Chris Pratt and the Crew are Back in the Marvel Universe, and Going Great Gunns!
DIRECTED BY JAMES GUNN/2017
ERIK YATES: Probably one of the most anticipated sequels of 2017 is the follow up to Marvel’s smash hit, Guardians of the Galaxy. Led by Chris Pratt’s fun-loving scavenger persona Star Lord/Peter Quill, Zoe Saldana’s deadly & serious Gamora, Dave Buatista’s ultra-literal Drax, Bradley Cooper’s destructive and fun raccoon character Rocket, and Vin Diesel’s now-adorable Baby Groot, The Guardians of the Galaxy have come back for another high stakes adventure set in the larger Marvel Universe that will eventually lead them to share the screen with Earth’s mightiest superheroes, The Avengers.
The first film was extremely well received due to its likeable characters, good humor, strong action, and killer soundtrack that served as Peter Quill’s own “Awesome Mix-tape #1” throughout the film. Gifted with a new mix-tape (Awesome Mix-tape #2) from his now deceased mother, at the end of the first film, you knew that Guardians Vol. 2 was going to continue that tradition of great tunes to tap your feet to as the gang fights the latest galactic foe.
While many have commented that Marvel does best with their origin story films, and get diminishing returns with subsequent outings, I’d argue against that when talking about Captain America’s films, and now when discussing Guardians of the Galaxy. I’ll just come out with some broad statements to sum up how I felt about seeing this sequel in all of its IMAX 3D glory: “More fun than Vol. 1”, and it’s “A sequel that is even better than the original”.
The heart of the film, continues to be the tight-knit community that this rag-tag band of unlikely heroes has formed together, even when they seem to be light years apart. Nothing feels forced.
By having already established each of these characters, and some of the mythos of Quill’s possible back story, such as having a mysteriously unknown father, it allowed Vol. 2 to simply dive right in to a very character driven action film that gives even secondary characters like Michael Rooker’s Yondu, Karen Gillan’s Nebula, and Pom Klementieff’s Mantis some really nice character arcs to add depth to this ever expanding Marvel Universe. Throw in a Tango & Cash reunion of Kurt Russell, as Ego, and Sylvester Stallone, as Stakar Ogord, and it’s even more fun. Some might say that this character-driven approach slows down the momentum in the middle, but I thought it only added to what was truly at stake by the time we reach the climax, which culminates with an amazing finish.
The heart of the film, however, continues to be the tight-knit community that this rag-tag band of unlikely heroes has formed together, even when they seem to be light years apart. Nothing feels forced. Taking place just a few months after the events of Vol. 1, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues to show these characters to be the same individuals that we last saw a couple of years ago. While they might have a little more chemistry, they are still gloriously rough around the edges.
JIM TUDOR: I agree with pretty much all of that; very good summation! And thanks for doing the heavy lifting; it frees me up to build on this point… Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is, in several ways, the ideal sequel. It’s true that there’s a terrific feeling of effortlessness (which, of course, it isn’t) in this film organically continuing the whole vibe, attitude and aesthetic of what came before. More importantly, Gunn and company resist any urge (more or less) to go bigger for the sake of going bigger. While I’m almost sure that Vol. 2 is indeed on a larger scale, it simply doesn’t feel like it. It’s a straight-up second helping of everything that worked so well before, and less of what didn’t. And, since everything pretty much worked last time, the latter part of the previous statement is moot.
As a Joss Whedon fan, it kind stinks to have to say that James Gunn (a St. Louis ex-pat, thank you very much. The opening flashback’s title card of “Missouri” got a huge cheer from our enthusiastic preview crowd) has succeeded where Whedon failed. It’s safe to say that Guardians 2 is the most hotly anticipated Marvel sequel since the second Avengers film, Age of Ultron. Ultron got bogged down and messy with its big-picture agenda and commitment to adding umpteen characters, concepts and locales. It’s scope, now de rigor for Marvel, what with the epic cast lists of the subsequent Captain America: Civil War and the upcoming Infinity War, makes the original 2012 Avengers seem kind of quaintly adorable in retrospect. One could conceivably look at its poster and think “six super-heroes? That’s it??” Guardians Vol. 2, meanwhile, keeps the rest of Marvel out of its own way, and tells a natural next-step tale in the saga of Peter Quill and company. Even Whedon’s trademark humor mixed with gravitas is better as co-opted by Gunn.
Kurt Russell is tremendous as the new character, Ego
It’s easy to forget that before they opened and were adored, both original films were considered offbeat risks for Marvel Studios, what with Avengers’ unprecedented on-screen teaming of established, wildly different super-heroes. (Never mind that they’ve been teamed successfully for decades in the source comics.) Guardians of the Galaxy was considered a risk because it was Guardians of the Galaxy. Marvel in space? A talking tree? Rocket Raccoon?? And based on a z-level comic book that never managed to sell, all placed on the shoulders of this guy Chris Pratt?
At least, that was the media perception. I actually bucked that opinion at the time in my review of what we now call Volume 1, making the argument that it wasn’t as big of a risk for Marvel as people were making it out to be. But I must say, that “at-a-glance” questioning was certainly understandable pre-August 2014.
Anyhow, the forced adorableness of Baby Groot wasn’t at all grating, which I’d braced myself for. Gunn wisely gets that obligatory aspect out of the way soon enough, even as he subverts the staging of what would be in any other such movie a major action set piece. Kurt Russell is tremendous as the new character Ego, and Elizabeth Debicki is intriguing as a self-serious golden antagonist who’s assault brigade is more of a video arcade.
ERIK YATES: Since you mentioned 2014, it is important to know that Vol. 1 was set in that year. Subsequently, so is Vol. 2. As The Avengers: Infinity War approaches, there will have to be a bit of a time jump for our Guardians of the Galaxy if they are to meet up in the current Avengers timeline.
I too wanted to comment a bit on Elizabeth Debicki’s new character Ayesha, a golden being whose race is composed of all of the best genes they can engineer. While their complexion is flawless, their physique impeccable, and their movements captivating, James Gunn seems to have a lot of fun using them for comic relief as the most imperfect bunch of misfits that are the Guardians of the Galaxy, seem to best them time and again. The assault brigade sequences you mentioned also were used to pay subtle homages to other films, many of them from the ‘70’s and ‘80’s like the “Awesome Mix-Tapes Vol 1 & 2”. There is a little of The Empire Strikes Back, Flash Gordon, and The Last Starfighter in there, with another cameo from a much panned 80’s film, but I’ll let viewers see that one for themselves.
This film is packed from start to finish with action, comedy, depth, and an even stronger song list that is bound to fuel a soundtrack purchasing frenzy.
In addition to the many Easter eggs planted all over the place, there are also five post credit scenes (or rather, in and throughout the credits scenes) for your viewing pleasure. These will extend the storyline of the just-finished Vol. 2, set-up the already announced Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, give us a glimpse at the original comic book Guardians of the Galaxy as they exist in an alternate future from the 31st Century, and yet another development milestone for the adorable Baby Groot. This film is packed from start to finish with action, comedy, depth, and an even stronger song list that is bound to fuel a soundtrack purchasing frenzy.
JIM TUDOR: Absolutely! This film’s soundtrack is indeed a greater and more consistently strong mix. I had a hard time believing that the same person (Quill’s dead mother, rest in peace) would lump David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” with “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede. Being someone who savors the reveals of the songs within these films, I do in this case consider detailing their clever usages as minor spoilers. So, I’ll refrain, just as you have, Erik, in rattling off any titles. Having heard U.K. critic Mark Kermode’s radio review of Vol. 2 before seeing the film, I was subject to just such a list, and kind of wish I hadn’t been. I don’t always feel that way about such things, but in the case of these Guardians films, where the tunes really are a central part of the characters’ world, it’s best to discover the songs just as one would ideally discover plot twists and character reveals, in the context of actually seeing the movie.
All cylinders are hitting, whether they be in terms of the humor, the stakes, the characters, the cameos, props, the effects, or the hair, makeup and wardrobe.
Kermode and his cohost Simon Mayo, did for the record quip that the film has quite the sumptuous color palate and visual design, equating it to a Yes album cover set in motion. I wish I’d thought of that perfect description. A key location is an ornate but intentionally overwrought Lord of the Rings type of palace that demands thoughtful visual appreciation. All cylinders are hitting, whether they be in terms of the humor, the stakes, the characters, the cameos, props, the effects, or the hair, makeup and wardrobe. Even the 3D is arresting – a rarity in Marvel Studios history.
One more thing… Let’s lay to rest, here and now, this notion that Marvel movies represent everything that’s wrong with mainstream blockbuster filmmaking. Using the term “Marvel movies” as a verbal shorthand when describing hollow spectacle that forsakes its characters and nuance is not only shortsighted, it’s simply false. These films may never be the in-depth character meditations that people look for in Awards Season, but for mass entertainments, they’re far better than most. Even when they don’t quite work out (Age of Ultron, I’m looking at you again), the level of care, thought and planning on the creative end can’t be denied. If a verbal shorthand is necessary, there are plenty of other far more egregious franchises available to use for an intellectual piñata.
James Gunn continues to press the right buttons with Guardians Vol. 2. Quill’s quest continues, and both the Marvel Universe and the actual universe are all the better for it.