Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (2017)

Let’s talk about Marvel Studios. Marvel movies are starting to become pretty formulaic aren’t they? You can pretty much write a checklist of things every Marvel movie will have and be guaranteed to be 100% accurate without even seeing it. No Marvel Studio movie will have a memorable opening theme. Go ahead and try to remember the main theme from the Avengers. Iron Man. Captain America. Could you hum their opening themes right now without looking them up on Youtube? Probably not.

Once you get past the opening, you know the main character will be witty and quick thinking. Always good for a clapback. You know the first act will be them ascending upwards, having a good time, solving a puzzle about “comic book plot” or what have you. You know there’s a turn where practically everything is against them. And you know it ends with some sort of closure, usually positive. There’s also a good chance there was some emotional bits tossed in for good measure. A well liked side character dying, never a main character or someone close to the heroes, but a solid side character that gets about five minutes of screen to their name. Every movie has stakes. Drastic stakes that make every movie almost feel like a leviathian mountain to climb. Every Marvel Studio film takes itself as seriously as they can stretch the audience’s ability to suspend their beliefs.

We know the plots of these movies before they roll out. We know the characters and how they act because they are all plays on the same personality traits. There’s really not any Marvel Studios character that doesn’t have a branch of the same personalty tree. They are specifically designed to have the widest audience appeal. Everyone’s a Han Solo, no one is a C3PO or Yoda.

And then there’s the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Guardians is not an exception to these rules. It follows the same patterns. Plots are predictable, all the main characters have personalities that aren’t very dissimilar to each other. This new movie does not change the winning Marvel formula.

What it does do though, is something sorely lacking in Marvel movies lately and that’s actually giving the movie heart. A sense that the filmmakers were attempting to inject life into a formula that has felt a bit mechanical lately. There’s a total distance from the serious atmosphere of the other films. The stakes don’t feel as high this time around, it feels like a stand alone comic book adventure. It’s such a blast of fresh air. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 is fucking fun. Its serious moments don’t have such weight on them. It allows itself to breathe in its setting. An over the top, unbelievable fantasy world of spaceships and talking animal assholes.

But it doesn’t extend itself so far as to disrespect the audience by treating its characters as goofy props to carry along the action scenes. Guardians 2 takes the time to really develop its cast. This movie fleshes out so much more of every cast member. Everyone develops this time around, and the film does an amazing job of making audiences empathize with them. The down moments of this film strike especially hard because the film took time previously to walk us through why a character acts a certain way or says things or feels a particular way. And while in most Marvel films this is attempted, it never quite works out as well as they’re angling because it’s hard to feel sad for someone when the whole world is about to be annihilated and, shit dude, pull yourself together and fucking go. We need to see the big climactic set piece action scene already.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 makes sure to take a time out from the plot, and really devote time to the characters. The plot takes a backseat, and that’s okay because the stakes don’t feel as high. So it’s okay to see characters struggle with their issues and feelings. We get to see and enjoy bonding between characters and in turn feel like we’re bonding with the characters too. It’s something that the Fast and the Furious series lives off of. Vehicular manslaughter with cars is cool, but it’s also cool when Dom takes scenes to talk about the importance of family and how much his means to him. Stakes in F&F films are never high enough where it feels like there’s not time to take a break for personal reflection. It’s a perfect balance.

That’s something that I think the Guardian series is trying to hit too. And after watching this second chapter, it’s definitely working. I don’t usually relate to anyone in other Marvel films, but I can relate to Rocket. I don’t usually feel empathy for the Avengers when they’re in a tough spot, but I feel for Star-Lord’s crew when they’re going through a rough patch of feels. It’d be fantastic if the other Marvel films could take a page out of this movie’s book and apply it to their entire cinematic universe, but I doubt that’s going to happen with the way Marvel’s written things so far. If anything, stakes will only ratchet up higher in each subsequent film. And that will probably result in some really entertaining movies, but they’ll probably start to contain less and less heart, and it will become more and more apparent that these films are not much different from Michael Bay’s Transformers. But as long as director James Gunn holds the reigns to Guardians of the Galaxy, I think they will continue to outshine every other franchise in the Marvel universe. I really can’t wait to see them again.

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