Three years ago Marvel and Disney took a risk on their most ambitious comic book adaptation. Who would have thunk that audiences would embrace a movie whose protagonists contain a talking raccoon and a sentient tree? In the time since its release Guardians of the Galaxy is a film people still really enjoy or find incredibly annoying, and your thoughts won’t change with its second volume. If anything Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues to present the diminishing returns of the Marvel cinematic universe with a movie whose plot does what it has to in order to set up future movies, while telling a rather pointed and uninspired movie about fatherhood.
After stealing precious batteries promised to a planet run by the Sovereign (Elizabeth Debicki), Star Lord aka Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his gang known as the Guardians of the Galaxy must hide out. Unfortunately they’re simultaneously being hunted down by Yondu (Michael Rooker), still searching for Peter after the events of the first film. When Peter meets his father, a mysterious man known as Ego (Kurt Russell) it threatens to destroy the crew and send all of Peter’s enemies to him.
Many of the issues that plague this installment of Guardians of the Galaxy can generally be ascribed to other comic book films, regardless of studio/outlet. Quill and his gang’s adventure only serves to perpetuate future storylines that only the die-hard comic fans will understand. The overabundant five post-credit stingers do little than keep butts in seats long enough to find out who the Best Boy is, and see the introduction of a character that left my audience saying “Who is that?” (Oddly, this is the one Marvel movie I’ve seen that didn’t advertise the next film in the chain.)
The above synopsis shows how slapped together the plot is, with steep peaks and valleys in its over two-hour runtime. As fun as it is seeing Debicki audition to be Tilda Swinton’s Snow Queen meets the girl in the opening of Goldfinger, her story could be excised entirely to no effect. The film’s MacGuffin are batteries the Guardians are stealing for the Sovereign, but once Rocket steals them the planet’s role is to pop up to battle the Guardians at inopportune times. They’re a level in the video game that is the film’s action sequence. Even the way they fight, on Tron light-cycles by way of the video monitors in Black Mirror’s “Fifteen Million Merits,” conveys that this would make a great ride in Disneyland but a bland plot device. On top of that the film also gives us Yondu and his crew, and the big bad, Ego.
The Sovereign aside, what tenuously binds everything together is daddy issues. The question of Star Lord’s father anchored the first film, and deserved a payoff to match. Things start with Disney’s continued fascination of de-aging older actors, introducing Kurt Russell – complete with some sweet ’70s Farrah hair – meeting Peter’s mother. Peter questioned his heritage in the first film, but this second movie sees Peter so hung up on his dad you’d expect to see him on a therapist’s couch. Instead, it’s the now motherly Gamora (Zoe Saldana, still pointless) who tells him to bond with his father. She’s also the one who simultaneously tells her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) to get over her own father issues. Considering how the film presents Nebula’s hatred of her father in a way that feels like assault – he replaced parts of her with machinery against her will – the film has a very gendered look at how men and women are told to deal with their parentage. Peter gets to act like a 10-year-old and play catch with his dad; Nebula’s told “Eh, move on, girl.”
What was mysterious and compelling in the first film falls with the weight of a spaceship here. The man’s name is Ego, yet Peter never thinks to question his father’s motives. Ego is introduced to the crew to the strains of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” one of many sequences where music literally spells out the feelings of the film. The movie’s two uses of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” left me thinking this was the group’s audition for a Rumors biopic. Speaking of the music, the film doesn’t have as tight a time period on its music as in the first. Maybe because so many other films have cannibalized the ’70s for their soundtracks. The mix of songs is fine, but, again, very pointed. Kudos though for not inserting “Cat’s in the Cradle.”
Later, Ego reveals something so heinous to Peter that it undoes the entire narrative in spite of his mentality of “grow and spread” perfectly demonstrating him as the ultimate narcissist. It comes off like the script feared Ego was just too nice a guy and needed something so despicable that Peter would have to walk away. In reality, it’s unnecessary when factored into Peter’s seeming acquiescence and is so callous I expected Russell to kick a puppy afterward for good measure. I guess they needed something to mitigate how often Ego recites the lyrics to Looking Glass’ “Brandy.”
Chris Pratt remains the buff bro from the first film. Nearly every woman he comes in contact with still has an overwhelming desire to sleep with him. Saldana spends swaths of the film sitting down or trying to mitigate circumstances. If you thought her role as Uhura was wasteful, this is in the same vein.
The fractured narrative leaves the audience with moments they’ll outright enjoy despite things feeling like three episodes of a show wrapped into one. Michael Rooker’s Yondu comes into his own here, and is great to watch. His father-centric storyline, while having no basis in the preceding film, makes up for a lot of the film’s heavy handedness. A battle scene he orchestrates in the third act is visually breathtaking and one of the films highlights. You come to care about his character by the end, which is more than I can say for the likes of Quill and his compatriots.
Dave Bautista steals every scene he’s in as the emotionless Drax. Paired up with the equally personality-free Mantis (Pom Klementieff), the two have a near Hepburn/Tracy-level of fun banter. Bradley Cooper is also fun as the voice of Rocket Racoon. And let’s not forget Baby Groot! Baby Groot proves Disney still knows how to make cute baby characters in their films. However, if you’re expecting a lot of “I am Groots” this time around, you’ll be disappointed. Either Vin Diesel was paid by the phrase or he didn’t have time to record because Baby Groot has long stretches that play out like a silent film which is to the film’s benefit, particularly in a long stretch where Baby Groot has to help Yondu and Rocket escape a prison.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a mixed bag. Fans of the original film will find the humor chuckle-worthy, but much of the film’s uniqueness has worn away in the wake of Deadpool and other similar attempts to present something new in the genre. Pratt and crew aren’t doing much different from their past incarnations, though the script strips them down to be somewhat more annoying. Disney and Marvel haven’t learned that less is more. Instead they subscribe to The Lego Movie mentality that “everything is awesome,” no matter what.