Saturday, May 6, 2017

Summer Blockbuster Season Starts With The Hilarious Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

The Good: Very funny, Good effects, Engaging character moments, Good performances
The Bad: Less distinct music, Imbalance in serving the characters
The Basics: Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 does a decent job of tying up some big loose ends in the far corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with style and humor!

There are few elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that have aged as well as Guardians Of The Galaxy (reviewed here!). Comedies, especially, tend to have a shorter half-life than dramatic films, but Guardians Of The Galaxy has held up much better than a number of the Marvel Cinematic Universe origin stories and sequels. Arguably, the reason Guardians Of The Galaxy has endured so well over the years (and many, many viewings) is because it found the right balance of humor and action and paired both with an incredible and memorable soundtrack. So, of course, enthusiasm for Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 would be very high, perhaps to an unrealistic extent.

But Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 actually does an excellent job of creating an exceptional sequel and successor to the original film. Instead of having to work to assemble a new super hero (or anti-hero) team and build an entire franchise within the Marvel Cinematic Universe from scratch, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is allowed to play within the established corner that was created in the first film. And the pretty amazing aspect of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is that the entire film is built on an allusion in the first film and a throwaway joke at the end of the film's teaser/first act.

Peter Quill, Gamora, Drax, and Rocket have been contracted by the leader of the genetically-perfect race living on the planet cluster Sovereign to thwart an impending attack from an interdimensional creature. The quartet works to take down the giant alien when it appears, while keeping Baby Groot safe from the conflict. Victorious against the creature, the Guardians go to Ayesha's throne room to receive their payment; Nebula, who was caught by the Sovereign security forces trying to steal the planet's rare and valuable batteries. Ayesha recognizes something in Quill, but in the process insults him and the team. Either because of the insult or simply on a whim of his own, Rocket steals the batteries from Sovereign while Gamora stows the new prisoner.

As the Guardians head to deliver Nebula to collect the bounty on her head, Yondu finds himself excommunicated by the Ravagers for breaking the Ravager code of dealing in children. Ayesha does not take long to realize that the Guardians have taken the batteries and she sets the Sovereign drone fleet against Quill's ship. The Guardians are facing certain death until they are rescued by a previously-unknown alien who destroys the Sovereign fleet right before the ship crash lands. With the ship out of commission on a distant world, the crew is met by Ego and Mantis. Ego tells Peter he is his father and invites him back to his world. Peter, Gamora, and Drax accompany Ego and Mantis back to Ego's idyllic world, leaving behind the angry Rocket and Nebula to fix the ship. Left vulnerable, Rocket falls prey to Yondu and his Ravagers who have been hired by Ayesha to recover the batteries and the Guardians. But Rocket and Yondu soon find themselves at the mercy of the Ravagers and Nebula with only Baby Groot to save them. And on Ego's World, Peter Quill learns his father's origins, his own powers and the destiny his father has for him. While Quill embraces his father's vision, Gamora and Drax learn from Mantis that Ego is not all he appears and they discover a threat to all life in the galaxy!

First off, one of the big aspects that separates the first Guardians Of The Galaxy from Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is the music. The first film had incredibly distinct music that resonated and became inextricably tied with the scenes it was in. For all of the apparent popularity of "Awesome Mixtape Volume #2," the film's music is hardly as iconic or memorable as the works from the first movie. In fact, after watching the film, I could only recall two of the songs used in the movie and - unlike the first movie - my mind resonated with the thought that director James Gunn absolutely missed the mark on one of the musical cues. There is a big, key scene in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 that features a bit of violence and one of the film's utterly unmemorable songs that would have been made absolutely hilarious and entirely memorable if James Gunn had used "It's Raining Men" in the scene. Seriously, there's arguably no bigger musical misstep in the film than that missed opportunity - and when viewing Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, with that bug in your ear, it is virtually impossible not to watch the scene and imagine it with "It's Raining Men," laugh at how funny that would have been and then grimace at how the film's big moment there loses something by the musical piece that was worked in.

The only other major flaw in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 - outside, perhaps, wasting any time in the film to seed a potential future incarnation of the Guardians Of The Galaxy - is that the story has so many characters to service that in giving each one adequate screentime and story points, the film has an unfortunately erratic flow. Gamora draws the short straw for the major characters, largely because Zoe Saldana's best character moments are reflections of Karen Gillan's Nebula's character growth. Gamora acts as a sidekick to Star-Lord before reacting to Nebula's surprisingly deep realization that her hatred for Gamora is very reasonable. Gamora's bits are peppered throughout Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 without her actually getting a very strong narrative of her own (though she does have some big action moments and, ultimately, some decent character moments).

Similarly, Drax begins Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 with an impressive number of the film's funniest lines before the movie gets packed with a slew of other character and plot threads. Drax has almost no presence in the film's middle and he comes back late in the film with retreads of some of his earlier jokes. Rocket is presented as taking the brunt of everyone's ire and lashing out obnoxiously, but his practical joke motivates almost all of the film's action. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 devotes a significant amount of time to developing Yondu and utilizing Rocket as a foil for a whole "buddy comedy" subplot within the film. To be fair, Michael Rooker (Yondu) plays off the virtual Rocket amazingly well and Bradley Cooper's deliveries for Rocket have an impressive emotional range from snarky to hurt to goading in the funniest way imaginable.

Chris Pratt does well as Peter Quill, starting authoritative and moving fast into reasonably shaken by Ayesha's remarks about his heritage. Pratt has been thrust into the role of action hero and he rises to the occasion with good physical performances and - in some key moments as Peter learns about his father - acting through his facial expressions alone. Beyond that, Pratt plays to his comedic strengths is familiar deliveries of deadpan and sarcastic lines that made Quill memorable from the first film.

Newcomer to the Guardians team, Mantis, is an intriguing addition who is ultimately integral to Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2. Whether the character has enduring value beyond the specific story told in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 remains to be seen, but she is utilized well in this film. And, despite being given lines that are variants of her one trick pony, Pom Klementieff delivers them with credible, wide-eyed innocence that plays as very funny. Klementieff and Dave Bautista have great on-screen chemistry as a rare successful comedic pairing of dual straightmen.

While Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 has a somewhat erratic plot execution as the various threads work to come together in a fairly predictable "stop the super-villain" way, the result is surprisingly satisfying. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 finds the right balance between action-adventure violence and humor. Seeing the film in the theater, both my wife and I were shocked by the number of children being brought to Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2; it is not a soft PG-13. Between hilarious lines - "I have famously large turds!" - complex character motivations (are children truly likely to understand the motivation of the Celestial?!), a disproportionately large spider, and a fair amount of action violence, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is not intended for kids.

But Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is funny, has clever moments and the characters are motivated by surprisingly deep psychological factors. And for a film opening Summer Blockbuster Season - which is historically known for being vacuous and spectacle-based - it is hard to ask for more than what Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 delivers.

For other science fiction comedies, please check out my reviews of:
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Men In Black


For other elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a complete relative listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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