Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 May 10, 2017
Unless we’re talking about Christopher Nolan’s take on the Batman saga, I like my superhero movies the same way I like an Aqua Net-soaked 1980s power ballad: over-the-top, colorful, and cheeky. Because the misadventures which befall a caped crusader are usually fantastical anyway — no point in trying to seek emotional depth when eyefuls of dreamlands and action set pieces teem.
Which is exactly why the first Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) was such a hoot: it seemed unwilling to do anything else besides delight itself and us. That made it refreshing in 2014 and that continues to make it refreshing in 2017. Especially considering both the Captain America and Avengers sagas seem more concerned with digging into the psyches of its protagonists as of late.
But its sequel, stamped with a Vol. 2 on its backside, takes the road more traveled by the aforementioned franchises within the Marvel Universe. The laughs are still genuine and the soundtrack is still gloriously ‘70s FM, the characters as appealing as ever. But unlike the ’14 predecessor, subplots concerning the relationships between different divisions of the titular team are much more prevalent than overarching jocularity. Depending on how much you like superhero movies with a predilection for emotional nuance, that’s either a becoming development or a bummer.
Since I’m relatively shallow when it comes to superhero films, I like the original Guardians much more than I like its successor. In the former, the humor is more rampant and dramatics are more a spice than a main ingredient.
But because the writer and director of the first film, James Gunn, also writes and directs Vol. 2, there’s an aesthetic continuity which still makes it a satisfying next chapter, with visual panache and aural creativity upped. One just wishes it weren’t so often eclipsed by self-serious theatrics.
The film itself takes place shortly after the events covered in Guardians of the Galaxy, with the eponymous team’s dynamics set and the tone familiar. From the get go, the sequel is exactly what we might have anticipated. Just look at the way the opening action scene is set to “Mr. Blue Sky” by the Electric Light Orchestra, or the way the gaggle is immediately targeted by not one, but two unearthly groups who want them dead.
But as it moves along is it clear that Vol. 2 is going to be something of an intergalactic cousin to Running on Empty (1988). As hinted at in the original’s closing, main protagonist Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) father is alive, is named Ego (Kurt Russell), and is an ethereal Celestial who could give his son powers beyond his wildest dreams.
A final showdown between the Guardians and an unexpected cum expected villain does come. But surprising is the way there isn't all that much more to the film’s storyline. It is, more than anything, a family drama, concerned not just with Peter and Ego’s imbalanced relationship but also with the toxic affinity between sisters Gamora (Zoë Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), which was touched upon in the first movie. Those without delegated relatives to contend with are forced to contend with themselves. Comic relief Drax (Dave Bautista) is still coming to terms with the death of his family; Quill’s adopted father, Yondu (Michael Rooker), is grappling with his shortcomings.
Because I unapologetically like Vol. 2 best when it’s jokey and frivolous, I found myself bored during scenes circling around the capturing of dysfunctional familial connections. What I craved, and didn’t receive as frequently as I would have liked, were the sardonic quips of Peter Quill, the giggling stupidity of Drax, and the general foiling happening between all members of the title ragtag band. We get some of it in Vol. 2 (and luckily the use of Drax is more ample than ever). But the overabundance of emotional turmoil is tiresome, particularly when reflecting upon the film’s most memorable moments. (Which are, predictably, funny, absurd, and/or musical.)
But it’s nevertheless a good time, rollicking in its action and especially strong in its comedic sequences. And yet that zest is limited, and when a film’s close to two-and-a-half hours, one wishes the variety of tonalities were kept even rather than craggy. B