Countdown to Infinity War: Revisiting Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

When Guardians of the Galaxy came out, I don’t think anybody could have realistically expected the level of success it achieved, both critically and financially. It was so big that you can reasonably argue that it affected the production of the following Star Trek film Beyond, which had a tone considerably more lighthearted than the two prior outings (and in my opinion it was the best of the three films, with its more humorous bent just being one aspect).

Guardians was a science fiction film for people who were tired of Star Trek and Star Wars, or just saw those as their parents’ franchises, or tired and stale. And hey, I really can’t blame them for feeling that way. I didn’t like Abrams’ first Star Trek and I thought Into Darkness was criminally horrible. And when you look at the Star Wars film that came out the following year, all you had was a sad plot rehash largely proving a lot of people right. Guardians was the new kid on the block, brash and bold and colorful, not afraid to poke fun at itself and be retro, but in a fun way that hipsters aren’t.

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So naturally, we knew that a sequel was coming. The question was, was it going to live up to the first film?

The plot: Not long after the events of the first Guardians, the gang is now hiring themselves out as problem-solvers to pay the bills. Unfortunately, due to Rocket’s shenanigans, their latest employers have now become implacable enemies. While on the run, the gang meets a being known as Ego…

…who claims to be Peter’s long-lost father. While Peter attempts to learn more about this being to determine whether or not he’s telling the truth, Yondu…

…winds up on the team’s side when the Reavers turn against him. Now allied with the Guardians, the group must contend with enemies on all sides in order to once more save the galaxy.

Guardians Vol. 2 had a lot to live up to, and in many ways it does. The cast is funny, the emotional bits are heartfelt, and fortunately we don’t find Peter and Gamora ending up in bed with each other. One of my biggest fears was seeing the two become an item, and if it sounds like I’m down on romance, I’m not; I love it when people find each other. I’m just not a fan of unrealistic relationships for the sake of forced romance.

Case in point.

One of the scenes I especially loved is when Gamora counsels Peter on whether or not he should believe Ego is his father, and given she had one of the worst dads in the universe, she more than anybody can see what a gift it is to be given a second chance at having a parent in his life. For a franchise that relies so heavily on comedy, James Gunn is very effective when it comes to shooting moments like this.

Okay, sure, there are random Hasselhoff jokes here, and the scene could have easily fallen apart, but Zoe Saldana and Chris Pratt are great at balancing humor with the heartfelt. This too was the first time in the film where we see true character development as far as Gamora was concerned, in that she’s more than a vengeful killing machine, and she’s been softened around the edges a bit. Her development feels natural and organic.

Speaking of character development, I loved what went down between Gamora and Nebula.

It would have been easy to keep Karen Gillan’s character a two-dimensional antagonist, but leave it to Gunn to allow Gillan an opportunity to give Nebula range and depth. Saldana and Gillan have some powerful moments together. In fact, it’s odd that for a franchise that’s supposed to be all wacky and fun, the best parts are the quieter moments when the actors are allowed to express genuine emotion. Even Yondu is given new depth as we get a glimpse inside his head when he has a heart-to-heart with, of all people, Rocket.

Kurt Russell is an awesome bad guy, and it feels like the man is having a ball in this role; I’m positive the grin he often wears isn’t acting. He’s so easily charming, both in the scenes with Peter’s mother Meredith…

…and in the fantastic father-son talks he has with Quill.

I knew Russell would be the big bad in the movie; I know who Ego is in the comics, so I had a pretty good idea what was going to happen, in that we were going to see some cosmic level insanity. But Russell is so charismatic that I wanted so badly to be wrong. That’s how good he is at making me like him.

When you think about a lot of the interactions, the film’s focus is on family and all the different meanings that word conjures up. What we have here are a bunch of dysfunctional people with messed-up childhoods, as well as two types of parents: Ego, who’s a total bastard hiding behind a charming smile, and Yondu, who can’t be called father of the year by any stretch, but is a person who did their best. Yondu could have done cruel things to young Peter, but he proved to have a streak of decency, and even as an adult, he sees Peter as his boy and someone he needs to protect. I never expected Gunn to include this aspect in his film, and thankfully, Michael Rooker is more than up to the task of giving Yondu some dimension.

So those are the positives regarding the characters. Now for the inevitable negatives. Honestly, I found Drax, Rocket, and Baby Groot to be pretty damn annoying in this movie. There’s often a problem with sequels, in that producers and directors feel that if something worked the first time out, they need to have even more of it in the second. I remember how much I hated Men in Black II, because we got so much more of the dog when it made zero sense. That’s kind of what Guardians Vol. 2 is like. They’re trying a little too hard to make the trio funny, and some of the humor just feels forced.

And just where the hell did the Reavers find an outfit in Baby Groot’s size, anyway?

In the comics, Mantis is a skilled martial artist and mentalist. She was a key player on the Avengers once upon a time when Steve Englehart was writing the comic, and in the aftermath of Keith Giffen’s cosmic epic, Mantis became a mainstay on the Guardians team.

So when I heard Mantis was going to be appearing in Guardians Vol. 2, I was pretty excited. Then I saw the trailers and I experienced some reservations. Then I saw the film and James Gunn’s take on the character…

Why? Why is it so hard to give us another badass female? Why not suggest Mantis’ martial arts abilities are more passive, like akido or tai chi, but nonetheless dangerous in their proper application? Why is Mantis such a sad joke and comic relief? I didn’t find the part where Rocket bit her, or her getting hit in the head with a meteor to be funny at all. It just felt malicious on Gunn’s part. Look, I get how the comic book version of a character isn’t always going to jibe with the movie’s; if we adhered to a policy where every character had to be a strict adaptation, then we wouldn’t have gotten Kurt Russell’s awesome performance. But I do think in the case of Mantis (and Drax, truth be told; his shtick turned out to have a short shelf life), it was a botched call.

Another problem were the backup villains, Ayesha and the Sovereign.

At no point did these guys ever feel like a threat. I think Gunn really needed to make things a bit more serious where the villains were concerned, but he couldn’t resist adding more sight gags. Another issue I had was how the third act was structured. When you watch the first Guardians movie, there’s a concerted effort to make the group feel like a team, with each one contributing in some way to the downfall of Ronan. But in Vol. 2, half the cast appears to have nothing to do while Peter and Ego kick the snot out of each other. I get that was how Gunn framed the finale, but having people standing around yelling, “Where’s Peter?” just felt off somehow.

I don’t hate Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 the way I hated Iron Man 2 or Thor: The Dark World. It’s a serviceable action movie and it’s funny, but I don’t think it’s as funny as people seem to keep claiming it is. At least with all the set up we got in the many, many… many post-credit scenes, we may have some interesting adventures in store for the gang in Guardians 3. Well, for the ones that survive Infinity War, that is…

The first Guardians soundtrack was a lot of fun, with some great tracks. Awesome Mix Vol. 2, however, is a mixed bag. ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” is a terrific opener, and nobody can argue Sweet’s “Fox on the Run” isn’t a great tune, but “Lake Shore Drive”, “Bring It on Home to Me”, “Southern Nights”… I just wasn’t feeling this mix like I was in the first film. As for Tyler Bates’ score, eh, it gets the job done.

Comics-wise, the Guardians played a role in Secret Empire, but then again, just about everybody did at that point. Oh, and they’re currently set to play a part in the latest Infinity Stone quest thing.

Sorry if I don’t sound all that excited, but I’ve been there, seen that, and I’m not sure what else is going to be brought to the table to make this crossover event any more or less interesting than the last ten or twelve.

Next up: Marvel and Sony finally put aside their differences to allow Spider-Man to take his rightful place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Tag: Countdown to Infinity War

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  • Nuclearfootball

    I’m Mary Poppins y’all!!!!!

    Thought this review was right on but how can you not acknowledge that scene? that was guardians in the galaxy summed up in simplicity and excellent acting. The way it was retro, future, silly, and heartfelt at the same time was just perfect.

    Agree with the rest of the review though.

    • danbreunig

      Yeah, why wasn’t the most iconic scene mentioned? And was it created just for the movie or is it a reference to a scene in the comics? Because it sure fits.

  • John

    Overall I thought it was ok, not as good as the first one. Groot was just a marketing gimmick, Drax became super annoying, and the Gold people were too much of a joke.

  • StarlightForPrincess

    I love this one more than the first.

  • The Jomsviking

    “Why? Why is it so hard to give us another badass female?”

    Honestly I thought it was refreshing to have an interesting female character who WASN’T a badass for once. I feel like that trope has been beaten to death over the last decade. You can have male characters that show varying degrees of competence and physical prowess, but every single female character in action movies must be tough as nails, no nonsense, physically superhuman, and so emotionally repressed as to be borderline sociopathic. It gets old.

  • danbreunig

    I love your take on the GOTG movie(s) Thomas. There was a…something that was a little off from number 2 where it didn’t quite gel as well as the first, and you successfully hit on what I couldn’t describe. Keep in mind that I’ve never read any Marvel comics so my education is through the cinematic universes, outside of minimal hearsay from other fans and minimal past cartoon series, as well as those who really did read the comics, so I’m taking your word on this. As for distracting imagery…Ayesha and the Sovereign appear and all I see is a room full of Yellow Diamonds.

  • I can appreciate some parts of the MCU as comic books come to life, but mostly the characterization is weak, and I get bored with the action. I LOVED both Guardians of the Galaxy films, not only because they didn’t take themselves too seriously — in no universe does Yondu’s accent make sense — but also because characterization was strong AND consistent. Nobody suddenly does anything that doesn’t feel right for who they are. This is also why I loved Black Panther but consider movies like Captain America III cinematic ambien (but wake for me the fight with Spiderman and Antman). As for Infinity War, while I know it will be a megahit, the weight of the MCU mythology and the sheer number of characters are going to weigh it down. It won’t be as much fun as Guardians (or Black Panther for that matter).

  • Lindsey Ellis did a video on why this movie hit SUPER deep with many people. There is a strong core theme of family and abuse. Ego, not just the planet monster, but Peter’s ego and cocky bullshit nearly get everyone killed… Everyone in the Galaxy… and he has to overcome that self centered bullshit.

    He gets a character arc. It is nice. Yondu gets a redemption arc. It is nice. Rocket, Drax, Gamora, Nebula… They all get moments to shine and interact on interesting levels.