Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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Unfortunately, I had a meeting last night and won’t be able to watch last night’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. until later.  Consequently, here is my full review of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.  If you have not seen the movie yet, I would encourage you to check out my non-spoiler review from last week, and then go see the movie!

If you are still reading, I will assume that you’ve already seen the movie or don’t care about spoilers.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 picks up a few months after the first one with the Guardians continuing to work together and picking up jobs that involve fighting off galactic threats for money.  When the movie opens, they have been hired by the Sovereign (a play on the Universal Church of Truth from the comics) to stop an inter-dimensional beast intent on attacking their extremely valuable batteries.  The rest of the Guardians working together (and Drax doing his own thing) kill the beast while Baby Groot dances adorably in the foreground.  However, the Guardians are marked for death when Rocket steals a bunch of the batteries, leading to a galaxy-hopping adventure in which they are chased down by the Ravagers while Quill attempts to unravel the mystery of his heritage.  In the end they team up with a semi-reformed Nebula, Yondu, and newcomer Mantis to save the galaxy once more.

That’s the plot in a nutshell, though it’s a bit more complicated than that.

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The story itself is really straightforward—in that way it is similar to the first one—as the Guardians kind of stumble their way into the galaxy-threatening event they must prevent.  However, this simplicity lends itself extremely well to the kind of contained, character-driven sequel that Marvel has been making for a while with varying degrees of success.  Looking back at the Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor sequels, all of them to some degree isolate the hero and put him up against a very personal threat (Vanko is Tony’s opposite as the son of his father’s spurned business partner, Hydra is a very personal threat for Steve, and the Thor sequel’s conflict puts him up against his father’s grief-driven stubbornness) as a way to develop the character beyond the characterization from the first movie.  However, where the aforementioned sequels (namely, Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World) fail is in their inability to really personalize the relationship with the main villain (Vanko and Malekith, respectively).  That is most definitely not a failing on the part of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2:  the main villain of this movie is Ego the Living Planet, who is the father that Peter Quill has been searching his entire life to find.  When Peter acknowledges that Ego really is his father, he begins to move past his tough exterior and open himself up to those around him, including a number of touching scenes with Gamora.  And when Ego reveals his plan—using Peter to help him spread himself (like a cancerous tumor) across the galaxy, in the same way that he created the tumor that killed Peter’s mother—Peter must learn that his friends really are the family he’s always wanted.  All of this is wrapped up in the ‘80s nostalgia of the pop culture references and music that made the first movie so much fun—there’s even a sequence of Peter forming a giant Pac-Man that attacks a giant Kurt Russell.

Another definite benefit of this method of creating the sequel is that the supporting characters all get their moments.  Of the original Guardians, Gamora and Rocket receive the most character development—Rocket actually has more than Peter—which comes because James Gunn decides to separate both of them from the rest of the team and pair them up with their foils.  Gamora has multiple scenes in which her relationship with her adoptive sister Nebula is explored, culminating in an action sequence in which Nebula tries to kill her, only to have Gamora save her.  When Gamora demands to know why she wants her dead, Nebula bursts out that her anger at Gamora comes from their shared childhood/training under Thanos:  Gamora was always trying to win and be the best; Nebula only ever wanted a sister.  And every time Gamora won their competitions, Thanos would replace another piece of Nebula.  By the end of the movie, Nebula is no longer the villain—she’s the broken and hurting child who only ever wanted love—and Gamora is more than willing to open herself up to Nebula and show her that sisterly love.

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Of all the characters in the movie, Rocket and Yondu get the best character development because they get to play off each other.  Both exude a tough exterior to hide their deep-seated insecurities, and both specialize at pushing their friends away to avoid getting hurt by them.  Yondu did this by breaking the Ravager code, which led to Stakar (Sylvester Stallone) banishing him from the Ravagers; Rocket did this by stealing batteries he didn’t need and getting himself and his friends marked for death.  We also learn from this why Yondu chose to save Peter instead of handing him over to Ego:  he actually cared about Peter and realized what would happen if he delivered him.  Rocket and Yondu form a very close bond over the course of their adventure together, making it all the more heart-wrenching when Yondu chooses to stay behind and save Peter (his “son”) and tells Rocket that he needs to keep Baby Groot safe (his “son”).  Likewise, Peter saying good-bye to Yondu is a surprisingly tender moment, both when Yondu dies and when Peter gives his eulogy.  I honestly didn’t expect Rocket and Yondu to be the stars of a movie about Peter meeting his father!

Before moving on, we do also need to talk about Kraglin, who in the first movie was nothing more than Yondu’s “sidekick,” but really comes into his own in this one.  That he inadvertently started the mutiny against Yondu and then helped them escape was a good way to give him a little independence from Yondu.  That at the end he receives Yondu’s fin and arrow was a nice touch, especially if this means he will be returning in the future as a member of the team.

Having said all of this, there are a few issues in terms of character development.  Drax does not receive much more character development in this one than he had in the first movie.  His character doesn’t particularly need it, but it is still a little disappointing.  Mantis also seems like she’s only there as a plot device:  she tells them about Ego’s plans, and then she puts Ego to sleep long enough for the Guardians to fight off the Sovereign fleet.  She and Drax get a couple of shared scenes, but they don’t do too much to build their characters—at least not by comparison to the other pairings mentioned.

I really enjoyed all of the action sequences in the movie, though something about watching Yondu, Rocket, and Baby Groot massacre the mutineers was a little less than amusing.  I understand that none of them are exactly saints—and the mutineers’ treatment of Baby Groot did not endear them to anyone—but that felt a bit gratuitous.

All the humorous beats were there in this movie, but it was surprisingly much more dramatic than the first one.  In fact, the cosmic-set Marvel comedy this year actually looks like it’s going to be the Thor sequel instead of the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel!  I’m not complaining, but it is a bit startling.

I will talk more about the original (comic book) Guardians of the Galaxy team in a couple weeks, but for now I did enjoy the way that they set them up for a future appearance.  I had been expecting them to be slightly different—an actual hero team rather than just the captains of the other Ravager factions—and that they would play a bit more of a role in this movie, but I understand why they did it the way that they did.  Hopefully when they appear again we will get to see more out of them.

I also enjoyed seeing Howard the Duck make another cameo appearance; hopefully at some point both he and Cosmo will get a little more attention in the MCU!

This was definitely a worthy successor to the original Guardians of the Galaxy and offered a much more personal look at the characters and their personalities.  I am really excited to see them in Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers 4 (I assume), and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (which has been sort-of announced).

What was your favorite part of the movie?  Which characters do you want to see return for the next movie?  Let me know in the comments!

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