Dec 13, 2018
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.
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.
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.