Slight, Sci-Fi, Psychedelic, Sequel Syndrome
A Film Review of Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2
Ah yes, the sub-franchise partially built by James Gunn delivers its second chapter in the odyssey of its unlikely, cosmic heroes in a manner befitting the first of the official summer blockbusters of 2017. It is big, bold, worthy to be seen in IMAX 3D and still finds a way to keep the Marvel Cinematic Universe fresh and fun to veterans and newcomers alike. Back in August of 2014, only cosmic book fans knew who these “Guardians” even were, few felt audiences would care about characters like a smart-ass talking raccoon and even fewer believed a director like James Gunn could do anything worthwhile with this material when his previous films were the likes of Slither (2006), Super (2010) and Movie 43 (2013). Of course, Marvel Studios mastermind Kevin Feige knew, and he gave Gunn all the support he could to make Guardians of the Galaxy into more than just another quality addition to the MCU, but arguably, the very best of any Marvel film to date.
“Volume 1” would be an incredibly difficult act to follow for any production, yet “Volume 2” is impeccably proficient at taking some of the best from its predecessor and building upon the grandiosity of the visual spectacle and epic scale action in almost every single way. Every bit of that $200 million dollar budget was put to good use here. Unfortunately, this sequel is simply not as fantastic as its previous installment, and it is not because it happens to be a sequel in the first place. No, this does not mean that “Volume 2” is a bad cinematic adventure by any means. Something that is lesser than amazing cannot and should not be viewed in a negative light, but for comparative purposes, there is a noticeable difference and there are specific reasons why.
First of all, the primary purpose of V2 is to clean up all open-ended plot points presented in V1 to specifically prepare Marvel’s Space Avengers for Infinity War Parts 1 and 2. Unlike Marvel’s Earth based heroes, the Guardians do not have the luxury of singular satellite films to address the Star Lord/Peter Quill lineage issue, what the Ravagers are all about, who the other relevant space species are or what the cosmic forces of nature are up to in the void. There is a ton of content to present and precious little screen time to do it with and while Guardians 2 still finds moments of heart-warming character interplay and camaraderie, these moments are fewer and further between due to the increased volume of story exposition.
Second, the stakes in this film are not as high, nor as personal as they were for each individual Guardian in the first film. Much like Avengers: Age of Ultron, this adventure for the Guardians comes off like just another day in the life of a super person. Yes, there is a galaxy wide consequence should the Guardians fail here, but the film spends very little screen time developing the danger posed by the primary antagonist while spending much more on Star Lord’s journey of self discovery. When the plot is only important to one character, the overall story loses some impact and intrigue.
Third, the soundtrack used throughout this film is far too obscure to be effective. This might seem a bit nitpicky, but one of the major calling cards of a Guardians movie is its incorporation of pop tracks from the 70s and 80s because Star Lord is the leader and that music is his last connection to his home planet and his mother. If I had to guess, the choices for music used in this film came from a more personal collection James Gunn had in mind, and if the success of his first film afforded him any extra creative license, it could certainly apply to the soundtrack. One more recognizable song has added meaning thanks to its reference within the story, but overall, these second string selections aren’t as iconic as those chosen for the first film.
It’s so nice when a sci-fi film uses spaceship combat to its advantage. Sure there’s a little kung fu and plenty of laser blasters being shot, but the spaceship action is definitely where it’s at.
Dynamic tracks and pans in a space environment are cool in that they mess with an audience’s orientation. Also, there are some extended foreground/background compositions that are really neat to experience in 3D such as the film’s introductory sequence. Unfortunately, this gets used a few more times during the film when I’d rather see the primary action more clearly rather than witnessing it through a proxy window.
Chris Pratt continues to embody the loveable, goofy rogue as Star-Lord and his evolving relationships with his crew are as charming as they are relatable. Kurt Russell jumps into the MCU without really having to dig deep to create a character completely removed from his own personality without it being a distraction to the story.
The rest of the Guardians may be tagging along on this journey, but their vignettes are all pure gold headlined by Michael Rooker as Yondu; a performance not to be missed by anyone. Purely CG characters Rocket and Groot continue to be high quality, and Zoe Saldana’s and Karen Gillan’s tough girl acts get to show a softer side. I’m so glad Dave Bautista continues to embrace his instincts as he continues to thrive in the MCU as Drax. Also, big thumbs up to Sean Gunn who continues to do so much with so little screen time.
As I’ve said earlier, the selections are simply not as good. Better choices could have been made here.
Precise and unique in every way. Crisp, clean and professionally applied.
“Moving” = 25/33
Beautiful creation of CG characters, environments, vehicles and powers. I also really appreciated some of the super wide, establishing shots that still had precise action occurring in the background demonstrating a level of detail few special effect films are capable of producing.
There’s still a place for wire work stunts in Hollywood, and it is a huge strength in Guardians 2.
I love all the costume designs at work in this film because they stand in contrast even to those established in the first, which is even further removed from any of the Earth based Marvel films – and that’s saying something for the comic book adaptation genre.
Hair & Makeup
With so many different alien species coming together, they all need equally distinct visual styles to set them apart and the variety on display here is as visually dynamic as the action.
These were all probably created in a computer, but the level of detail programmed into every external shot is far too precise to not be given special recognition in this category.
Interiors probably got a helpful boost from green screen effects, but without intricate set dressing, these spaces would literally be half as interesting. There’s just so much to look at and appreciate in every scene.
“Picture” = 31/33
The Guardians are a team (ho hum), but Star-Lord gets to meet his father and find out what makes him so damn special.
General shenanigans is the only real conflict for much in the film until the third act when the true antagonist is revealed and the audience is somehow expected to just jump on board with the drop of a hat?
Star-Lord’s daddy issues are quite thoroughly resolved, though not exactly happy, it is certainly hopeful. The rest of the Guardians are now in a much better family place as a collective just in time to face off against the cosmic nihilist, Thanos.
Good dialogue reflects great chemistry among the cast even if they are talking about fake science mumbo jumbo. Common conversation and taunting are effective in building character as well as exposition for this story.
Beginning with a flashback (like the first film) gives the audience an important reference point to the plot and action. Dialogue scenes with visual aids later in the film take care of the rest though it still would have been nice to be shown rather than told.
This colorful cast of misfits is the very definition of unique, but none more so than Drax’s on the surface, matter of fact, awkward observation and commentary of everything produces so many moments of joy and laughter for an audience that it cannot be ignored.
Who out there doesn’t have mommy/daddy issues? Who out there doesn’t have sibling issues? Who out there doesn’t have communication issues with your kids? The Guardians of the Galaxy are all about family and the family issues at play in this film are applicable to a wide range of real people.
“Story” = 25/34
Overall MPS Rating: 81/100
Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 is a great start to the summer blockbuster season and an all important step towards Infinity in the MCU. The greatest challenge to this film is expanding its own fictional universe while telling a worthwhile, stand alone story at the same time. It’s not a perfect balance, but an acceptable execution that still generates a fun adventure filled with top notch visual effects that will provide quality entertainment to any human being with an imagination. See this film. See it in IMAX. See it with friends and family.