Occasionally I pen more than a social media’s post full of words on a movie I saw, and I felt this was warranted with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 because, well, I may be of the dissenting opinion that it was not as good as it could have been, and weaker than it’s predecessor. But in order to explain why, I must spoil the movie. So if you have not seen the movie, I suggest watching it before expanding the S-S-Spoilerinos selection below. Otherwise, you will be spoiled. No tears for your inability to heed warnings.
Like the first movie, GotGV2 opens with “Mixtape 2”, as seen in the end of the first film, this time to Groot dancing as the team fights an intergalactic space monster on a platform full of space batteries owned by a race called the Sovereign. The plot basically starts from here when Rocket steals some of these supposedly-valuable batteries, which angers the Sovereign and their leader, Ayesha, after Quill explained earlier that any slight against the Sovereign is punishable by death, especially the theft of batteries. The plot unfolds over the next two-and-quarter hours into an interspace adventure as Quill’s long-lost father finally locates him and reveals to him the origins of his birth and reason for being in space.
The overall look and feel of the film is largely retained from its predecessor, from its very flashy opening sequence intended for 3D-audiences to its dramatic final arc that given recent family circumstances hit home especially moreso than normal. We did not watch it in 3D, because frankly I think that doesn’t really lend itself anything useful to a plot-driven film, even in action sequences. But the film lacked punch, an important punch that sustained the middle of the first film. The problem is, the punch that was needed to keep the middle of this film going would probably not have served the plot, and it’s forcing me to conclude that the film’s plot did not make a good second entry into what may well be another ten films. Many reviewers likened this plot, and its underpinning setup, to the Fast and the Furious franchise as a way of suggesting that Marvel intends to draw this franchise and formula out beyond the usual two or three films most film properties enjoy.
So what did this plot do wrong? Well I am going to need to spoil quite a bit. So second warning, skip over the selection if you have not seen the film.S-S-Spoilerinos
2. Family and near-family ties between the Guardians themselves (Quill, Gamora, Draw, Rocket, and Groot) and others like Quill and Yondu, Yondu and the Ravengers, Gamora and Nebula, and Drax and, well, everyone.
3. Ego, Quill’s father and small-g-god with a fairly hefty, but quickly-spent payload of an origin story for Quill and company.
So let’s go in order here:
1. The Sovereign
Like the first film’s Nova Corp, The Sovereign are presented as a high-tech, but imperial society with a rigid caste system with which each person “born” into the society is assigned specific tasks and roles upon their lives. Quill explains that they are very methodical and particular about their customs and will punish, usually by death, any slight they deem unacceptable, especially by outsiders. Unlike Nova Corp, however, once Rocket sets off their queen, Ayesha, by stealing their valuable batteries they were hired to protect, they served as both the way in which Ego finds Quill, and to light up the final battle and showcase more Rocket-developed hardware.
The apt comparison to Tenchi Muyo’s Ayeka Masaki Jurai is almost uncanny, right down to other Sovereign characters featured during the spacefighting scenes, and even in the remote-control technology used. Even the two cultures, the Jurai and the Sovereign, operate similarly in their imperial roots, but it’s almost as of the big-G-God Washu spun a subset of the race off into the Guardians universe to marry them to the Borg in terms of efficiency, only retaining that snotty overtone Ayeka was famous for in the show in Ayesha, even down to her fascination (and maybe love interest) in Quill. A bonus scene in the end credit depicts her new creation, whom she calls “Adam”, but according to the Marvel wikis, may be Adam Warlock. I imagine this plot line will converge in the next Thanos-related film since Adam Warlock regards Thanos as an enemy in the comics.
The Fast and the Furious was probably the most apt description by many reviewers for describing this subplot of the film, depicted in the various relationships that were being discussed during transit, downtime, and even in major action sequences. Certainly, this helps character development, but I would admit the only real development we got from it was Quill and Yondu at the end, when Yondu explains his role in Ego’s offspring and how his defection and raising of Quill made him more of a father to Quill than Ego was. This made Yondu’s death especially powerful as a closer, and as someone who is used to commenting on the extremely pointless death-to-illicit-emotion-in-lifeless-character trope in anime, I was pleasantly satisfied with Yondu’s demise here given his role in the two films, although as I’ll detail in a bit, he stood to have served longer. The other relationships really felt forced, save for Rocket, who has always felt like an outside character trying to fit in, but lacking that grace, stays sarcastic and rude for the sake of brevity as the film moves from scene-to-scene. Quill and Gamora are no closer to each other than the last film, Gamora and Nebula basically played out Frozen in space, Drax is still Drax, though he might have found his non-dancer in newcomer Mantis. Groot is, well, Groot, though the end-credits scene was genuinely funny for his archetype.
But if you’re looking for character growth here, unfortunately you will not find much. Even the Fast movies did a little better at this, though not by much, and that’s your early indication Marvel and Disney intends to milk this franchise out with bare plots and little character development. Too much development in a long-run film franchise weakens it the further out you go. You either pack a punch in three, or become the next Shrek. Or in anime terms, Bleach
3. Good Ol’ Dad
I’m going to TLDR this here if you don’t want to keep reading: James Gunn blew his proverbial load all over this film without offering at least five minutes of foreplay, resulting in a film that might have felt good for a short time, but leaves you feeling extremely unsatisfying.
Sexual tension aside, Guardians ran with the father reveal AND the father-is-the-evil-plot, followed by the father-is-beaten-by-the-son all in one film. Star Wars took three films to set up Luke for his father reveal and eventual defeat, Guardians does it all in one, and badly. All of this would work for a third, maybe fourth film, after we’ve seen some more adventures of Quill and Co. with him still pondering the mystery of his father, not knowing who he was, but Gunn choose to blow the entire father reveal and dust-up in the second film, completely removing a reason to keep the mystery alive for a little while longer, especially if the end goal was to make more movies.
But what really get the rub is the original 616 Peter Quill’s father wasn’t a small-g-god, but an actual space emperor, the struggle for the galaxy remaining largely the same, but with more potential to be larger and more drawn out. My guess here is they did not want to overlap another villain on top of the first film’s Thantos, but considering the vastness of space and near-infinite possibilities, that would have been a better plot for a second movie, finding out you’re the son of a space emperor, meeting him, refusing to take your place ruling the galaxy, and setting up a third or fourth film to confront him in a major battle. Instead, Gunn those the easy route of giving us a throwaway villain with a throwaway plot that you could kind of see coming from the start, especially as other characters pile on the foreshadowing from the start of his showing up.
A better plot would have been having Quill chasing breadcrumbs about his father’s whereabouts and origin story interspersed throughout the movie as they’re on the run from the Sovereign, while Gamora deals with Nebula, Rocket deals with everyone, Groot is Groot, and Drax laughing at his own terrible jokes. Guardians of the Galaxy is much like the Star Wars expanded universe in that there is plenty of space and space-faring worlds and races to explore while you’re focused on the story. I’m not sure if Gunn felt that doing something like that would result in a slower-paced film, but it’s not as if fans rejected the first film which had that style of pacing. The first film hinged a lot of itself on its characters, witty one-liners, and space action. That makes the second movie more difficult in that you have your characters, now what do you do with them? I KNOW, LET’S DRAG KURT RUSSELL INTO THIS. Sylvester Stallone got off easy.
No, I’m afraid the main sticking point for me on this movie was the father arc. It came too soon for me this time around. I would have rather seen this as a third, maybe fourth film. I think we needed to see more Star-Lord in Space doing some wacky adventures and seeing the dynamics of him with the other Guardians before we could reasonably begin to unpack his heritage, origins, and reason for being in the universe. Worse still, we’re losing one of the franchise’s best character, Yondu, who certainly deserves this end character-wise, but Michael Rooker plays the part so well it’s going to be a shame he is not around longer to enjoy his whistling-dixie and I’M MARY POPPINS Y’ALL attitude.
Looking past the movie’s weaknesses, it was still a solid Marvel entry in its sort-of expanded, off-the-path superhero universe, the kind currently kicking ass on Netflix with Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. Unfortunately, I kind of have to wonder if things like Guardians of the Galaxy might have fared better on the small-screen on-demand universe than the big-screen. The Netflix-driven format has allowed Marvel to play with how to construct a show in a season and sell it whole-hog, as opposed to a much larger-budget film or drip-feeding it over television each week, even though that has worked out well for them with Agents of SHIELD. I think Guardians would make a great television series, but getting that cast is probably not going to happen, even though Chris Pratt got his start on network television and would be no stranger to it. It might make an even better animated series in the way Star Wars: The Clone Wars boosted the franchise’s meta-universe after the prequel-trilogy.
But the reason it is important to consider this film alongside Marvel’s other entries is that their portfolio of films is staggering, having ballooned exponentially over the last decade to almost every property they own, completely dethroning DC as they struggle to find someone able to write and direct a good Batman or Superman film, falling back on Wonder Woman for this summer. Marvel has an impressive lineup of movies, and Guardians stands out as one of them because it’s quirky, it’s different, and Chris Pratt brought his upgraded physique, charm, and that bumbling sense of humor we loved from Parks and Recreation to the role of Star-Lord, a much better-named hero than Taser-Face. I’d hope Marvel remembers this as they continue to move forward, because like Atari in the early 80’s, they risk seeing their empire collapse if they continue to shortchange their strongest franchises with weaker-plot entries to the series. Even Avengers and Iron Man films are starting to wane, to the point where Infinity War will no doubt showcase everything they have in an effort to placate to millennial attention-spans and their need for OMG ___ IS IN THIS MOVIE like how they put Spidey in the last Avengers film. Resorting to fanservice means you frankly suck as a writer and world-builder. Folks who have read my anime reviews in the past know I love a good fanservice show, but not at the expense of actual storytelling, plot, and characters. Either be pure fanservice, or don’t.
TLDR: Guardians starts out great, stalls out in the middle, and finishes strong amidst a weak plot and awkward character interactions.
Worth Your Theater Dollars? Yes, though maybe for manatee price by now given its fourth week out. Or wait for DVD/BD.
Watch For: Chris Pratt, Rocket, I AM GROOT, and comedic space action
Don’t Watch For: Weak Daddy-Issues plot, the tsundere sisters Gamora and Nebula, and Drax laughing at dumb things.
Also, keep your eyes out for two Stan Lee scenes, one during the film, and one in the end credits. And watch through all of the end credits, there are a few bonus scenes worth seeing.