Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Directed by James Gunn
Had a conversation with a friend about sequels the other day. We talked about the different flavours of sequels. There's the blow up everything you thought you knew sequel - think The Empire Strikes Back. There's the rehash of the first film - same jokes, same personalities, same beats, just bigger - think the Lethal Weapons or Fast and Furious franchise or Avengers: Age of Ultron. There's the not-quite-steady combination of the these two flavours, like Die Hard 2 or Iron Man 2, maybe Thor: Dark World, times when some involved wanted to blow the whole thing up but were shouted down by others so you end up with some weird mutation that just barely holds together. And then there's the expansion sequel, the one that expands on the world building of the first film. It rarely offers anything new, there are few surprises, but when done right you could edit out the credits and have one very large film. Godfather 2 is like the pinnacle of this flavour, the pralines and cream of the sequel ice cream bar.
I'm not going to compare Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to Godfather 2 because that would be crazy talk. But…
What Guardians Vol. 2 does right is expand on the first film. Some questions are answered, personalities and relationships develop, sympathies are earned. Director James Gunn and his team continue to bring Jack Kirby's uniquely insane vision to the cineplex, moving farther away from the singular look of the earlier Marvel Studio films. Mind-melting vistas, planets and moons nuzzled together, egg shaped starships, face stretching, impossible landscapes filled with all of the Crayola colours you could wish for. Layer that with Mr. Gunn's knack for embracing nostalgia while at the same time parodying it with all the glee of a punk who's been given all of the boss' toys to play with. Sprinkle over everything a cast with a chemistry rarely seen in any medium and you've got yourself one weird but damn delicious meal.
Some of the negatives? A bloated third act which may make some of the emotional beats and the scope of the stakes easy to miss for some. Some of the jokes are a little too easy, sometimes a little obvious. The new movie isn't the non-stop roller coaster that the first one was. It meanders at times. It's touchy-feely, as my wife called it. And there isn't that sense of discovery that came with the first movie.
That being said, Guardians Vol. 2 is all kinds of fun, has all kinds of heart. Outside of a few moments in the Captain America series, Marvel Studios has had a difficult time with real earned emotional moments, with real stakes and real personal moments. Guardians Vol. 2 has all of that, in spades.
But, really, before we get discussing the emotional weight of the film and the subtlety of the performances and the honesty and sincere truth of the characters and the confidence of the camera work, let's remember that this is a movie that co-stars a talking raccoon and a six-inch tree. A talking raccoon who builds explosives from scraps and shoots guns. And the six-inch tree has a limited vocabulary and the mental capacity of a toddler. This is a movie that contains a dissection of Looking Glass' 1972 hit Brandy (You're a Fine Girl). So, yeah. Before I get all pretentious I should remind myself that the goal of this film is to appeal to the largest common denominator. Anything else is gravy. Or icing. I forget which cooking metaphor I was using earlier.
So, does Guardians Vol. 2 achieve that goal, is it a giant popcorn blockbuster event? Does it do what special effects driven movies have hoped to do since 1925's The Lost World: sell tickets, fill seats with bottoms and entertain the brains connected to those bottoms? And, while making dump trucks full of money, will the filmmakers be proud or in the process of making their film did they compromise their integrity so much that their souls went out with the trash last Tuesday? Yep, yep and yep. Yep to the first part of the third question, not the depressing second half. That would be a pretty sad yep.
I'm pretty sure the cast and crew can be pretty proud of what they've pulled off here. They might not be wearing the anarchy t-shirts that Deadpool's team was wearing while vandalizing their corporate overlords' offices. But the Guardians Vol. 2 gang is probably at a party this weekend and no-one is sitting out when the Ramones' Rocket to Russia comes on.
I don't know what else I can put on this page without wrecking something for someone who hasn't seen the film yet. James Gunn and his team have made something that, in my oh-so-humble opinion is kinda special. Should you see it? If you're reading this, you probably will. But is it worth the monies to see it on the big screen? Yes, yes it is. Not only does it look great, the performances are even better, and Dave Bautista is damn treasure. And it's got me listening to Mr. Blue Sky for the first time in nearly forty years.