“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”
Directed by James Gunn
It’s taken me almost twenty-four hours since I viewed “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” to ponder and answer the question of why I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have: Could it not live up to the hilarious and surprising heights of the first installment, or was it just not very good? And, while I think that’s a valid question (which I will attempt to answer further down the page), I don’t think either of those are the main reason I left so disappointed.
No, I believe that falls to something a friend of mine said about the recent glut of Marvel character-based films, which, at first I didn’t agree with: that they’ve all become so damned heavy and “important”. I’ve always believed that the dividing line between Marvel films (good) and DC films (bad) was Marvel’s ability to keep the funny/sarcastic/lighter side of these characters in play, whereas DC couldn’t spot a joke from a mile away, so thoroughly locked up in their self-important ivory tower as they are. But maybe my friend is on to something. Based on our understanding of the Guardians characters, one would expect to find a wild roller coaster ride with lots’o’laughs. Instead, at its core, the film is a very serious treatise on the nature and nurture of multi-generational family systems. I know this because I cried at the end. CRIED! In fact, I cried harder in those final five minutes, and with more gusto, than I laughed during the previous two hours and fifteen minutes combined! In this way, on its own and out of context of the first, the film succeeds. It is an affecting film. Even a sad one. But, I mean, is that really why we went to the theater?
The problem with the “funny” isn’t the script…or even the dialogue (although neither are terrific). It’s all down to that word…the word that kills most sophomore efforts in a big franchise…”expectation”. The characters in “Guardians” became both beloved and relatable pretty damned quick, as did their relationship to one another. So, alas, when the jokes do nothing more than reiterate those same elements, they are bound to fall flat – we feel the lines coming before they are spoken. This isn’t to say there aren’t funny moments…there are several…but they are bits, physical gags and old-fashioned setups, and, alas, they are sparse. More bits, and less snappy one-upsmanship would’ve been much more fun.
As for the direction…it is a long movie…but to be honest, it didn’t feel like it, in spite of the above. I was engaged in both the characters, the stakes and the story throughout (when a bad line didn’t throw me out of the picture). It helped that the film possesses perhaps the best and most immersive visual fx we’ve seen in any film, even if they are utterly fantastical. And the other production elements all add up to a fine visual/aural feast – although I have absolutely no recollection of the score. (And about the music: the film is so filled with “70’s Gold” tracks, that, by the end, you feel like you’re watching a “TimeLife Presents…” infomercial. It gets old, pretty quick.)
The acting is fine. Nothing to report on the old characters…they all wear their uniforms well. It’s not the fault of Bradley Cooper (Rocket) or Dave Bautista (Drax) that they are asked to loudly laugh at the insults (or worse, their own jokes) over and over again, I’m assuming to remind us that we should be laughing, as well. We aren’t.
But there are some performances that do stand out, probably because they are new characters or play a more prominent role than in the first. Elizabeth Debicki, who I didn’t love in “The Night Manager”, KILLS it here. Asked to play a fantastical and alien representation of a youthful segment of American culture, she is hilarious, and frustrating and winning. Michael Rooker has a more significant role in “Volume 2”, and also knocks it out of the park. But the only reason the film works on ANY level is down to Karen Gillan’s Nebula. Even more than Kurt Russell (who plays an equally pivotal, if thankless role), without her commitment to the reality of the story, we are left with nothing but a pretty picture and a couple chuckles. I’d go see a movie about her character’s journey tomorrow. Finally, a shout out to an actress named Pom Klementieff, who, as Mantis, adds much needed subtlety to the proceedings.
So…to answer my original question…I’d have to go with the latter…that expectation is the culprit here. They’ll learn from their mistakes in this one and, I hope, will straighten it all out for the already announced third installment. But it’s a fine summer blockbuster. Just bring your 3D glasses, a box of tissues and lowered expectations, and you just might have a better time than I did.
Written on 5/15/2017