Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Director: James Gunn
Screenwriter: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Zoe Saldana, Elizabeth Debicki, Sean Gunn, Porn Klementieff, Kurt Russell, Sylvester Stallone
Star-Lord and crew are back for the most anticipated Marvel sequel in years, and with a few notable stars added to the mix, and a host of 70s and 80s pop gems providing the musical backdrop, James Gunn and company have managed to capture a lot of the original’s magic in a funny and colourful romp that didn’t quite manage to spark lightning in a bottle for a second time but was still mountains of fun.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is, first and foremost, evidence of the sort of summer blockbuster tentpole movie that we, as audiences, deserve and have come to demand. Typically, such movies are modes of escapism filled with oceans of beautifully constructed CGI, so many high profile names that the movies barely know what to do with them, a rocking soundtrack and the oh-so-important comic relief at times of high stress; and Guardians 2 is all of these things. Where James Gunn’s movie separates itself from the lesser appreciated members of its genre, like Suicide Squad, X-Men: Apocalypse, Ben-Hur and Independence Day: Resurgence, is in the filmmaker’s loyalty and admiration for the characters at the heart of his movie and the ways by which he trusts the audience to work some things out on their own. Guardians 2, much like its predecessor, is more than its genre’s simple constructional parts, it is a character driven spectacle movie that successfully combines awe with empathy and vitally doesn’t let marketing interfere with story. As is the case with any film of its ilk, there are moments of forced connection where a rising score works to try and create a sense of empathy where there isn’t one, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 seems to hit the emotional beats nine times out of ten, and nine out of ten ain’t bad.
Guardians 2 is, despite this, quite a stretch from being as great as the first movie. The ways in which it seems to falter the most are due to a number of developments that have occurred between the two films. Firstly, the Guardians’ huge critical and financial success in 2014, and their confirmed involvement in Avengers: Infinity War, have placed different demands on the filmmaking process that have seemingly restricted Gunn to a sensibility much more like the film’s Marvel Cinematic Universe brethren than the original movie ever came close to being. What was once a standalone product with self-referential and almost meta humour (including, remember, a dance-off as the epic final show-down between good and evil), has filtered much more into the typical Marvel way of doing things, with much less of the convention busting jokes and therefore just a little bit less heart and originality than Guardians 1 so marvellously contained – pun intended. Second of all, it seems that the success of the movie’s original gifted Gunn the sort of budget that the filmmaker didn’t really know what to do with and thus was freely done away with in scene after scene of ‘cool CG’ battle shots, aircraft boarding, etc. that left the earlier parts of the movie feeling heavy and slow in comparison to the picture’s quicker and much more satisfying second half. Along the same lines came a seemingly more typical presentation of the story too, with countless establishing scenes for the movie’s many characters precursing a huge universe-saving battle – revolving around an entire planet – which was the centrepiece of the movie (much like every Avengers film ever). We’ve seen it all countless times before and, despite providing a relatively high-stakes version of the trope courtesy of a well developed villain – somewhat of a rarity in Marvel movies – and a much more convincing threat to our heroes than in the original or much of the MCU, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 still couldn’t quite overcome how over-used its formula was.
This did, however, create the spectacle that Guardians 2 needed as an excuse to present its outstanding visuals, the likes of which are without comparison in the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Each scene was filled with a vibrancy unlike much of the ‘clear as day’ cinematographic techniques in the rest of Marvel’s central Avengers franchise, separating it from the pack in terms of visual appeal. As referenced above, the CGI was also hugely impressive and leaps beyond much of the work done in The Avengers or Avengers: Age of Ultron. There were a few sequences in which the camera worked against the wonderful work of the CG to create an effect whereby the film felt like more of a top-end video game than a cinematic work of art, but these were small missteps in an otherwise fantastic piece of visual artistry.
Crucially, the camera was also pointed at the right people. The Guardians were their usual fantastically individual and different (for action comic book movies, at least) selves, only with improved individuality for Gamora (Saldana) and Nebula (Gillan), two characters of whom much of the original’s criticism was dealt courtesy of being underdeveloped. The building of each of the core group’s members was as cleverly constructed and well performed as in the original only with the benefits of not having to introduce them anymore, with this movie tending to lean towards more typically emotional fare than much of what occurred in Guardians 1, something that helped to grow the characters of Rocket (Cooper) and Yondu (Rooker) substantially and brought out some of the best work from its cast. The crucial addition of Kurt Russell was a welcomed one too, with an immersible performance to boot, but Sylvester Stallone and Elizabeth Debicki who played Ogord and Ayesha respectively, seemed more like bonus features by the film’s end than any meaningful casting choice or character addition, with each performer bringing very little to their roles. It was, however, the Guardians as a collective upon which the film hinged, and in the writing of their group dynamic and the strong comedic performances by much of its cast (particularly Dave Bautista as Drax), the same sense of comrardery between them felt as real and present as ever, with a closer family dynamic seeming to occur naturally as the result of their actions in Guardians 1.
The group was, of course, brought together by music, a theme that is highlighted throughout much of the franchise and is present from the very opening sequence in Guardians 2. The promotional material for the film paid the music a great deal of attention and the film delivered on its promise of using it as creatively as in the original. The soundtrack was a symphony of classic hits with some of the titles being highlighted by the characters themselves as being useful metaphors for the situations they were going through or had been through in the past. Usefully, this brought about a more conscious attention as to the meaning of the songs being used in the film and thus utilised them as a source for emotional input for characters who were holding emotions back at certain points, therefore enhancing them as heroes worth routing for without the need for expository dialogue or out-of-character declarations.
Where Guardians 2 most prominently succeeds is in the presentation of the family of outcasts that it brought together in the original, and the ways in which they’ve grown to appreciate each other despite each of their less likeable qualities. Much like the franchise originally was to Marvel, the group are different to everyone else, and James Gunn’s presentation of the ways in which their differences make them the only people capable of defending the good of the galaxy is one of the more drawing aspects of the franchise as a whole, and particularly this second movie. The Guardians of the Galaxy franchise is much like the misfit toy we all played with as children or that many of us felt like at certain points in our lives, and that is what is truly identifiable about it and particularly the group of heroes. It is this connection that fuels the success of everything in this movie and does the most difficult job of making you care.
Conclusively, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may not be quite as good as the original, but through the passion of its screenwriter-director and the world class work of its cast and crew, creates an identifiable group of characters on a romp of an adventure that could be the blockbuster of the year and is certainly worth your ten bucks.
Author’s note: if you haven’t seen this yet, be warned that there are five post-credit scenes. That’s four too many in my opinion.