Instead of seeing a movie at the new Quad Cinema, I sat through Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2. I didn’t hate it.
The original plan was to go check out the newly re-opened Quad Cinema, but of course, making plans only makes the MTA laugh as the D train decided that yesterday would not be the day. Not wanting my Thursday evening to become a complete waste of time, I checked out what else was playing nearby and the movie with the closest showtime was none other than Marvel Studio’s latest sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
Three years ago (has it really been that long?), I checked out a matinee screening of the first GOTG a few weeks after (to my surprise) it became apparent that this was going to be the surprise hit of the summer 2014 movie season. I remember enjoying it mostly due to Chris Pratt’s charisma, Dave Bautista getting the role he was born to play and Vin Diesel giving his best performance since The Iron Giant. It was light, flashy and had some decent jokes; a solid adventure movie that doesn’t really reach greatness because of my usual Marvel complaints: weak villain, weak female characters and the third act is a CGI mess. Of course, for a movie I thought was just OK, people in the nerd community fawned over as if it was the second coming of A New Hope. As someone who has a little bit of knowledge of comics, I was surprised anyone cared to see a movie about the Guardians of the Galaxy, and it’s still surprising that people would go see a sequel to it, but there I sat, seeing another pretty good movie that I’m sure people will enjoy enough to get excited for Vol. 3.
After a new Marvel Studios logo intro that wowed people in the audience, the film opens not with the Guardians, but in Missouri, where we see Kurt Russell, digitally made to look half his age, driving in a convertible in what I assume is the early 80s. He’s driving with a pretty blonde woman who if you aren’t distracted by how creepy Russell looks digitally de-aged, you’ll hear the name Quill being uttered, letting everyone in the audience who hasn’t seen the trailer know that Russell is Peter Quill’s biological father. We then cut to 34 years later as the Guardians are re-introduced in an opening credits sequence that mimics Vol. 1, only this time it’s Baby Groot (the voice of Diesel) dancing while his GOTG teammates — Peter Quill (Pratt), Rocket Racoon (the voice of Bradley Cooper), Drax the Destroyer (Bautista)and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) — fight a large alien creature that looks like a mutated naked mole rat, instead of Quill dancing on an uninhabited planet.
The reason why the Guardians fight the creature is because they were hired to protect some type of intergalactic batteries in exchange for Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillian) who is held prisoner by the alien race who own the batteries, a race called The Sovereign; human shaped species whose skin is gold colored, making them look like walking, talking Academy Awards with about the same level of self-importance. The gold colored race tries to kill the Guardians once they leave the planet because they realize that some of their precious batteries have been stolen. The crew ends up crash landing on a forest infested planet, barely surviving the Sovereign attack thanks to the help of Ego (Russell), a living planet who can put his consciousness into human shaped vessels. Reluctant at first, Quill gives in to the idea that he has finally found someone who is actually family; but where does that leave his new GOTG family?
Director James Gunn, working with a script written by him and Nicole Perlman, must really be into the Fast & Furious franchise — or maybe Diesel put some notes in the script — because the word “family” is mentioned so many times that I couldn’t help but think of the ongoing car race/super spy franchise that Kurt Russell is also part of this summer. Every character in this movie makes a reference to his or her lack of, or non-existent family; except Baby Groot, who while too adorable to kill, gets too much and too little to do at the same time. With a cast this large Gunn and Perlman at least try to give everyone decent screen time, but besides Quill’s family drama which drives the narrative, everyone else’s just seemed placeholder between the movies many jokes and action scenes. The worst offender of this is the arc involving Gamora and Nebula. I for one would like Gamora to have more to do than be Diane to Star Lords Sam, but everything about her and Nebulas story arc in this film doesn’t feel earned, and the same gone for Yondu, the blue skinned alien who is so overpowered he can perhaps take out half the MCU by hitting on Scarlett Johannson. He gets so much attention you thought he was as important to this franchise as Spock is to Star Trek.
Trying to tell people who are devoted to this and other Marvel films about the inconsistencies of the plot is like telling Groot to doing something right the first time. People come in to see the jokes, the bright colors and the music. In those departments, Gunn delivers. The jokes aren’t necessary better, the action isn’t necessary better, and the music choices… you get the idea. It isn’t any worse is what I’m trying to get at here. What worked in the first GOTG also works here: Pratt has more swagger than your average white male movie star, Bautista can still deliver really good deadpan one liners (the moments between him and Mantis, another new character are really great, as Mantis is earnest as Drax is blunt), and if there’s one added bonus to this film over the previous one, it’s Kurt Russell, because he still possesses all the charisma and acting ability he had back in the 80s, when he was an action hero. Russell’s only flaw is that he has to recite tired dialogue and follow third act HE’S REALLY EVIL storytelling conventions.
If you aren’t too disappointed by the second and third act, which fails to keep up the momentum set in the first, and if you want don’t mind sitting through a record number of end credit scenes, you’ll like Vol. 2. I personally think it’s a solid enough movie that I will check out Vol. 3 when it eventually comes out, if the MTA makes me miss the movie I really planned to see first.