Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Wow, I guess it's time for my first MCU review for this site, which means I have to admit my dirty nerd secret: I've begun to sour a bit on the MCU. Not that I really dislike them, but I've entirely ceased being as over the moon about them as most nerd movie critics. As the franchise has gotten bigger, the formula has only gotten more rigid and the scripts have only gotten sloppier, especially compared to more mold-breaking fare like Deadpool or Logan. And as someone who cares a lot about those things, I've begun to sigh slightly during them.

Still, they're mostly still good, a handful of them are legitimately great, and they've never ceased being fun. And Guardians of the Galaxy is still one of the best ones, a rollicking good time of a movie that I remember thoroughly enjoying, even if I've only revisited it once on DVD. And one of the reasons I liked it was that it broke with the formula and was a unique entity. So I was eager to see if the sequel could keep up what made it good.

Our plot this time involves the titular team, Peter Quill AKA Starlord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), plus the newly reborn Groot (Vin Diesel) still working as something halfway between the A-Team and Ocean's 11. As the story kicks off, they've been hired by the Sovereign (a race of genetically modified aliens with some pretty rigid ideas about honor and honesty) to help protect their magic batteries from a...thing in exchange for turning over Gamora's sister, Nebula (Karen Gillian).

But Rocket, being Rocket, decides that once the job is over, he's going to steal the batteries, which the Sovereign take umbrage to, giving chase and shredding the Guardians' ship, until they're stopped by Ego (Kurt Russel) who claims to be Starlord's long lost father, and offers to take him to his planet to show them around with his companion Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Meanwhile Starlord's former boss Yondu (Michael Rooker) has been hired to track down the Guardians, but doesn't seem too invested in it, much to the consternation of his crew.

"Come on, why are you upset? You get more screentime this time around."
"Yeah, but I still don't get much of a character arc."
Since my unique selling point on MCU reviews is directly tied to how critical I'm willing to be towards them, let me quickly get my good points on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 out of the way: The characters and their interactions are highly entertaining, the action and comedy very well realized (even if they're just a shade too fond of "Action sequence happens in the background while funny stuff happens in the foreground") and overall the film has a much better color palette than most of the other MCU films, who have typically elected to have color palettes usually associated with pavement. It's unlikely to make my best of the year list, and in terms of 2017 superhero flicks, it's miles behind Logan, but it's definitely a rollicking good time and you should probably see it, assuming you haven't already.

Alright, let's dig into my issues. And the big one, the one that all the recent MCU films have, is a weak script, built on a lack of trust for the audience. I don't mean they don't trust their audience to get cameos and references; Indeed, they might be a little too trusting in that regard (one of the post credits scenes required me to hit Google to find out who they were talking about) but in trusting the audience to get certain themes and story points. Guardians 2 is better than a lot in this regard, but it still relies heavily on the exposition, to the point where one character basically brings a slideshow to their scenes.

"Mantis! What're you doing? You're throwing off the composition of the shot!"
"You all get twice my screentime, I get to be up front!"
Which wouldn't normally be such an annoyance, but the rest of the script is really solid, keeping the story and dialogue scenes moving at a good clip, so to see it leans so heavily on having characters spout off their motivation and backstory feels disappointing. I get that this is a big cast and they might not have room to have everyone get a full character arc (indeed, both Nebula and Mantis' seem to happen over the space of a scene or two) but they could have tried to weave more stuff into the narrative.

The other major issue I have is merely a personal taste one, but could someone please remind Marvel how to write smaller, more personal stakes. Part of what made Deadpool and Logan (the two best superhero films since at least Winter Soldier, maybe longer) so good was that the stakes were something I could relate to and understand, not "The world is going to end." Guardians 2 actually has personal stakes dug straight into the climax, so seeing it fall back into a ticking time bomb to save the galaxy feels kind of lazy.

This is still a really good scene in context.
None of this is to say that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn't worth watching, it very much is. The story is fun, the action solid and the characters charming. But then, it's an MCU property, and I feel our standards for them have begun to droop a bit of late, and I want to make sure we're still critical, or else stuff like Iron Fist will keep happening. But still, Guardians 2 is well worth seeing, but if you're on the internet reading about it, odds are you already have.

Also, can someone please explain to me the limits of Yondu's power set? It seems like he's functionally invincible as long as he has the arrow thing, and I want to know how it works! Where are you going? Come back!

Elessar is a 27 year old Alaskan-born, Connecticut-based, cinephile with an obsession with The Room and a god complex.