Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
This was the beginning of my review of “Guardians of the Galaxy” three years ago:
We know how the roller coaster goes. Our heroes, misfits all, fight more with each other than with the bad guys, but eventually, through a series of adventures and misadventures, they abandon the more pungent aspects of their personalities for the greater good and come together for the final, big battle, with swirling dervishes going pew-pew-pew, and, somehow, against impossible odds ... win!
That’s pretty much the description for the sequel, too.
With the original I asked the follow-up, “Do they make the roller-coaster ride fun?” I answered yes.
The sequel? Eh.
Sure, there are good bits. I particularly like the scene with the empath Mantis (Pom Klementieff)—who looks like a manga character as insect, all big eyes and probing antennae—who innocently reveals that our hero, Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), has feelings for the sexy green alien, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), causing Drax (Dave Bautista), his muscle-bound compatriot, to totally crack up. He points at him and shouts: “She just told everyone you deepest, darkest secret! You must be so embarrassed!” Even more brilliantly, he tells Mantis, bouncing up and down in his seat, “Do me! Do me!” I’ll never forget seeing that in the “Guardians” trailer before “Star Wars: Rogue One” last December, and how much my nephew, Ryan, laughed. It brought him such joy. Which brought me such joy.
There’s a lot of that kind of humor in the movie: our heroes as kids/pets (Baby Groot), or innocent adolescents (Drax), or rough/tough adolescents (Rocket Raccoon). The adult in the room is Gamora. The one woman. The rest are boys.
Have the Guardians reverted? Obviously Groot has—he’s Baby Groot now—but so did Drax. In the first movie, his main bit was an inability to comprehend metaphor. Even when Rocket explained that everything went over his head, he responded, somewhat affronted, “Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too fast.” Here, metaphor isn’t mentioned. Instead, he simply blurts out inappropriate comments. But at least they're funny. It's why he’s my favorite character in the movie.
You know who isn’t my favorite character? Star Lord. “Vol. 2” is a star-driven vehicle, and the main plot centers around that star (Peter’s reunion with his father, a Celestial named Ego, played with brio by Kurt Russell), but Peter/Pratt is surprisingly passive and unfunny throughout. He lets everyone else get the good lines. I don’t know if it’s because Pratt is super magnanimous or if he’s already bored with it.
I was often bored with it. How many blaster fights do we need? Worse, they’re battles without consequence, since we know none of our favorite characters will die. Until they telegraph the great sacrifice of the one who will: Yondu (Michael Rooker), Peter’s asshole surrogate father, who is here redeemed. He gives up himself to save his only son. You know the quote from “Wizard of Oz”: “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard”? Writer-director James Gunn seems to strive for that feeling with Star-Lord. He’s always looking for his biological father (Ego), while his real dad (Yondu) was always in his own back yard. But it's forced. It's not good. Plus “Oz” gave us great songs.
So does “Vol. 2,” I suppose. The movie doubles down on a conceit of the first film: traversing the galaxy in the future, our heroes rely on low-tech entertainment (a Walkman) and forgotten Top 40 hits of the ’70s. That second cassette includes ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky,” Looking Glass’ “Brandy,” Glen Campbell’s “Southern Nights” and “Come a Little Bit Closer” by Jay and the Americans. We also get more '80s-era pop-culture references: David Hasselhoff, “Moonlighting,” Heather Locklear. I found these more annoying than the songs.
I did like the Zune joke. Before the final battle, Ego crushes Peter’s Walkman, so in the denouement, Yondu’s loyal lieutenant, Kraglin (Sean Gunn, James’ brother), hands him a replacement, the Zune, which he says everyone listens to on Earth. Big laughs from the Seattle crowd. It was nice to see Sylvester Stallone, too, but he shows up to no purpose. And what’s with that credits sequence with Ving Rhames and Michelle Yeoh? Are they a team? They’re not talking spin-off, are they? Please, no.
Again, “Vol. 2” is kind of fun, has some laughs, but there's too much pew-pew. There are too many battles without consequence. One wonders if there will ever be consequences for all of our battles without consequence.