Guest review by: Callum The Critic
Check out his film blog here
What can I say about this? Well, let’s get one thing out of the way and that is my thoughts on the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” film. Talk about a very odd relationship as far as any of the Marvel films go, when I first watched it I simply thought it was okay, but then at some point I started to not like it as the hype was starting to drive me bonkers at the time and I felt like certain issues with the film were being severely overlooked. But thanks to last year’s films “Star Trek Beyond” and “Suicide Squad” (both films that were very clearly inspired by “Guardians of the Galaxy” in some way or another), it gave me the urge to watch the film again from a new perspective and appreciate the film a lot more nowadays on what it was trying to do and I even realize just how brilliantly the films soundtrack works in the films context (and say check out “Films&Stuff”’s video as he explains in the best way possible on why the soundtrack works). Buuuuuut I still don’t quite like it as much as others people and yet despite all my complications with the first film in the past, I was still really excited for this film to come out because the trailers are just selling it well for me and I will say that I do like this film a bit more than the first film, but it does have its issues and I will explain in this non-spoiler review:
The best way to describe this film as perhaps the most “Empire Strikes Back” of any of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and that is saying a lot because if you ever get the chance of watching all of the Phase 2 films, there is at least one reference, thematic similarity or even direction for their characters that is a deliberate parallel to “The Empire Strikes Back”. Much like other “Empire Strikes Back” inspired blockbusters such as “X2: X-Men United” or “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”, the approach this film takes in terms structuring its narrative. This is a much more personal film, with director James Gunn displaying all the heart and appreciation for the Marvel Cosmic comic universe and the characters that spawn from such material that I really need to read more of at some point. In exchange, the film is significantly less plot-focused, which means it does fall into something a lull in its middle section, but kind of like the “middle of the story” like feel that many have pointed out in the space opera that was “The Empire Strikes Back” it takes advantage of it odd story structure by spending more time with these characters without the burden of Marvel’s universe is ultimately rewarding and gives the film’s conclusion plenty of emotional heft.
This can be attributed by the fact that many of the Guardians or other characters from the previous film are given a lot more screen time in this outing and are far more fleshed out than they were in its predecessor, the main ones being Star-Lord, Gamora, Nebula, Rocket and perhaps the most effective part of the film on an emotional level, Yondu (although I do think the set up for his arc from his first scene did come off as a bit too telegraphed to the point in which I knew what was going to happen to him later on). While the likes of Groot and Drax were not really given a lot to do in terms of character depth, which I would argue the reason why that is the case is due to how their characters sort of reached their conclusions in the first film. While I say that is fine with Drax (who had some really cute scenes with new character Mantis). I was a little disappointed that Baby Groot wasn’t given that much to do outside of some badass fight scenes and some really funny gags within the Rocket and Yondu subplot, I was really let down by the fact that nothing interesting character-wise was really done with him. The reason why I say this is due to the knowledge by the fact that prior to this film that this version of Groot had no memory of the previous Groot, which I thought was a need subversion on the criticism of the whole “Death not having any meaning” criticism has been getting lately for killing characters and bringing them back to life shortly afterwards. I will admit that could be myself asking for too much due to the fact that this film is a little bloated in places and adding another subplot would be like adding fuel to a fire of the issue, but I say the best counterargument for that would be to have Baby Groot at least have some form of impact in the development of Rocket in someway. But I will admit, a lot of the humour that was delivered by Baby Groot did consistently make me laugh, especially with the opening credits of the film in which I won’t give too much away, but let’s just say that in a way it is pretty much is 2014’s “Godzilla” was actually clever and creative with its cockteasing the audience in regards to a fight scene. The opening credits scene showcase, in a beautifully registered, meticulously articulated tracking shot, the overall scale of the film: accompanying Baby Groot dancing in the middle of a mega scene and it was very creative with all of its gags.
Thematically it is a natural sequel to the first film, while the first film was a straight up film about handling loss and finding a new family, this one continues on with the family theme, but explores many aspects of what we perceive as a family dynamic that allows certain characters to grow and see aspects of them that we have never seen before, and each character has an unique ghost in that ethos. *Insert Fast and Furious joke here. The thematic core and emotional heft that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 possesses is the most grounded and well executed of any entry into the MCU since Captain America: Winter Soldier. Previous MCU films like Civil War that try to ground its themes in some kind of false moral quandary which causes the thematic resonance to ultimately fall flat. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 however grounds them in the emotional investment you have in the character and that the characters have in one another in which they actually felt genuine to me, despite the odd plot structure and odd pacing. But here is a quick rundown on each of the films subplots and what family aspect they explore and my thoughts on them.
Peter and Ego = Father and son, which is the main focus of the film. Okay for those who have seen the films trailers and have read the comic books, we all knew that Ego was going to be the villain. But as far as MCU films go Kurt Russell as Ego was just fine as he does give some good developed for Quill as a character and Ego at least has presence whenever he is on screen, I just wasn’t too crazy about his plan, I mean he is one of the better MCU villains out there, but Wilson Fisk from Daredevil, he is not. However, I say that explores a different aspect to the Star-Lord character that was hinted at in the first film and that was the idea of handling abandonment, which is an idea we can all relate in some way. Hell, I’ve went to see this film with a friend of mine and he told me after the film was finished that the Peter plotline was the one that stuck with him the most because of how he barely knew his father would at least be tempted to see how it goes if he ever got the chance to meet him.
Rocket and Yondu = Brotherhood, which is the aspect of the films themes which really hit with me the most as the two while working well with each other as well as Clint Eastwood playing the ultimate badass back in the day, both do explore a different ethos of the family theme. Rocket deals with misfitting and a strong resentment in being close with others, an idea that really stuck home with me and for those who know me as a person should know I am not a people person and for good reason, while Yondu dealt with the idea of regret considering his actions that were hinted at in the first film. Yet, the two come to realise how much they have in a common, they both learn from each other through their actions and in my opinion become better people by the end.
Gamora and Nebula = Sisterhood, sadly this doesn’t give us the kinky cat fight between Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillian that we all wanted, but when it comes to the aspects of the family theme the film was going for despite the inherently compelling aspects of a darker side of certain family life: abuse, this is certainly the weakest aspect of the film.
While Drax, Groot and Mantis really were not given the most compelling stuff to do, there is a reoccurring theme behind most of their gags that could reflect on certain family members, I mean I once joked about the fact that Drax doesn’t understand metaphors could possibly be a metaphor for people on the autistic spectrum. But as for the possible reoccurring themes behind the gags of the following, Drax has loss and Groot having a communicative inability; and Mantis has the overall lack of social skills. However what I do appreciate about each of these humorous aspects behind each of these character traits is that it shows how the film understand a key component of what makes a good joke in comedy: being relatable.
All these ghosts spawn complex arcs that could easily go sideways in the wrong hands, but thankfully, these are James Gunn’s hands, and the man develops them with care in his reflective tale of punctual action, until it eventually blows up in an all-out The End of Evangelion climax. I reckon I would honestly love this movie if it only allowed its characters’ struggles to be displayed through action and dynamics rather than hand-holdy dialogue that sees them all one-by-one belt out their emotional “THIS IS WHAT I’M REALLY FEELING!” outbursts, as there are points in which as my friend Sean said in his review: “borders on melodrama”. But what is here feels genuine and the ending might just tug at your heart strings.
As for the humour in this film, I believe I have said in the past when discussing the first film that I’ve once described James Gunn sense of humour as a bit too pedestrian for my taste. And while there are some issues I have with this films humour, the humour in this film certainly helped the viewing experience for me as the film like a lot of MCU films is still a hell of a lot of fun, and absolutely packed with gags, cameos and strangeness, even if it sometimes undercuts itself or even at times felt like they went on for way too long. The pacing of the humour is very similar to “The Lego Batman Movie”, it has a rapid pace to it that several jokes and gags are coming right at you, almost a bit too well to the point in which I’ve almost forgotten to breath. But the humour for the most part pretty consistent with the films overall tone and does five a few laugh out loud moments and plenty of legit chuckle.
I remember when I did my review for the first film in which I made the following joke: “The visuals in this film are almost Eva Green level of gorgeous” and while I wouldn’t say the visuals of this film exceed the beauty that is Eva Green (What can?), it is at least on par with the beauty of Eva Green. If you were like me and disappointed that Doctor Strange failed to deliver on all of the “weird, bold and risky” whimsy that adapting a quirky acid-influenced Sorcerer from the 60s implied, you’ll love the sheer visual eye-candy that is this film. I guess the reason why the colour palette in this film is using a new and improved kind of digital camera that doesn’t mute the colours into a slightly dull TV movie like look that a lot of the previous MCU films have suffered from in the past in terms of a visual experience. Needless to say, the visual effects are outstanding, but it really catches one’s eye how they mingle them with the cinematography to create some beautiful compositions. There are certain shots in here that I could very well frame them in my wall.
As for the soundtrack of the film, I personally I didn’t find the Awesome Mix tracklist quite as iconic as the one from the previous installment, however it does have a better application throughout the movie – one specific song has a dramatic significance to the narrative and its lyrics are revisited with new layers as the plot unfolds. Although I won’t spoil anything here, but near the end of the film the films is making more excited for the possibly soundtrack for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3”. But I will say the film mostly makes up for the soundtrack not living up to the first films excellent use of a movie soundtrack for having a vastly improved score because Tyler Bates score is aces and an improve over his previous work, you don’t need me to tell you that, but in a cinematic universe that’s so unbearably uneven when it comes to musical identity, it’s great to see that this one remains solid.
Honestly, with what I’ve just wrote here, I am not too surprised by the somewhat mixed response this film is getting, despite myself really liking it. But what is weird is that from each review site, there is some really strong stances. The films score on Rotten Tomatoes is really positive, Letterboxd reviewer’s rather like it or don’t and most YouTube critics that I follow really don’t seem to like it.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a wildly enjoyable ride of blockbuster entertainment and show that the MCU knows what makes a sequel truly great when it comes to branching off of the ideas of its predecessor (outside of “Iron Man 2”, “Thor: The Dark World” and to a lesser extent “Captain America: Civil War”). While calling it “subversive” is not exactly the right word to describe this as a sequel, it certainly has a somewhat experimental like feel to it when compared to other MCU film as far as story structure goes and all the characters maintain their colourful personalities despite the addition deep scenes that this film provide for them.
My score for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a score of 4 Awesome Mix Tapes out of 5.