the Guardians before Ego can show his hand and reveal exactly why he’s so interested in Peter.

With the original movie being a lightning-in-a-bottle success, Marvel Studios have given writer/director James Gunn creative freedom to do whatever he wanted with this anticipated sequel. It’s bigger, it’s brighter, it’s bolder, it’s got more characters, more action, more licensed music and edgier topics (there are scenes depicting robot prostitutes, a brutal massacre that’s played for laughs and details on Ego’s penis). As a result, this feels very much like a James Gunn production through-and-through and for the most part this approach works. Not every jokes or gag lands, but they come so thick-and-fast that you never really notice some of the missed attempts at humour. Even the opening scene subverts expectations with what could have been a climactic battle being relegated to background noise to Baby Groot dancing to “Mr. Blue Sky”.

The film does an effective job at poking fun at expectations like that, even if it’s mainly in service of a joke and while there are plenty of dramatic moments in the movie, if there’s an opportunity to take a joke over a dramatic beat, Gunn chooses the joke. But that approach doesn’t always work and this is why ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2‘ is a notable step-down from its predecessor; it’s lacking in tonal balance. ‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘ may not have dealt in themes as heavy as its sequel does, but it had a terrific balance of character development, humour, action and knowing when to prioritise a dramatic beat. That discipline isn’t present here with what should be hard-hitting moments being undercut by a pop-culture reference (Pac-Man, for instance), a surprise cameo or a funny music cue.

This isn’t me saying that ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2‘ should be all doom, gloom, drama and pathos but instead of the humour being used to allow the audience to emphasise with the characters (filmmakers like Edgar Wright nail this approach), it actually causes a distancing effect in this film as it seems to belittles a lot of character journeys. For example, Mantis; a new character played by Pom Klementieff, her character is clearly a result of years of living with an abusive father-figure but she’s made fun of and mocked at every opportunity to the point where it makes me wonder whether the creative team actively hate the character. Considering the movie’s clear, over-riding metaphor deals with abusive father-figures and the long-lasting effect that can have, it serves to undercut its own themes and approach.

Regarding the theme of fatherhood, some of its applications here come across as superficial. For example, the Guardians have to look after Baby Groot as he’s…well, a baby. However, with the exception of them being parental figures to Groot there’s nothing else to the subtext. We also have Yondu’s relationship with Peter Quill which is meant to have a huge pay-off at the end of the movie and the film’s climax is reliant on getting that across, but Yondu and Peter don’t actually have an interaction with each other until around 100 minutes into this 135 minute movie.

Seriously. And this relationship is meant to be the most hard hitting in the movie but there’s literally, genuinely no attachment until the film is already 3/4 of the way over. Considering they only had a few minutes of screen-time together in the previous movie…it just ain’t enough.

This could have been fixed if Yondu actually had a presense in Peter’s story-arc over the course of the movie but instead James Gunn teams him up with Rocket and Groot to act out extended comedy sketches and a scene that should be a dramatic confrontation between the two just outlines everything that we already knew about the characters except they’re shouting out the sub-text to each other. In fact, Rocket’s character arc over the course of ‘Vol. 2‘ suggests that he didn’t actually learn or grow or change at all in the first movie which comes across as pure character revisionism. I know that Rocket isn’t the type of character to change easily but it comes across like the events of the first movie outright didn’t take place.

That’s not to say that none of the attempts at pathos hit home. In fact, the best moments of drama in the movie revolve around Gamora and Nebula who are both dealing with the trauma of being the adopted daughters of Thanos (the big-bad of the MCU who we saw sitting in a large floating chair in the last movie). It deals with genuinely interesting themes like how Gamora disregarded the feelings of her step-sister and was maybe even complicit in her abuse in order to prioritise her own safety. ‘Vol. 2‘ may miss more often than it hits in regards to its themes of parental responsibility and abuse victims but kudos do have to be given to the film for depicting the end result of that abuse in its otherwise jovial characters.

Though, it does also have to be said that while the film doesn’t come together as a whole it’s still a really funny and entertaining watch. The comedy sketches may border on the excessive but they’re still laugh-riots, full of spectacle and terrific, quotable dialogue (“THAT’S why you don’t like hats!?”). Ego is also one of the best MCU villains to date and not just because of the effortless swagger and charisma of Kurt Russell. He lives up to his name as an embodiment of toxic masculinity and self-infantilization. The MCU, despite normally getting great actors to play them, often drops the ball with its non-Avengers villains but Ego is definitely an exception.

The main cast do as well as expected. Chris Pratt is a funny and compelling lead, Zoe Saldana does a lot of the dramatic heavy-lifting admirably, Dave Bautista is now solely comic-relief here but he fits into the role well, Michael Rooker does great things as Yondu etc. Like its predecessor, ‘Vol. 2‘ is an ensemble movie with everyone getting a great opportunity to shine. Special mention needs to be given to Sean Gunn who plays a more compassionate Ravager returning from the first movie and newcomers Elizabeth Debicki and Chris Sullivan as brand new villains Ayesha and Taserface (yes, “Taserface”) are clearly having a lot of fun.

And the audience should have just as much fun as well thanks to the huge amount of worlds and planets that get explored in this sequel. James Gunn and co. have definitely upped the ante with the Guardians visiting the world of the Sovereign, Ego’s planet, the Ravager ships and more. We see more creatures and aliens realised through a terrific and smart combination of digital and practical effects. The heads of makeup John Blake and Brian Sipe have really gone above and beyond here with imaginative designs and implementation like how Ayesha’s head-dress perfectly blends into the golden throne she sits in.

The scale is hard to fault when it comes to the space battles either with hundreds of ships dizzying about, even if a lot of that scale is put in the background for comedic effect. The green-screen work is great, the motion-capture for characters like Rocket and Groot are still top-tier, Tyler Bates score is ecleptic and fun and whilst the licensed score can’t reach the heights of ‘Vol. 1‘ it’s still a great selection of music. Production-wise, it’s hard to fault ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2‘.

A lot of the elements and composite parts that audiences loved in the first ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ movie are present in ‘Vol. 2‘ however with its new additions and narrative aspirations James Gunn seems to have lost some sense of tonal control or even basic restraint when it comes to delivering effective character beats. The cast are game and the production values are there but with the exception of a few successful character arcs, the film feels at the mercy of its whiplash inducing tone and real lack of exploration into some of its key themes. The film, on a script and narrative level, feels rather mismanaged even if it’s still an enjoyable time at the movies. Though with the amount of epilogues the film has and the amount of tears the characters shed by the end, it makes you wonder whether or not the film was actually aiming for more than that yet, in the end, couldn’t take itself seriously enough.

I give ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2‘ 3 and a half stars out of 5.

And, of course, stay through the credits. All the way through.

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Posted In: 2017 Reviews Current Reviews Reviews

Author: Trilbee

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Posted: 5th Jun 18