Marvel are not good at sequels. Okay, I realize that every movie after Iron Man could be considered a sequel because of shared universe reasons, but the MCU doesn’t have a great record with traditional sequels to specific characters. Iron Man 2 sucked, Thor: The Dark World sucked, and Age of Ultron didn’t suck but it couldn’t live up to the first Avengers movie. Captain America has the only truly great sequels up to this point, with Ragnarok still in the future. James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy had the biggest task ahead of it when it came to the follow-up.
The first movie is one of the MCU’s best, mainly due to its anarchic tone, great performances, and spot-on deconstructions of superhero origin stories. Vol 2 is a pleasant surprise of a movie. It’s nowhere near as good as the first Guardians, but it has
strong themes, great visuals, and most of the cast is on top form. It does what every sequel should do, expand the world and further investigate the relationships that were set up previously.
With the team, Starlord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Baby Groot (now, this little dude is how a character can be both a cynical marketing tool and pivotal to the plot and themes – take note, Porgs from Star Wars), formed and doing a little good and a little bad, it’s time to test their dynamic. They are a family unit, albeit a very dysfunctional one, with Peter as the father figure who isn’t mature enough for this responsibility, and Gamora as the angry and usually right maternal figure. Drax is something like that embarrassing uncle who tells you stories that make you uncomfortable, and Rocket can’t get out of his own way to fully integrate himself into the group. Groot’s the baby, if that isn’t obvious.
The first movie united these five through shared trauma, and Vol 2 allows them to individually come to terms with their inner pain. Peter meets his father, Ego, played by Kurt Russell, and manages to destroy the abandonment he felt at the hands of his bio-dad by recognizing Yondu as his symbolic father. Gamora bridges the gap with her sister Nebula in the move’s strongest plot by coming to terms, with her own role in their
abusive upbringing explored with sublime results. Drax, through his developing friendship with Manits, is able to form an emotional bond that his need for vengeance extinguished in the past. Finally, with the help of Yondu, Rocket finally accepts that he deserves love by fully integrating himself into the team, while stopping the urge to constantly sabotage his relationships. All of this is pretty excellent storytelling,
with each member of the team having enough screen-time for character arcs that are fully fleshed-out. Now for the problems.
I don’t know when this happened, but Chris Pratt has forgotten how to act. Even thought Peter’s plot was an interesting one, Pratt looked as if he couldn’t be fucked with emoting properly. Seriously, he is awful in this movie: just look how close he was to ruining Yondu’s affecting death scene (luckily, an excellent Michael Rooker pulls it back on track). That’s him, in the whole movie – coming dangerously close to unsettling the whole thing with almost-comical emotion and a hell of a lot less charm than his first shot at this role.
Ticking the Romance Box
I realize that Gunn is most likely taking the piss out of movies that tick this box, but the way he keeps ignoring Peter and Gamora’s possible romantic future makes me think that the little time spent on this could be used for something else, like teaching Pratt how to act.
The Wasted Villain Corner
Ego is a tricky one. First of all, I love Kurt Russell and his John Carpenter collaborations make me all warm inside, but he fails to make any impression on me as the movie’s villain. All of the good stuff is there: he gets plenty of screen time compared to other villains of the MCU, he perfectly encapsulates the shadow-father role that’s in opposition to Peter’s role as father of the Guardians, and it’s Kurt fucking Russell – this should be a slam-dunk. Even so, this is a situation where the emotional criticism comes ahead of being analytical. He just left me cold.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is a well-written, most well-acted movie, that has some great action, but also suffers from an over the top CGI finale. It doesn’t have as much style as the first movie, but it keeps its characters growing, in some cases into sulky teenage tree monsters, and The Winter Soldier can’t lay claim to that.
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By Kevin Boyle
(header image courtesy of Leafly)