Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan
‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ marks the beginning of a MCU triple header in 2017, soon to be followed by ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ and ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ later in the year. It’s a return to the wider, ethereal plane of the MCU not yet entirely connected with the Avengers, but they’re certainly on the path to it. ‘Vol. 2’ has aspirations to be bigger than its previous installment, widely considered to be one of the best films in the MCU to date, but as we will soon find out, bigger doesn’t always mean better.
‘Vol. 2’ sees the Guardians, Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Pratt) et al, continuing to save the galaxy from weird and wonderful things. They have crafted a niche in the galaxy as problem-solvers in their own, unique way. Together, each with their individual assets to lend to the team, such as Gamora’s sword, Rocket’s gadgets, Drax’s strength, and Groot’s adorability, they frequently succeed in their missions, no matter how unorthodox the solution may be. This time, however, a mysterious figure named Ego (Russell) has tracked the Guardians down claiming to be Peter’s long lost father who has wider aspirations for the Galaxy that Peter and the others have sworn to protect.
From the very opening moments, ‘Vol. 2’ has a different feel about it. Much was made before the film’s release that ‘Vol. 2’ is the first MCU film to be shot on state-of-the-art RED cameras and this is evident from the opening frame. No MCU film, populated by colourful characters left and right, has ever looked this vibrant. James Gunn and cinematographer Henry Braham use this to its fullest in every frame. My personal favourite moment is during a mid-point escape sequence, Yondu’s (Rooker) bright red arrow of death knocks the lights out in a corridor before illuminating 5 kills in a row in wonderful flashes of red. From a visual stand-point, ‘Vol. 2’ absolutely shines.
The characters we know and love are all back and as great as ever. Quill and Gamora (Saldana) share a relationship that borders on will-they-won’t-they that doesn’t feel forced; it feels borne from their experiences and mutual respect. Rocket and Baby Groot are the lovable, bickering older and younger brother of the team, and Drax and newbie Mantis (Klementieff) hit it off from the get go with their suspect social skills. These pairings all work in and of themselves, but the film shines when the team is all together. In the opening battle (sound-tracked wonderfully by Mr. Blue Sky), they bicker as they fight a hideous, tentacled beast, they bicker on the Milano, they bicker as they’re being praised for saving the Galaxy again. Their bickering is what made Vol. 1 so great; we fell in love with these characters and they became an unorthodox family with a spaceship as their home. They’re the best rag-tag band of space misfits this side of Joss Whedon’s ‘Firefly’.
And yet, James Gunn decided to split them up.
I understand film structure, and I understand that films have the A-plot and B-plot, but to separate Peter, Gamora, and Drax from Rocket and Groot fairly early on diminishes the film’s strongest suit – the Guardians themselves. Try as it might, despite some individual stand-out moments from Drax (he has one mini-rant about parents having sex that had me in fits of laughter) and Rocket (Taserface!), I could never shake the feeling that something wasn’t as right as it should be. When the band finally get back together, ‘Vol. 2’ rediscovers the magic that made Vol. 1 so special. The film is book-ended by sequences in which they fight and bicker and get the job done, but the hour between those is filled with far-too-many scenes of different pairings standing around, talking in a room. Gunn evidently wanted to delve deeper into these characters and help us understand who they are, where they came from, and where they want to go, but some work more than others. Peter gets the lion’s share of the character study as he discovers the true meaning of family, but it felt as if we were simply told these things rather than shown. With the aforementioned camera technology at Gunn’s disposal, it’s a shame so much of it is used to frame people’s faces as they discuss their feelings.
In Kurt Russell’s Ego, ‘Vol. 2’ has a fascinating character. Ego is a living planet. You heard me. A planet. I must commend Gunn for managing to convey this idea so effectively. It’s a baffling concept that could have alienated some viewers, but Russell oozes so much charm and cool that he sells the idea convincingly. Again, from a visual stand-point, Ego is conveyed beautifully with stellar backgrounds and a hint of Russell’s actual face on the surface of the planet itself. It’s a shame though, that Ego felt so inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.
Ego plays a major role in Peter’s character arc, but where Vol. 1 had a connection to the MCU’s big picture of the Infinity Stones, ‘Vol. 2’ feels disconnected from everything else. Aside from a couple of Thanos name-drops, ‘Vol. 2’ is a self-contained story in the Guardians of the Galaxy side of the MCU. For most, this isn’t a problem, but it’s a bold move for Marvel to do this considering next year the Guardians are meant to be joining up with the Avengers for the impending Infinity War. I would have thought ‘Vol. 2’ would do more to send the Guardians to Earth.
‘Vol. 2’ has its fair share of spectacular set-pieces, fabulously unexpected cameos, and it is no doubt full to the brim with references that only die-hard Marvel Comic’s readers would know on first viewing. It’s certainly a very enjoyable film because of our connection to and love for the characters, but I felt it was a step back from Vol. 1. Rather than build on the strengths of the original, it split them up, and it hampered my overall feeling towards it. It’s a shame because when ‘Vol. 2’ works, it works. Groot’s moments in the spotlight trying and failing to complete a task are gold, Drax’s new found sense of humour is a delight, and Mantis is an adorable addition to the team. It just didn’t quite match the heights of Vol. 1.