GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2
By Nathan Evans
‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ has got to be the weirdest, trippiest blockbuster film ever released by a major Hollywood studio. Troma veteran/former independent filmmaker James Gunn returns to the helm of this sequel, and he once again brings his offbeat sensibilities to the project; crafting a film that serves as a cog within the larger machine that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while at the same time remaining almost entirely unto itself. Plumbing deeper into the depths of the comic book universe’s source material than any other film before it, MCU or otherwise, ‘GOTG Vol. 2’ is a film that’s unashamed of what it is. In fact, it flaunts it with every technobabble laced line of dialogue, bombastic action sequence, and acerbic witticism.
The film catches up with our gang of unlikely heroes not long after the events of the first film: 2014’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’. The crew, consisting of Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill/ Star-Lord (an Earthling turned interstellar mercenary), Gamora (a skilled alien assassin), Rocket (a foul mouthed, murderous, cybernetically enhanced raccoon creature), Drax (an alien widower/warrior bent on revenge), and Baby Groot (an infantilized, sentient tree), has taken to more altruistic tasks than they’d sought out individually in the last film. One of those tasks finds them defending a precious resource from an interdimensional alien monster for a highly advanced race known as the Sovereign. The Guardians complete their task and depart, but not before one of their number succumbs to their baser instincts and takes something that doesn’t belong to them. Not a race to be trifled with, the Sovereign pursue, forcing the Guardians deep into space where they stumble across a creature that may or may not hold the answers to their leader, Peter Quill’s, true parentage.
Kurt Russell portrays that creature, a seemingly humanoid alien named Ego. He’s joined by his assistant, Mantis (‘Old Boy’s’ Pom Klementieff): an empathic alien creature with the ability to read and affect other people’s emotions. The two newcomers fit perfectly into the already expansive world created by Gunn, and compliment the irreverent demeanors of the core cast well. Also complimenting the core cast is Karen Gillan’s Nebula: a Frankensteinian, cybernetic killer who is also the adopted sister of Gamora and daughter of intergalactic despot Thanos. She’s a returning ancillary character that becomes more than a supporting player in the sequel; a distinction shared by Michael Rooker’s Yondu; an intergalactic space pirate with a soft spot for Quill. One of ‘GOTG Vol. 2’s’ greatest strength is how effectively Gunn is able to make us care about both of these characters without them feeling shoehorned in.
While the newcomers are well explored, some of the main returning characters are given short shrift; a common complaint for any film with a cast this large. Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana are the two biggest victims of this. Though the mystery surrounding Quill’s parentage is the driving force behind the film, most of that storyline falls on the back of Kurt Russell’s Ego. As a result, Pratt spends much of the film’s runtime as a passive observer.
Saldana is given even less. While the subplot surrounding her relationship with her estranged sister, Nebula, provides some of the film’s more emotionally resonant moments, Karen Gillan’s character is the focus. Fortunately, the romantic subplot between Quill and Gamora helps to take some of the sting out of the lack of focus on their characters. Rather than retread the same tired will they won’t they dynamic you’ll find in almost every other genre/adventure film, Gunn takes a more aggressive tack. It’s both a charming and refreshing break from the predictable.
Gunn’s inventive, unconventional scripting isn’t the only thing refreshing about ‘Vol. 2’ either. The film is visually resplendent. While the original ‘GOTG’ had a vivid visual scheme, ‘Vol. 2’s’ feels as if it’s on steroids. Every image drips with candy coated color without ever looking like an oversaturated Michael Bay film. As a result the movie is a particular treat for filmgoers who opt to see it in IMAX 3D.
The premium ticket is worth it to experience the film’s fantastic score and soundtrack as well. I wasn’t much impressed with composer Tyler Bates’ composition for the original film, but I’m happy to say he handily tops his previous effort here. I don’t know if he updated his core ‘Guardians’ theme or if time simply helped me to associate it with this cast of characters, but it no longer sounds like a generic science fiction film score. Though you most likely won’t come out of the film humming Bates’ tunes as you might with John Williams’ score for ‘Star Wars’, it’s an impressive addition to the film nonetheless.
What you for sure will come out of the film humming is Gunn’s curated playlist, ‘Awesome Mix Vol. 2’, that serves as the film’s soundtrack. Mostly eschewing the mainstream 70’s and 80’s hits that populated the original film’s soundtrack, Gunn rounds out the selection of songs with deep cuts from some of the overlooked artists of yesteryear; many of whom are new to me. Their use in the film feels even more deliberate than they did the first time around too. Each song is used in the film to both reflect and enhance the narrative; memorably being commented upon by the characters throughout. In addition to servicing the film, I can’t help but suspect Gunn used this set of songs to educate the masses on what good music is supposed to sound like.
Gunn also floods the movie with comedic beat after comedic beat. The Marvel Studios films have always balanced humor and action well, and ‘GOTG Vol. 2’ is no exception. There are very few moments in this film that aren’t laugh out loud hilarious; much of that humor coming from Dave Bautista’s Drax. Whether it’s his insistence that the lovely Pom Klementieff’s Mantis is in fact hideous, or his constant inappropriate laughter at the other character’s misfortunes, Bautista is engaging throughout and very nearly steals the show. The charms of the unbelievably adorable CGI creation that is Baby Groot, and the malicious barbs generated from Bradley Cooper’s murderous Rocket are the only other elements that give him a run for his money.
While it’s difficult to complain when a film’s this genuinely funny, like a good class clown, ‘Vol. 2’ sometimes doesn’t know when to ease up on the humor. The film deals with some dark subject matter, and Gunn’s unrelenting jocularity undermines some of the more dramatic beats. There are a few moments where it’s easy to get whiplash from the film’s sweeping shifts from trauma to hilarity. It’s a line Gunn’s ridden with previous projects (the original ‘Guardians’ included), and he’s mostly adept at it, but he does stumble with it from time to time. Luckily, it’s a nitpick more than anything else.
‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ represents the very best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a film that’s part of a franchise that’s been chugging along for nearly a decade, but truly feels like a crafted expression of an individual auteur. Gunn is a talented filmmaker; one that I feel benefits from the boundaries placed on him by mainstream work. He has an obvious love for the material he’s adapting, but he isn’t slavish to it, elevating his work from other past comic book adaptations. It’s been confirmed that he’ll serve an even bigger role in the MCU in the coming years. If ‘GOTG Vol. 2’ is any indication of the quality of that work, then nerds the world over are in good hands.
RATING: 5 OUT OF 5
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