One of the reasons the original “Guardians of the Galaxy” works so well is that it, at the time it was released, provided an entirely different feel from other movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Having just rewatched it, I remain impressed by its audacity, by its daring to have fun in a way that some other MCU movies don’t, and for just looking amazing.
What is less impressive about the movie is the story that it offers. For a whiz-bang movie that hops across the galaxy with some pretty great characters, the story is less than stellar. It has its moments, but it is a movie that survives on feel not tale.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” fails for the reason that the original succeeds – “Guardians 2” is a return to the world (galaxy) and feel and look of the first one, except that now it isn’t fresh and different, it’s more of what we got last time out. The most notable difference is that the story here in the second movie is substantially worse. This is a movie that runs over two and a quarter hours and feels a whole lot longer. I was shocked seeing Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) dance in that early sequence in the first “Guardians,” but when a dance starts here in the sequel it feels like someone decided having a dance was a necessity and, worse, my only thought was “I wonder who will be dancing in the third movie.”
The stakes offered up in James Gunn’s sequel feel so incredibly low for a superhero movie, especially when a planet was threatened in the previous entry. Here we are treated to what feels like several “B” or “C” storylines, but no “A,” no main, overarching, tale. The big story is supposed Quill meeting his dad, Ego (Kurt Russell), and while that goes on for a long time, much of what is included in it could easily be excised.
The thing of it is though that the stakes aren’t low in this movie, and the overarching nature of the Ego story (not what we get most of the time from it) is crucial. Far more living creatures are threatened here than were ever in danger last time out.
Yup, the stakes are higher, but, because the movie spends so much time on asides and trying to be cute and clever and moving pieces around, by the time we find out what the evil threat truly is, it’s difficult to care. This problem is made worse because our heroes aren’t anywhere near most of those who are threatened, they’re operating from way far off.
Pushing that to the side, relatively early in the film, there are hundreds (thousands?) of ships chasing our heroes, with Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Quill fighting over who should pilot their ship through the deadly asteroid field (not that they’re traditional asteroids) in order to escape their pursuers. We are told just how difficult it ought to be to successfully navigate the field and my instant thought was “oh, so we’re doing ‘Empire’ now. Why not, I’m watching this on May 4th, might as well borrow from ‘Star Wars.'” The comparisons with “Empire” don’t stop there though. Ego’s planet is a thinly veiled Cloud City and what ought to be a safe harbor hides a deadly secret.
“Guardians 2” is “Empire,” but without the weight of that story, and it lacks the weight because it’s too busy trying to be cute and clever and shoving Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) into our faces, with less effect each time. I don’t know when Drax (Dave Bautista) went from being a deadly killer who wasn’t good with metaphors to comic relief, but that’s what he is in this movie and nothing else. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is relegated to will they-won’t they love interest to Quill along with continuing her spat with her sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan). The ways in which the movie tells these stories makes the conclusions obvious and easy from the start,
“Guardians 2” feels like a setup for future Marvel movies more than it does anything else. There are brief mentions of Thanos and the Infinity Stones to let us all know what’s coming down the line and at least two or three ways shown that could bring the Guardians into “Infinity War.”
And for all that, there are moments where I laughed, and there are moments that are well done and the characters, by and large, remain likable (save Drax, his being a joke really put a damper on the character even if his laugh is great). Michael Rooker is particularly good as Yondu. The music is enjoyable and the effects are great.
The experience though is all more than a little ho-hum.
photo credit: Marvel Studios