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David Poland

By David Poland

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (spoiler-free)

Guardians 1 2Guardians 2 is the epitome of a sequel to an unexpected smash hit.

James Gunn brought an esthetic to the first film that is widely accepted as key to the film’s success. He even shared credit for the screenplay (with Nicole Perlman).

And so, with the sequel, Gunn gets the room to run. An extra million here or there? Great. An even more complicated storyline than the original? Hell, audiences loved that convoluted ride… not going to argue much. Etcetera. Elements that audiences loved in the original? Pile ’em on!

Of course, any sequel (particularly those not planned as sequels before the original was produced) suffers from familiarity. The excitement of the new, especially unexpected the good kind of new, is a huge benefit that few sequels can find. The Alien movies were unique, for instance, as Aliens had a wildly different tone and style than the original. Likewise, Cameron benefited from major technological advances and a budget many times the size of the original in going from The Terminator to T2: Judgment Day.

In the case of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, there is all the stuff you loved the last time… times five. Baby Groot is relentlessly cute and Grooty. Rocket has a bigger role here and seems to have been improved technically. (Nothing wrong with Rocket the last time, but the CG work seems able to relax and make him feel even more just another character.) Remember how funny it was when Drax laughed hard at something in the last time? His sense of humor has developed so that we get a big barrel-chested laugh every 15 minutes or so.

Gamora has lost some of her edge, as she has become more of a reflection in Quill’s eyes than a fully formed character. And Quill is… pretty much the same, though they have upped the ante on his tools a bit… or at least it felt that way.

Holding over from the first film in more significant roles are Yondu and Nebula.

And then they added three more major characters: Pom Klementieff as Mantis, Kurt Russell as Ego, and Elizabeth Debicki as Ayesha. If you are like me, you might think that Ayesha is being played by Masters’ wife from “Masters of Sex,” but I was wrong.

guaridan masters

Also… Stallone in about three minutes of screentime (leading to Guardians 3). Fun to see him. Not doing much here.

Avoiding spoilers, the reason why most of these non-Guardian characters are in the film is the same… to continue the theme of family. More family. And of course, as the major sub-theme of the original was Star Lord’s mommy, in this film, the major sub-theme is…

Mostly, it is still fun and the excesses are pretty harmless. I LOVE Mantis as a character and wish she had more active screen time and dialogue. Full-on Groot should be back for the next movie. I am always happy to spend movie time with Michael Rooker.

The significant problem is, surprise, another kind of overreach. You see, there are things that play really well in comic books that are almost impossible to pull off in a live-action feature film. And Mr. Gunn proves that here. It’s not that it’s HORRIBLE. It’s not. Not even terrible. But one of the big ideas in this film just doesn’t work. It never becomes clear and clean enough to work.

You’ll know when it happens.

This idea is really, really cool – triply if you are stoned – but whatever takes something from a cool thing that you imagine in your head when you read (or look at comic) just doesn’t come together.

Aside from that, the action gets muddled, though there are a couple of exceptionally good action gags. But weirdly, there are also a few that seem clear and obvious but get muddled up.

There are cases where I prefer the second, more indulgent movie. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom comes to mind. Mad Max. Magnum Force. T2. Empire. Wolverine. (Godfather II is not on the table.)

But Guardians V2 isn’t Bad Boys 2 or Ghostbusters 2, either. It’s more in line with Beverly Hills Cop II or Die Hard II. Familiar… some good new (bigger) jokes… but just not fun the way the originals were.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 isn’t a clunker. That would be way too harsh. When this review tomatoes, it should be Fresh… because there isn’t a rating for “still looks good, but is a bit softer than you like your tomatoes so maybe you’ll just mix it in a salad or make a sauce of it.”

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8 Responses to “Review: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (spoiler-free)”

  1. EtGuild2 says:

    Great writeup. Saw it last night and I feel the same. Perhaps audiences will like it more as there’s nothing inherently wrong with it (and it has those overhyped test screening ratings).

    On the other hand, if I’m being honest, it was the least enjoyable MCU movie since ULTRON for me, which I definitely wasn’t expecting. There wasn’t an OOOOH!!!! set-piece that grabbed me in the same way as the CIVIL WAR airport throwdown, ANT MAN bedroom fight or various visual extravagances in STRANGE. On the other hand, family!

  2. Movieman says:

    Pretty ironic how one of the most eagerly awaited sequels in recent years would turn out to be….just another (Marvel) sequel.
    It’s longer (of course), louder and even more frenetic than the ADD 2014 original.
    Gunn’s decision to go big, bigger, biggest is particularly confounding/depressing since it’s just the type of movie that might actually benefit from a MST pretzels and beer budget. A lo-fi approach would only enhance its termite charms.

  3. EtGuild2 says:

    It’s also depressing to me, somewhat, because Gunn is without a doubt one of the most engaged, emotive directors working today, not just on this scale. His tremendous passion for these characters is evident, but the care given to them is inconsistent, and it seems like he may have (like Whedon on ULTRON) felt the pressure to deliver more despite his protestations to the contrary.

    Dave also brings up an interesting point in Nicole Perlman’s contribution to the first movie. While Mantis is great, Saldana does feel underwritten here, and her conflict with Nebula, while interesting in its physicality, didn’t hit home for me. Gunn takes obvious delight in upending our expectations of female characters, from Elizabeth Banks’ Starla, to Ellen Page’s Libby and Saldana/Gillam’s dueling sisters, but in some ways those characters are so extreme in their unorthodoxy that they lack the heart and connection to the audience of their male co-stars.

  4. EtGuild2 says:

    It definitely is weird how this year is going in terms of superhero movies. I was much more excited for this and LEGO:BATMAN than LOGAN given the X:Men series’ troubles, but LOGAN is far and away better (perhaps the best wide release of the year for me, and arguably better than the best of the MCU).

    And I had major reservations about THOR 3, despite the involvement of Waititi and Blanchett…but the trailer blew me away. The THOR films sure are distinctly identifiable by director, from the Shakespearean formalism of the first movie, to the sinister GoT family machinations of the second, and now the color-kalaidescope and seemingly free wheeling fun of the third. I really like the idea of switching up directors from installment to installment, as it keeps things fresh and seems to avoid the “must go bigger!” phenomenon that’s plagued the MCU (Favreau, Whedon, the Russos even though I liked Civil War, and now Gunn).

  5. leahnz says:

    “because Gunn is without a doubt one of the most engaged, emotive directors working today”

    er what? gunn’s ok, come on now

  6. EtGuild2 says:

    I’ve never seen a director spend hours upon hours answering fan questions online during production and post like he does. He’s legendary for it.

  7. leahnz says:

    i didn’t realise you meant as a person dealing with fans rather than as an actual director

  8. Heather says:

    I liked it but certainly didn’t love it. Yes they piled on but in many ways the story felt smaller. They didn’t travel the galaxy.basically stayed put the entire movie. No forward momentum or urgency to the story like the first and no real threat. ( I realize pretty much all these movies have the world or universe at risk but in the first guardians it was specific and tangible,,,if the stone makes it to the surface the planet dies.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon