“We’re not friends, we’re family.” Huh, where have I heard that before?
by Thom Yee
Honestly, it’s starting to feel a little weird that we live in a world where I can talk to my mom about Rocket Raccoon. At this point, I could probably even talk about Rocket Raccoon with your mom. We geeks are really getting spoiled right now.
So anyway, the original Guardians of the Galaxy did did very well with us here at GOO Reviews, but the farther we’ve all gotten from it, the more I’ve personally learned to… well, not to dislike it, but to not love it SO much. Guardians of the Galaxy is a movie defined by extremes, its most visible and memorable elements probably being its colourful comedy and its general wackiness, and though those extremes aren’t necessarily that surprising given that it is a comicbook movie, it still lacks some of the nuance that’s allowed the best superhero movies to endure (even as the most enduring superhero movies usually come across as far more sanctimonious and self-serious). That doesn’t mean Guardians isn’t well remembered or that it couldn’t or shouldn’t be your favourite superhero movie, but Guardians was the type of movie that left me feeling extremely satisfied at first but ultimately somewhat empty, like a really, really great fast food meal. Despite its heretical, despotic villain and the universe-conquering threat of an Infinity Gem driving the plot, not a lot in Guardians really happened in the cosmic sense. They all get arrested, go to prison, go to a space station, then go back to the place they were arrested, where, this time, they have to save the day. It flowed extremely well, but the Guardians didn’t really explore strange new worlds or visit exotic locales or even get a whole lot done considering the scope of what they were charged with saving (uh, the Galaxy). One of the things that most excited me about the movie when the early trailers were coming out was the sight of our heroes’ ship approaching Nowhere, a space station built from the skull of a long-dead celestial being. That was a moment that hinted at the true weirdness we could see in this world, but the movie itself never explored that weirdness very deeply, relegating most of it to background noise and cameos. When I go back to watch it (which I still do, because it is a good movie despite my complaining), something about it just comes off as small to me rather than galactically proportioned.
All of that said, Guardians of the Galaxy is still a movie with a lot of heart that tried very hard at making us really feels its themes, and through some incredibly poignant moments — like the “We are Groot” scene where the lumbering tree monster sacrificed his own safety to save the rest of the team or when we learned what was in the box Peter had been so protective of but unable to open until the movie’s end (the final Awesome Mix tape he would ever receive from his mother) — it largely succeeded. It’s those specific, small, and singular moments that gave me so much hope for the inevitable Guardians sequel.
What’s it about?
Months after saving the galaxy from the threat of Ronan the Accuser (remember that guy?), Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt), the assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), the maniac thief Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and baby Groot (voiced b Vin Diesel) are building a reputation as the Guardians of the Galaxy (which mostly means fighting people [and things] for money [or “units”]), but when their latest mission goes sideways, the team is unexpectedly rescued by Peter’s long-lost father, Ego (Kurt Russell). But can he be trusted? Can any father be trusted?
Of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe properties, Guardians of the Galaxy is easily the most insulated from the overarching cinematic universe if only because it takes place in space rather than on Earth, and as much as comicbook nerds like me love to see all of the interconnectivities of the MCU, the self-contained nature of Guardians is an important part of the series for many of its fans. True, in the original Guardians we did see Thanos and we did get a bit on the location of one of the gems that will make up the forthcoming Infinity Gauntlet (that glove Thanos puts on in the post-credits of Avengers: Age of Ultron), but those are merely things the Guardians movies have in common with the greater MCU rather than crucial points that would dictate a pre-determined path forward for the whole series. Not having to sync up with the greater MCU meant that writer/director James Gunn was able to mostly make his own decisions with Vol. 2, which is why the sequel picks up only a few months after the original rather than how long it’s really been between installments. For those of you who prefer this singular focus that Guardians has had, the good news with Vol. 2 is that it stays even further away from the MCU than the original did. The bad news is that that’s going to be ending pretty soon.
Beyond the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 itself, probably the biggest news surrounding the Guardians right now is that they’ll soon be appearing in Avengers: Infinity War, which will be out around this time next year. That’s a cool thing for a number of reasons, primarily that we’ll get to see how the big egos of the Guardians clash with the massive egos of the Avengers (a team that’s already fractured from infighting), but it ‘s news that also has huge implications for the Guardians because, with Avengers: Infinity War taking place in something approximating real time, we’ll be seeing what the Guardians are like four years after their first appearance and formation, a much greater span of time than Vol. 2’s a few months later. Relationships will have changed, the lineup may be different, important characters could even be missing or dead. Combine that with the interdimensional scope of last fall’s Doctor Strange, the intergalactic look of the recent trailer for Thor: Ragnarok (opening in November this year), the speculation that the future of the MCU will be cosmic, and the impending departure of some (possibly many) of our Earth-bound superheroes from the movies as the actors’ multi-picture contracts expire, and the cosmic corner of the universe looks like it could be getting a lot more crowded. Personally, I love that, I love everything becoming more entangled, entwined, complex, and probably more messed up in its own continuity (revisions, retcons, and universe-shattering crises have been a part of comicbooks ever since I started reading), but if you’re not like me (and I know you’re not), then you may have one more reason to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: It might be your last shot at a clean story.
Is it any Good?
Pretty early on into watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 I started to get the same feeling I had while watching Avengers: Age of Ultron — that I would wind up liking this sequel far more than I did the original (a feeling I continue to have to this day with Age of Ultron) no matter how many people say the opposite. As was the case with The Avengers, I appreciated and enjoyed the original Guardians of the Galaxy, but both movies, probably wisely, chose to stick with the more easily digested and comprehensible parts of the properties, and, because of that, both movies could have gone a lot farther with their high concepts for long-time comicbook fans like me. When it came to Age of Ultron, I loved the conflicted villain that was Ultron and all of the superhero-action-to-the-point-of-bloated-excess overload, and now, when it comes to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, it doesn’t get much more out there than a giant, ancient space-brain who can manipulate reality played by Kurt Russell (well, actually it does, but I at least understand why the movie’s producers might want to stay away from concepts like the Church of Universal Truth or time bending in on itself causing vastly different eras of the Guardians of the Galaxy’s’ various lineups to combine into one giant, mixed up mega team).
It’s more than just more fully embracing the weirdness that makes Vol. 2 better than the original though, it’s how much deeper it goes into its world and characters that makes it hit a lot harder. There’s a sequence where Rocket flies a ship through warp speeds so fast that his and Yondu’s faces start distorting, providing some admittedly pretty easy but also some pretty effective laughs while also showing us how bigger the Marvel cosmic universe is by showing us glimpses of the worlds they travel between, each weirder than the last. When Peter’s father Ego describes how he came into being, it’s the story of how a cosmic god came to existence, but it’s also a surprisingly touching moment that shows us Ego’s love for Peter’s mother and how hard it was for him to leave her (something for which he actually has a reasonable explanation). Every time Drax tells us about his previous life, we’re reminded of the tragedies he’s faced (losing his wife and daughter) at the same time as we learn more about how different his people are than the rest of us (and it’s some of the funniest stuff in the whole movie). The stories being told in Vol. 2, big and small, are expanding our understanding of the cosmic universe while making the individuals in this universe far richer.
Every one of our Guardians is deeply flawed (that’s what brought them together in the first place), but unlike most of the Earth-bound Marvel heroes, the Guardians are just a little bit more relatable because they really are losers rather than arrogant doctors or arrogant gods or arrogant billionaire industrialists. They make good in the end, but you shouldn’t and wouldn’t want to be any one of them no matter how much you love them. I love Rocket because he’s a little jerk who deliberately ties to keep people from getting too close, and in Vol. 2 he gets a real opportunity for self-examination and some really great action scenes that stand apart from any of the other Guardians. I love Gamora because she has the most clarity of purpose because of her tragic childhood, and in Vol. 2 we find out more of that past and the true torture under which she and her sister Nebula had to grow up, and because of that backstory, I actually have more sympathy for Nebula than anyone else in these movies. I love Yondu because he’s a complete space hillbilly badass with a nearly indomitable power, and in Vol. 2 he becomes the character you’ll probably love most coming out. I love Drax because he gets all the best lines and is a complete idiot despite also being the wisest of all of them. I love Baby Groot because he’s soooo squeefully cute but he’s never overplayed. I even love that guy from the Gilmore Girls played by James Gunn’s brother because, in Vol. 2 we learn how deep the loyalty and honour goes between the Ravagers despite their appearances. Everyone here gets so much to do and becomes so much more three dimensional and yet the movie rarely if ever feels bloated.
Of course, with Peter Quill meeting his father for the first time, the balance of Vol. 2’s main story falls once again on our little Star-Lord, and it’s that relationship with his father that allows the movie to become very clearly and earnestly about complex familial themes like hope and purpose and expectations and how much those things are likely to clash no matter how traditional or star-crossed the family upbringing. Though Peter is quite naturally reluctant at first to embrace his newfound father, Ego’s world is so beautiful, the warmth and love Ego has for Peter and his mother is so genuine, and the reasons why he had to leave behind are so reasonable that we fall for him just as Peter does, and yet, viewed through a certain lens, there’s enough room in the story to also see how Peter could actually disappoint his father by not being exactly what he wants him to be. As much as finding his father allows Peter to finally have some of the father-son moments he’s never had, it’s not quite a perfect union, and the overarching story becomes about some pretty complex, heady, and sticky stuff like how there are some figures in life you should maybe never meet, how arrogant choosing to be a parent is in some very big ways, and how sometimes the best parents are the ones who were the least prepared for it and had no particular expectations. But it’s still also about a bunch of people, aliens, and raccoon-type things flying around, shooting and fighting each other with laser guns and arrows that follow a blue guy’s whistling.
Simply as a movie, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 also draws on a lot of inspirations from other cinematic works, with the first and clearest being The Empire Strikes Back. Following a similar track, it ends on a bit of a sadder note than the largely triumphant and celebratory tone of the original’s ending, but it also has a lot of relatively direct lifts, including an ill-advised space flight through an asteroid field, unspoken love, heroes in the belly of the beast, a meeting with the father, and a few other things I won’t spoil here. Those are the obvious comparisons, but as I watched it, I also detected inspirations from Kill Bill, Star Trek from both the 2009 reboot and The Wrath of Khan, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, the 1986 animated Transformers movie, and even one particular aspect from that god-awful Pixels movie.
So should I see it?
If the question were only how many good things are there in this movie and are those things good enough to overcome any negatives, then the answer is yes, but it wouldn’t be fair to call this a flawless movie. I’m not sure if the ending and where Peter’s relationship with his biological father ultimately went really worked for me, and by the time we reached the final action scene of the movie, it felt kind of rushed and not nearly as well realized or essential to the overall movie experience as everything that preceded it. As I said, the movie covers a lot of emotional space in a way that never feels too full, but it doesn’t all lead as naturally to the end point of the movie as it could, and because of that, the end itself feels a little sudden. It’s at this end point where the movie devolves a little bit back into the range of typical and you start to just want it to be over. That’s the bad part. The good part is eeeeverything else.
The early critical word on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was that it was good, but more of the same and perhaps less than the original, and, having seen it, that’s a sentiment I would really have to disagree with. It’s so much more than that and so much more than the original ever was, but in the best, lightest way possible. In fact, a lot of the things that define the first one actually feel a little toned down here. The soundtrack isn’t as dominant and the laughs are fewer and farther between, but those things have been replaced with essential meaning. Vol. 2 feels much more purposeful than the original Guardians, and in purposely getting to a place where things are much more personal, it becomes even more heartfelt than the best moments from the original. Vol. 2 is about a lot of the hard, heavy, deeply meaningful things that affect all of us, screw us up, and let us know how to be our best, but only to the extent that you, as a viewer, want it to be. It’s still a fun movie first and foremost, one that succeeds at being a big, wacky action comedy near the top of that form, it’s just that there’s a lot more emotional content here if you’re inclined to look.
Thom’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 final score
On the Edge
- Kinda funny that Kurt Russell, who was once up for the role of Han Solo (link to casting), is now playing the father of our modern-day Han Solo.
- I really, really loved how dreamy everything looked with the early-1980s-era stuff with Kurt Russell and Peter’s mom. I mean obviously it was partially to cover for the fact that Kurt Russell doesn’t look that young anymore, but it also added to the ethereality of someone Pete’s mom referred to as “an angel”.
- Speaking of, I don’t really know the actress’s work at all, but I’m still so glad they stuck with Laura Haddock as Peter’s mom between installments.
- Poor Gerard Sanders.
- I miss John C Reilly.
- That Dairy Queen franchise sure didn’t change much in the intervening 30 years.
- Zune! I came so close to buying one of those once!
- Has no civilization in space invented a portable music system better than the ones we’ve had on Earth since the turn of the century?
- Like his Walkman and the Awesome Mix tapes, that folded Hasselhoff magazine clipping Peter’s been carrying in his pocket really held up well too.
- OG Guardians! What an age we live in where we have an on-screen version of Martinex (played by a former Lex Luthor to boot!)!
- Never mind the Tango & Cash sequel implications, with Rooker and Stallone, we’ve also got a full-on Cliffhanger reunion!
- Wait a minute, never mind Tango & Cash? Forget I said that.
- “Taser Face”? Reminds me of “Laserbeak”.
- Did Yondu’s part in saving the galaxy back on Xandar a few months ago (in-story time) not have any effect on Stakar’s opinion of him?
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