Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

2017 #59
James Gunn | 136 mins | cinema | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12A / PG-13

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

The franchise that some thought might kill the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but which actually turned out to be one of its most popular successes, is back for the difficult second album. And difficult it is, because Guardians 2 takes a lot of what made that first movie work and ramps it up to 11, consequently slipping over into bouts of self-indulgence.

The story picks up on a thread left conspicuously hanging at the end of the first movie: who is Peter’s father, and why did he have the Ravagers kidnap Peter from Earth? Vol. 2 digs into those answers pretty quickly, because it has somewhere else to go with them… but that would be spoiler territory. So while Peter (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and the ever-hilarious Drax (Dave Bautista) toddle off to learn about daddy-o, the rest of the gang — Rocket (motion capture of Sean Gunn, voice of Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (still voiced by Vin Diesel, allegedly) — get caught up in a mutiny involving Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). All while the lot of them are being chased by a race of gold-skinned perfectionists led by the priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) who the Guardians conned.

Returning writer-director James Gunn gets things off to a strong start, diving straight into answers, humour, an entertaining title sequence, a couple of action scenes, more humour, and more answers. But after this strong and pacy opening salvo, the film seems to flounder a little. Not fatally so, but it gradually becomes apparent that the middle is going on far too long. Your mileage will vary on how draggy this is — some people seem to have absolutely hated it; I thought much of it was amiable enough, but it goes nowhere fast and that eventually becomes wearing.

You've got the power to know you're indestructible...

Part of the problem lies in splitting our heroes up into two groups with two stories. It may have been inspired by The Empire Strikes Back (or that may just have been a parallel some critics have spotted, I’m not sure), and it’s not a fundamentally flawed structural choice, but here it doesn’t really work. Part of the problem is that the gang works best when sparking off each other. Heck, the film even goes to pains to set up a joshing rivalry between Peter and Rocket, then splits them up! Story-wise, the issue is twofold: the A plot is a slow one that spins its wheels because it has too little story-fuel to drive the whole movie; but the B plot feels grafted on to give half the cast something to do, as well as provide a little action and humour while the other plot is tackling the emotional heft.

That said, uncommonly for a modern blockbuster, it’s the emotional side the film gets most right. While the plot dawdles, the action is adequate, and the comedy is hit and miss (more the former than the latter, to be fair, but there’s a definite case of “throw everything and see what sticks”), there are several characters who get strong, believable, rounded emotional arcs. The obvious one is Peter finding out about his parentage, but my favourite was where the film goes with Nebula and the relationship with her adopted sister, Gamora. There’s also a comparatively meaty subplot for Yondu, meaning it’s mostly the supporting characters who fare best with the material rather than the heroes — aside from Peter and (to a lesser extent) Gamora, the primary function of Drax, Rocket, and Baby Groot is to be humour generators. They are funny, though.

Funny.

In the director’s chair, Gunn continues to dole out even more of what people praised about the first movie. You liked the retro-cool soundtrack? OK, how about a new track every time there’s a lull in the action! The use of the music feels sloppy, often just plonked there to cover a gap, with no discernible thematic relevance. It’s doubling down on something people latched onto the first time, but it feels slapdash. The one instance that almost works is Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain, which has a setup and a pay-off, but they’re not quite properly connected.

Also overdone is the slow motion walking. Remember that shot in the first film of the Guardians walking into battle in slow-mo looking badass, that was then humorously undercut when they started, like, yawning and stuff? James Gunn does, and he liked it so much that he uses it again several times here. Apart from he seems to have forgotten the second part of the scene that made it funny rather than cheesy. Cool people walking in slow motion seems to be one of those cinematic devices that doesn’t really date, especially when used sparingly, so I could let it go once, but here it reaches the point of “oh my God, another slow-mo walking shot?!”

This indulgence in everything people liked before extends right to the very end of the movie — literally. The end credits are a lively affair in and of themselves, but they’re further interrupted by a total of five additional scenes. Five. They’re mostly inconsequential (don’t go expecting any hints towards Infinity War), but they’re worth sticking around for because a couple are quite amusing.

More guardians, more... galaxy? I dunno.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an uneven film, which manages to be entertaining as a whole thanks to its likeable and funny characters — even if the best gags have all been played in the trailers (and some of them played better in trailers, too), it’s trying so hard (so, so hard) to be a good time that much of it works. It’s strongest at the beginning and the end, which almost makes you overlook that it gets a bit thumb-twiddly in the middle, with one plot more of a short story than a movie and the other feeling a little like a waste of time. However, the surprising focus on and awareness of the characters’ psychological lives makes up for that somewhat — oddly, Marvel’s most comedy-driven and alien-starring movie may also feature their most effective understanding and representation of characters’ emotions.

But don’t worry, there are still jokes about poo and penises.

4 out of 5

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is in cinemas pretty much everywhere now. Except Japan. Sorry, Japan.

I am Baby Groot.

The General Unselfish Love for Everyone Monthly Update for April 2017

Chai-ai-ain, keep us together…

Any excuse to get some Fleetwood Mac on loop.


#50 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
#51 The BFG (2016)
#52 War on Everyone (2016)
#53 Dazed and Confused (1993)
#54 Now You See Me 2 (2016)
#55 Nocturnal Animals (2016)
#56 The Legend of Tarzan (2016)
#57 The Magnificent Seven (2016)
#58 Sully (2016), aka Sully: Miracle on the Hudson
#59 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
#60 The 39 Steps (1935)
#61 Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
#62 Split (2016)
Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Nocturnal Animals

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  • I watched 13 new films this April, making it the lowest month of 2017 so far (but only by one).
  • It falls short of the average for the last 12 months (previously 14.75, now 14.08), and of 2017’s average to date (previously 16.3, now 15.5), but it does drag the April average up from 9.67 to precisely 10. (That leaves just June, July, and November as months with averages below 10.)
  • This month’s Blindspot film: one of Hitchcock’s definitive early works, solving the mystery of The 39 Steps.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS film: underwhelming Oscar-winning rom-com Silver Linings Playbook.



The 23rd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
A lot of films vie for my affection this month. I was charmed by a friendly giant, found Tom Ford’s latest to be pleasantly provocative, enjoyed some magnificent gunslinging, was thrilled by classic Hitchcock, and chilled by Shyamalan’s return to form. But, to slightly modify this award to “most surprisingly among my favourite films of the month”, one film caught me unawares more than any other: I confess that I half expected to hate Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, what with its lead character seeming like a dick ‘n’ all, but the skill of writer-director John Hughes is not to be underestimated.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Richard Linklater set out to make an anti John Hughes movies with Dazed and Confused, and I guess he succeeded based on this neat little favourite/least favourite mirroring we’ve got here.

Best Pilot in the Galaxy
Star-Lord and Rocket can bicker about it all they want, but neither can hold a candle to Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger.

End Credits Scene I’m Most Annoyed I Had Spoiled
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may have five (five) scenes during its credits, but they’re all a bit something-and-nothing (I can’t even remember what was in them all now, and I only saw it three days ago). But that scene at the end of Split (it comes after the second title card, so I think we can argue it’s in the end credits)… damn, I wish that hadn’t been widely reported all over the shop and I’d instead been able to discover it in situ. That said, it’s so well constructed that it gave me a tingle of long-awaited excitement nonetheless.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Since I’ve started posting my content on IMDb my TV reviews have really taken off in the hits. It’s the latest one of these, The Past Month on TV #16 (in which I shared my thoughts on the likes of Doctor Who, Iron Fist, The Crown, and Twin Peaks), that takes this month’s gong. (My most-viewed new film review was Don’t Breathe.)



Back to just one rewatch this month, which I reviewed at the time:

#8 Guardians of the Galaxy 3D (2014)

This is not going to plan.


We’ll see if the new Pirates of the Caribbean film, Dead Men Tell No Tales Salazar’s Revenge, is the return to form that they’re claiming. And La La Land makes it to Blu-ray over here, so I’ll finally see it.