Main cast: Chris Pratt (Peter Quill/Star-Lord), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Dave Bautista (Drax the Destroyer), Vin Diesel (Baby Groot), Bradley Cooper (Rocket), Michael Rooker (Yondu Udonta), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Pom Klementieff (Mantis), Chris Sullivan (Taserface), Elizabeth Debicki (Ayesha), Sean Gunn (Kraglin), Sylvester Stallone (Stakar Ogord/Starhawk), and Kurt Russell (Ego)
Director: James Gunn
James Gunn struck gold when Guardians of the Galaxy became one of the biggest money-earners of all time, so it can’t be easy to have to script and direct the sequel. There are so many things to do. Repeat the success of the first movie, give his brother Sean a bigger role in the sequel despite the man’s character being not significant enough to warrant even a footnote in Wikipedia, and prove to the world that he is capable of doing deep movies too. And, of course, all those forgotten musicians from the 1960s and 1970s now all wanting their songs to be placed in the soundtrack, because everyone wants to make money these days. All the while keeping to the formula of the Marvel superhero movies, with no doubt a checklist of must-do things to tick off – I’m sure it’s no mean feat. Perhaps this is why Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a desperate mess. A very entertaining mess, yes, but a desperate one.
This one tries to be more character-centric, at the expense of a strong story line. Basically, we start with the Sovereigns, a race that uses eugenics and genetics to transform its people into what they believe to be the perfect humanoid specimens, hiring our gang to kill a monster than is trying to damage some powerful batteries. This battle is just a chance for Marvel to get people to buy Baby Groot merchandises, although I can’t say I am not entertained. If you are a fan of Gamora, please savor this scene, because it’s the only scene where she kicks ass before falling back to being the chick and the love interest. The Guardians succeed, and we learn that they take up this gig in exchange for the Sovereigns releasing Gamora’s sister Nebula into their custody. (Nebula was caught trying to steal those space-age Energizer batteries too – they must be really awesome ones.)
And Rocket just has to steal those batteries with him, just because, causing the Sovereigns to launch an attack on them on their way home. They are rescued by Ego, a mysterious god-like being of the Celestial race, who reveals that he’s Peter’s father and he has been looking for his son all this while. Ego wants to reveal Peter’s destiny to him, so he, Gamora, and Drax go off with Ego and his servant Mantis, leaving Rocket behind with Groot to watch over Nebula and repair their ship. Meanwhile, the Sovereign High Priestess Ayesha hires Yondu to bring the Guardians to her, so that she can execute them all. Yondu tracks down Rocket and Baby, only to hesitate in turning those two in – causing his second-in-command Taserface to lead a revolt.
Oh, and Gamora and Drax soon realize that Ego isn’t what he claims to be, and things aren’t so sweet and perfect after all with his plans and visions… but will Peter listen to them, or will he choose his destiny with his father over them? If you think he’d choose his father, I don’t know what to say to you.
There is no focused plot here, as you can see from my synopsis. It all boils down to “things happen”; the focus is on character development. Unfortunately, James Gunn subscribe to the present-day Bioware school of writing character development: you don’t show, you tell – or in Peter’s case, yell – all your issues with the subtlety of an electric drill right into the audience’s skull, between the eyes for good measure. These characters blab their issues and life story to one another at the drop of the hat, often without any clear motivation for doing so. For example, when Yondu and Rocket meet, the first thing Yondu does is to tell Rocket why Rocket is being mean and grumpy – to drive others away because he is afraid of them becoming too close to him, it’s all the fault of the scientists that created Rocket, and oh, Yondu used to be like him too. All the character development is laid out in one single scene, in a most superficial conversation that has no reason to take place because Yondu is not Rocket’s shrink and those two have no reason to talk about feels like that, and Rocket will be like, oh yeah, he loves his family now, so bye bye, issues. It’s the same with Gamora and Nebula. Two sisters who hate one another, but when they meet, they immediately hash out their issues and angst like they have been memorizing their declarations for a long time now for their turns as guests on Oprah’s show. As for Peter, he just yells out his issues, culminating with “That’s my father!” as the deep and though-provoking summary of all his issues.
As a result, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is very much like Mass Effect: Andromeda minus the awful animation and graphics – with Chris Pratt in the cast, the movie is already 1,000% pretty – “character development” takes place in the form of characters taking turns to spill out their issues at the drop of the hat in contrived, rehearsed declarations, and everything is resolved with a hug and a big display of violence on their hapless victims. Along the way, Drax is reduced into being a complete buffoon with heart, although some of the things he says to Mantis here are cruel and cringe-worthy, no matter how much the movie tries to play it up as comedy. Oh, and kids, there are some slightly off-color humor that may not be too kid-friendly, so don’t tell your parents or, worse, watch this movie with them as things may get awkward.
Still, the movie is entertaining enough here and there, mostly because Rocket, Baby Groot, and Yondu completely steal the show. This movie also delivers some beautifully stylized violence and mayhem – no, really, it’s delightfully violent for a Marvel superhero movie – although I admit the deliberate juxtaposition of cheery music and violent scenes of carnage is practically a tired cliché by now. And while the whole daddy issue angle is tired and predictable, the last fifteen minutes or so of this movie make me choked up a bit inside. Like recent Bioware games, this one doesn’t have any halfway decent story, but it has moments – scenes that can pack an emotional punch here and there. And I will remember these moments far more than the movie itself.
Also, I wonder whether I would enjoy this movie more if I hadn’t watched so many Marvel superhero movies already. There are so many things there, right down to the obligatory scene of the hero changing his shirt, that feel like they have been ticked against a list, and the formula is really showing.
At any rate, this one is a big dumb crowd-pleaser, and I wish it had been content at being that. James Gunn wants to do that character development thing too, but he does it in such a hamfisted, heavy handed way that feels more at home in bad fanfiction than anything else. Still, this one is alright if one doesn’t expect too much from it, and James Gunn’s dedication to improving the career of his brother by forcefully increasing Kraglin’s role no matter how unnecessary it is is to be commended. Or, I suppose, at least their parents would approve.
Oh, and there is no hammy dancing here, thank god. We get Chris Pratt now working his throat muscles more (“I AM VERY EMOTIONAL NOW, PEOPLE, BECAUSE I AM YELLING AT ALL OF YOU!”) than his pelvic ones, but I’d take less cringe over less volume any day.