Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

“It’s too adorable to kill.”

As a fan of the original, as well as a firm believer that it’s just a wee bit overrated, I must say that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 plays out like more of the same. This is a franchise – with this movie in particular – living with a deep-seeded middle child syndrome, except this time we can always tell that it’s trying too hard and striving to live up the original’s crown as the MCU’s first feature with a unique personality. That’s not to say it’s bad or a bore, but my issue with this film is that it doesn’t recognize the overuse of cheap novelty items and acts, delivering the now de facto and expected goods as if they’re still brand new. In that way, Vol. 2 attempts too much and succeeds at too little, chomping away like a child on that same old piece of Fruit Stripe gum. It bursts with flavor before becoming bland.

Compared to the first installment (which is unfair to be up against), Vol. 2 is a marginal and noticeable improvement in terms of its visuals; as it should be too, considering technology’s swift progress. The colors pop more, the landscapes sprawl even farther, and the perceptive use of 3D might as well be a calling card for the medium. The outstanding package really looks the part. But the overall narrative simply feels off and a bit too perfunctory, like a sophomore slump full of forced drama and bereft of genuine heart. The original is more of a team-building experience that heralds and shepherds together losers and outsiders while the sequel opts for a “coolest kid in the class” superlative. All of the personalities clash and butt heads as much as they did before, but now its popularity has made it less endearing by no fault of its own.

It’s 2014 and our group of space cowboys are now the most famous stars in the sky. The team remains intact: Peter (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Drax (Dave Bautista), and the adorable Baby Groot (Vin Diesel). We meet up with them again mid battle against a giant monster, hired by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), the leader of a gilded haughty race, to protect their valuable batteries. They succeed, Rocket steals some just because he can, and then they have an entire fleet sent after them to seek and destroy for said theft. It’s an explosive and lavish plot device designed to get us into the second act, but we go with it nonetheless, especially when our intrigue spikes. Saved by a lone individual and crash landing on a new planet, the Guardians are greeted by the man who saved them. And in what should only be a spoiler to the uninitiated, he happens to be Peter’s long-lost father Ego (Kurt Russell).

Now, I know this makes me out to be a bit of a negative Nancy, so let me talk about what really works in Vol. 2. While it’s an action-comedy by definition, the laughs are the film’s cornerstone and the foundation of its two best scenes. In that opening sequence, writer/director James Gunn stays true to his indie film sensibilities and takes us out of the action, pushing the battle to the background while Baby Groot sneakily dances around and plays cute in the foreground. It’s a brilliant decision, and one that defines this franchise’s eccentricity; we come for the well-drawn people and sit through the beautiful but banal chaos. The other standout moment introduces us to the new character Mantis (Pom Klementieff), a cross-pollination between a powerful empath and Ego’s own personal Igor. She can read people’s feelings by touching them, outing Peter for his sexual attraction to Gamora and inciting riotous laughter from Drax. It’s exceptionally well done, and with two films under his belt playing the literal brute, Dave Bautista solidifies himself as the MVP of the Guardians. Admittedly, I was a bit letdown by the film overall, yet you can’t snub this movie’s hilarious sense of humor. You’re going to laugh early and laugh often. As a side note though, could we stop with pointless Stan Lee cameos and the countless end credits scenes? Not only are they unnecessary…they’re flat-out bumptious.

You’re also going to feel a surprising tug at the heartstrings via Michael Booker’s more involved performance as the Ravager Yondu, threading the story’s emotional through line diligently. However, where Vol. 2 really falls flat is in its multi-faceted but uninspired antagonistic elements. There’s Nebula (Karen Gillan) back to rekindle her sibling rivalry. Yondu’s turncoat Taserface (Chris Sullivan) is an ugly punchline. Ayesha is way too distanced. The pitifully executed Thanos lingers over everything without a pip or a squeak while Ego reminds us that its best to never meet your heroes. Marvel is notorious for having similarly abysmal villains and the original was no exception, but it at least provided us with a single figure to root against and try to understand. Still, all of this doesn’t mean that the picture is a wreck or a slog to sit through. I thoroughly enjoyed this ever so slightly disappointing blockbuster. Yet like most big budget sequels, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is overstuffed, overamplified, and too consciously overwrought.

“So, we’re saving the galaxy again?”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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