Movie Review - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
It took me a while to figure out what was keeping Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 from being as great as its predecessor, but, as is often the case when thinking about what I’m going to write for these reviews, the answer came to me as I was discussing the film with a friend. That’s not to say that Vol. 2 isn’t a good movie…no, it’s very good… but it does fall short of the original. And thanks to Baby Groot, one can’t help but wonder if every fanboy’s worst nightmare…the Disney-ification of Marvel…is at hand.
The film, written and directed by James Gunn, like any film is subject to notes through the production…whether they come from producers or from the studio heads. And, upon the release of the first film, I’m sure it was noticed how popular the brief stinger letting everyone in the audience know that Groot had survived and would be back for the sequel had become. As such, well, let’s face it, Disney is a marketing machine…and cute sells well…thus not only was Baby Groot merchandise in the cards but more than likely this became the source for studio notes to start flowing: “Needs more Baby Groot”. Obviously, this is all speculation. No one but Mr. Gunn knows how much Groot factored into the varying drafts of the screenplay…but one can’t help but line up the dominoes in this regard. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a heartless dick that hates the little guy…hell, I find him about as cute as everyone else…but when one character of an ensemble is given more of a spotlight than the others [**Cough** X-Men **Cough** - Ed.] it tends to wreck the ensemble. The abundance of Groot doesn’t QUITE do that…but comes awfully close. I guess I should have taken the opening credits as a warning: The Guardians are hired by The Sovereign to kill a ‘transdimensional beast’…and as great as that would be to watch given the chemistry established in the first film…nope. We’re stuck following Baby Groot around while the action is confined to the background. To paraphrase from Deadpool, it’s like Marvel didn’t have the budget to actually show the action. The summation of my complaining is as follows: too many narrative decisions in the film are based on the question “What’s Baby Groot doing?” and given how good both the individual characters and the chemistry between said characters are, it felt like there were other interesting avenues to follow as opposed to always opting for the cutest one.
Main gripe out of the way, I do have to say that even in spite of this, the film is pretty good. The plot we start out with is that the Guardians are being hunted by The Sovereign for a couple of reasons: an offensive comment made by Rocket…and having a couple of their very powerful and much sought after Anulax batteries stolen...also by Rocket. This plot falls by the wayside when the Milano is forced down onto a planet where Peter Quill…aka Star-Lord…finds himself face to face with his father, Ego (eventually revealed as Ego: The Living Planet). Is Ego everything he seems or is there more to this father and son reunion?
The answer to that question is obvious…otherwise, we don’t have much of a movie…but who am I to deprive you of the twists and turns the movie offers. And that’s kind of the thing…sure, there’s a plot and all that, but you’re really coming to this film for another dose of the characters and their interactions. The film mostly knows that and revels in this strength…although sometimes overdoing it with Groot as mentioned above. This sets up a fun vibe that runs for the entire running time and is bound to keep the viewer laughing. My personal favorite sequence was the effects of 700 jumps on Rocket and Yondu…too funny. This isn’t to say that there’s nothing but humor to the film…in fact there’s one spoiler-ific sequence that had me in tears. The heart of the film does reside in its characters and Gunn knows this. As such…we find ourselves during the film diving into what makes each Guardian tick. This is done by dividing up the team in such a way that proves to be the most revealing: Ego with Quill, Mantis with Drax, Gamora with Nebula and Rocket/Groot with Yondu. Each of these pairings allows for the viewer to dig into each character’s past and provides some insight as to why these characters are the way they are and honestly, I’d go so far as to say that this is the first time in any superhero team movie where we’ve gotten this kind of depth to the characters. The Avengers had all this heavy lifting done for them in their individual films, the first set of X-Men films were nothing but “The Wolverine Show”, the second set of X-Men films have been the Erik-Charles-Raven telenovela, each incarnation of the Fantastic Four has just been a mess and Suicide Squad only opted to give views a highlight reel and a stat-card sort of intro…so to see this feat of adding depth to each and every member is truly an amazing thing.
Since this is a nerd-centric website, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say something about the Easter eggs and other references made in the film…and there are plenty, whether it’s the Watchers, the original Guardians team from the comics, Howard the Duck (again), Cosmo and so on…I’m sure I missed more than a few. [But hey, who are we to spoil them all for you? – Ed.] It’s here that we should sit and talk about the after-credits sequences. Plural. Okay, usually I don’t mind more than one…one mid-credits and another at the very end. But Guardians Vol. 2 has five. FIVE. I’m not saying you’re going to get that “when the fuck is this movie going to finally goddamn end????” feeling that you likely got at the end of…say…Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, but some of them just weren’t necessary…the Watchers ditching Stan Lee for example. And truth be told, I really don’t remember the first two! [Nothing a little internet research can’t solve. – Ed.] One of them, however, is ESSENTIAL. [Granted, we might be biased here. – Ed.] I can’t remember…I think it was the third one? [The fourth was Teenage Groot and the fifth was Stan getting ditched…so yeah, probably the third. Oh yeah, I guess we should say SPOILER WARNING at this point. – Ed.] Anyway, the high priestess of the Sovereign, Ayesha, sits contemplating the stinging defeat handed to her by the Guardians…then looks up at a pod that carries the next step in their evolution. Given her golden skin and the fact that the Infinity War is coming…well, anyone familiar with the cosmic aspect of the Marvel Universe should know who this is. [We’re saving the fact that said occupant has been completely ruled out of Avengers: Infinity War and will likely be introduced in Guardians Vol. 3 and the ensuing rant for another time…but make no mistake, the thought of a conflict between Earth’s heroes and the Mad Titan Thanos for the Infinity Stones without this particular individual just pisses us right the hell off. – Ed.]
You know…one last thing I want to mention that struck me in this film. People critical of DC’s recent efforts like to point out how many people end up getting killed in their films…the final battle in Man of Steel is the most visible one…yet no one says anything about Marvel’s films. As Groot, Yondu and Rocket escape the Ravagers, well, one could be correct in calling it a murderous rampage. They end up killing A LOT of people. Now, as I’m sure you can tell from all of the previous reviews on the site, I’ve got no real issue with that…most times the higher the body count, the better the movie. But I’ll be curious if this comes up in any other reviews…online or otherwise. [Spoiler Warning: It won’t. – Ed.]
All right, I’ve blathered long enough. For those of you that loved the first Guardians film, this is more of the same…the fun, humor, color, action and heroic sacrifice along with just a dash more character development. And while it is ‘more of the same’, when it comes to this branch of the MCU, that’s actually a good thing as it doesn’t adhere to the overwhelming vanilla-esque flavor that has become the MCU as of late. No, Guardians remains punk…and good on it for doing so. Sure, the Ego plot ends up being a complete and utter non-surprise and the film is almost just like the viewer when it comes to the Sovereign (“oh, these guys, riiiiiiight, I’d almost forgotten about them”), and then there’s the Baby Groot thing we mentioned at the beginning…so there are some flaws to this gem… but come on, you’re here for the jokes, the visuals, the camaraderie and the retro 70s/80s soundtrack…and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has all of the above in spades. So, if you loved the first film, you’ll end up at least liking this one…if you weren’t a fan of the first film…well, there’s nothing here that’s going to sway you…best to move along, you old sourpuss.