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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

May 5, 2017
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, each sub-series has its own role to play. The first installment of Guardians of the Galaxy is that, even more than the rest of them, its place was to have fun. And sure, even when the MCU is in “serious” mode with its Captain America movies it’s still easily more fun than the slogs that DC has been putting forward. But Guardians is in another realm altogether, and Volume 2 shows no sign of slowing up.

Writer/director James Gunn is back after doing a great job the first time around, and he’s already tapped for a future Volume 3, which he’s more than earned. But this time, in an uncommon move for sequels, he goes smaller, abandoning the travelogue form that introduced us to Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Groot (Vin Diesel), the last of whom has recovered from the climax of the last movie as an adorable ten-inch seedling. Instead he goes smaller, with a character-focused entry that delves deeper into each non-vegetal team member’s story.

Of course the most prominent thread belongs to Peter, the question of whose parentage was left a mystery the last time around. When have daddy issues NOT been the go-to excuse for male characters’ emotions? Predictably enough, when the deadbeat dad from the ’70s does show up he’s some smarmy guy with Kurt Russell hair and a truly massive ego, likable on the surface as long as everything goes his way, but twisted and rotten deep down at his core. And despite the natural desire of an abandoned son to yearn for a connection with his father, the obvious lesson to be meted out is that sometimes family has little to do with parentage.

In terms of the larger-scale MCU structure, the more interesting arc belongs to Gamora, whose rivalry with adoptive sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) flares up. The two had been forced to fight each other as children by their adoptive father, Thanos —
the giant, purple, Josh Brolin-voiced guy who doesn’t show up in this installment but will be the big bad of the upcoming Infinity War. Gamora always got the upper hand back then, and now that they’re out from under their father’s thumb, Nebula is out for revenge.

Drax gets some of the best character work here, albeit with little in the way of an arc. His literal-mindedness could be a one-note joke in Vol. 1, but here he gets some depth and shading. He tends to pair off with Mantis (Pom Klementieff), the saucer-eyed codependent empath that Peter’s dad has gaslit into doing all his emotional labor, and their complementary naïvetés play off of each other nicely.

And then there’s Rocket, the foul-tempered, genetically-engineered raccoon trapped in a world he never made — wait, no, that’s Howard the Duck, who has a couple more cameos this time. His selfish idiocy is what brings the wrath of the high Sovereign priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) down on the team, along with the outcast team of Ravagers led by Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) that first abducted Peter from Earth as a boy. Rocket, even more than the rest, embodies the bickering and infighting that almost defines the team, and yet he’s only just starting to realize that a fight is not necessarily the end of a relationship.

All of this is what makes Vol. 2 go, but what really makes it work is the same sense of off-beat fun that suffused Vol. 1. Gunn, along with cinematographer Henry Braham, creates some of the most gorgeous, colorful shots in the MCU. The Day-Glo rainbow puts to shame the grimdark, gunmetal-grey palette all too often taken as a stand-in for grown-up gravity. More than any other comic-book blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy refuses to apologize for its roots.

But of course what really sets it apart from the rest is something the comics themselves could never manage: the “Awesome Mix” needle-drop soundtrack, courtesy of Peter’s treasured mix tapes. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack album for about a week now, and I have to say it’s better than the first one. Glen Campbell, Fleetwood Mac, Electric Light Orchestra, and Jay and the Americans provide sometimes surprisingly effective backdrops for action sequences. Cat Stevens may be a little on-the-nose for a wistful scene, but I can’t think of a better choice. And while I’ve always loved “Brandy”, I have to admit that it’s a natural fit for love-em-and-leave-em douchebags.

Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is light, frothy, and maybe even toned down a bit from Vol. 1. Still, it manages to deliver better than any of its peers is a sense of whiz-bang glee that “serious-minded” comic book adaptations dismiss as kids’ stuff. But yes, this is kids’ stuff, and what’s wrong with that? There are a lot of annoying things about being a kid, but the easy access to wonder and joy is not among them. When a movie like this comes along offering them, I’m not going to turn my nose up at it.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: close, but it doesn’t quite pass.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Typhoon Jim permalink
    May 18, 2017 13:29

    I still believe that they should dispense with the trappings and have a space opera series where it is literally Chris Pratt’s character from Parks and Recreation in space.

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