Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017)
First off let us take a moment to reflect upon this movie’s very title. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 has a very episodic ring to it and gives the audience the impression that we are experiencing another tale from an epic series rather than a just another humdrum sequel. Semantics are at times a big deal and I think it’s relevant that Guardians of the Galaxy is marketed this way. It really seems to tie in with the franchises comic book roots.
As for the movie itself, well once again we find that seventies and eighties popular music dominate not only the soundtrack but seem to actively shape the narrative. I’d even go so far as to say that the writers and director may have a deliberately picked the songs in question and then reversed engineered the narrative around them. Not that I’m complaining, as it all works incredibly well. There’s an opening battle with a space Cephalopod set against Mr Blue Sky by the Electric Light Orchestra which pretty much sets the tone. The soundtrack then goes on to feature Fleetwood Mac, Glen Campbell and even David Hasselhoff. Brandy by Looking Glass, is also used liberally in key scenes.
The plot is somewhat arbitrary because it’s merely a vehicle to develop the central characters. Marvel press releases have managed to distil it down to the following. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mysteries of Peter Quill's true parentage. Old foes become new allies and fan-favorite characters from the classic comics will come to our heroes' aid as the Marvel cinematic universe continues to expand. Let it suffice to say that the main plot device is the Starlord AKA Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) discovering that his father is none other than a Celestial being called Ego (Kurt Russell). Cue Mr Russel revisiting Snake Plissken’s greatest hits. They even use digital effect to de-age him for flashback sequences.
The movie then proceeds with what appears to be two distinct storylines One feature Quill, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista) and another set around Baby Groot, Rocket Raccoon and Nebula (Karen Gillan) as they fall foul of space pirate Taserface (Chris Sullivan). The return of Yondu (Michael Rooker), Quill’s blue-skinned mentor from the first movie brings the various strands together. I was actually surprised by the genuinely nuanced and dare I say, moving story arc director James Gunn brings to the table. But then again it was the depth of character and the credibility of their friendship that made the first movie so good. It’s all here once again.
Jaems Gunn cut his teeth in the movie industry as a protégé of Lloyd Kaufman, at Troma Entertainment. Thus, he has a knack for low budget creativity. Yet none of these skills are lost when translated to a $200 million franchise driven blockbuster. Throwaways scenes, small character foibles and telling dialogue elevate Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 above the usual sterile and dry narratives of other entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Gun gives us not only the thrill and action we crave but does it in a far more colourful and playful universe. It is such a breath of fresh air to dispense with the flawed and brooding anti-hero and to have them replaced by the chipper and likeable Peter Quill.
It would be remiss of me if I didn’t take a moment to mention Dave Bautista and his incredibly strong performance as Drax. As a character with no sense of sarcasm, or understanding of verbal metaphor there is great scope for humour. Yet because Bautista seems to have an innate sense of comic timing many throwaways gags grow to become much more. I cannot remember the last time I last out loud so much in a cinema. Baby Groot is also a source of great amusement, despite his single line of dialogue. As with the first movie the balance between action, humour and pathos is skilfully handled.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is certainly a robust and entertaining second instalment and shows the flexibility of the MCU, when skilled film makers take the reins. The vivid production design, with its explosion of colour and the playful use of popular music, paints a vibrant universe, despite the peril and impending doom of the story. The movie at times looks like the artwork you’d find on a seventies progressive rock album. If there is a weakness in the production it would be in the film’s final act, where the surfeit of characters do seem to slow the proceeding a little.
Yet, at its heart Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is a further exploration of the complexity and importance of family and identity. It explores themes that are common to all viewers and does it so honestly and with a great deal of affection. As a result, I was thoroughly entertained and uplifted. It’s been a while since a movie has done that for me. So, I wholeheartedly hope that all concerned can maintain this emotional momentum for the next instalment of Guardians of the Galaxy.