“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” feels like it could be the B-side to the first film. It’s a little bit weirder, a little less commercial (Baby Groot aside) and a little less catchy.
The gang’s all here. You’ve got the self-titled Star-Lord—Peter Quill to his friends—the roguish orphan whose mix-tape equipped Walkman is a proxy for his late mother. You’ve got Gamora, the lime-skinned, no nonsense, “deadliest woman in the galaxy,” who shares an “unspoken” relationship with Quill. You’ve got Drax the Destroyer, who, in the first film, is a simple-minded, well-meaning brute on a path of revenge; in this film, he might as well be called Drax the Dangerfield, because he does less punching and more punchlines. Rounding out the crew are fan-favorites, Rocket and Groot, the snide raccoon and the foliage of few words.
These characters are what made the first film stand out from the plethora of big-budget offerings. The emphasis wasn’t on the disorienting action or the perfunctory checking off of plot points, but on the damaged, cheated, spurned gaggle of lovable losers who are greater than the sum of their parts. With Vol.2, James Gunn, writer and director, appears to have recognized this as a strength and leaned into it, but at what expense?
Gunn is so infatuated with his characters and putting them in comedy vignettes that he never creates a rhythm that the film can move to, which is ironic, considering the Guardians’ love for the soft rock of the 70s. A film that doesn’t move comes off as directionless, which can result, as it does here, in an over-sized, meandering first act that bleeds into the second and third. Not every film needs to adhere to a traditional three-act structure—I’m all for breaking the rules—but there still needs to be some kind of momentum to push things forward.
Perhaps, the lack of a clear threat or objective for the Guardians is partially responsible for the pacing issues, as they spend most of their screen-time hanging out in an intergalactic penthouse, accomplishing nothing. When things finally hit the fan, it’s another one of those Marvel villains who have an indecipherable plan that’s just another spin on blowing things up. I imagine a meeting of villains, where they’re gathered around a table beside a chalkboard that reads, “Evil ideas: blow people up, blow buildings up, blow planets up, blow Dairy Queens up.” This is disappointing, considering Marvel Studios’ last film, “Doctor Strange,” had such an inventive way of handling its villain. I thought we were beyond this.
Pacing issues aside, the charm of the first film is very much intact, and as such, Vol. 2 works surprisingly well moment to moment. Baby Groot is as adorable as you might have feared, even when he’s assaulting innocent creatures for, supposedly, looking at him funny. Dave Bautista’s deadpan delivery as Drax steals the show once again—after calling a woman ugly, he naively pivots by saying, “When you’re ugly and someone loves you, it means they love you for who you are. Beautiful people don’t know who to trust.” This makes her feel better.
Something should be said for Gunn’s visual style, which is unlike anything else in the cinematic realm. It’s got that neon, groovy color palette of 70s comic books, where you just want to touch everything because everything looks so fun to touch. In Gunn’s use of special effects, realism isn’t the goal. In fact, the opposite is true: the goal is to spur the imagination into the unthinkable, the unrealistic.
Due to a lack of trajectory, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2” is a step down from its predecessor, but it’s not without the same charm and swagger that made that first film so refreshing. As some of the characters find out, it’s hard to hate the Guardians, even when they rip you off.
3 out of 5 stars