Well James Gunn, you've done it again. It's been three years for us, but for the Guardians it's only been about a month. They're using their status as "Galaxy Savers" to get odd jobs of general protecting/guarding around the universe, and when Rocket (Bradley Cooper) takes advantage of their proximity to valuable objects, they get in trouble with an uber-race of pretentious gold people (led by Elizabeth Debicki). A mysterious man appears to help them out of this situation, and then reveals himself, telling Peter Quill, AKA Star-Lord (AKA the one and only Chris Pratt) that he is his father, Ego (Kurt Russell).
|But -- did he look like Kurt Russell to Peter? Or does Kurt Russell not exist in this universe? Or does Kurt Russell not look like Kurt Russell? Asking the deep questions here.|
This is of course huge news for Peter, and becomes the center for the movie's plot and heart. That the movie has this center is important to the film's quality as from it is born every exceptional aspect the film provides. Ego himself is the best character here, in that his character arc is the most natural, yet also the most intricate, and is most closely tied to the center of the film. Kurt Russell does his part brilliantly and with the ease of a practiced veteran, sometimes making less confident performances from his cast-mates more noticeable by comparison; sometimes elevating performances along with his own. Chris Pratt gets both sides of this.
I love Pratt, and I love Star-Lord, and I love the premise of the journey he goes on with this adventure, but none of it played out as well as it should have. He has that suggestive flirting scene because that's the Peter we knew, but it doesn't make sense anymore once we're told that he's going after one girl now -- Gamora (Zoe Saldana) -- now it's out of character for him to flirt with other women like that. His father provides a ton of fodder for character drama, with multiple stages of their relationship for varying emotions to expound on. Only one stage had time spent on it; the rest were breezed over in one swoop. To utilize them would have meant a re-haul of the film's events and pacing, but it would have been to the benefit of Peter's character. As the film is, Peter at best only gets equal benefit as every other character.
|It all needs to come down to this guy. Or else, what is the point?|
Every returning character is developed equally and in distinct pairs. Gamora and Nebula (Karen Gillan) dig deeper into their relationship of sisterly hate. Drax (Dave Bautista) is paired with newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff) for some wonderfully effective scenes of meaningful comedy. Mantis benefits greatly from being new; her unique character is established, and calls for nothing more. And Rocket and Yondu (Michael Rooker) bounce off each other to push along their edgy characters. Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) is never too far from Rocket, but is developed by himself, and also Kraglin (Sean Gunn) who gets bumped up the character ladder. By themselves, these pockets of characters are perfectly sufficiently compelling; when put into the film and viewed as a whole, they feel like more of a distraction. The thread used to tie them all to the film's center is too thin and too long, so though everything is technically connected, they might as well have not been, for the significance they add to the heart of the core.
I understand the idea. Fans love all these characters, as I'm sure James Gunn does, and the desire to focus on all of them was just too great. Sadly, that decision, made with the best of intentions, was the film's downfall (such as it is), because with the focus so widely spread, no one gets the attention they deserve. The original Guardians focused solely on Peter, and through him the others were also developed. That was impossible to do this time with the plot as it was, so perhaps it was as good as it could have possibly been -- it still pales in comparison with the groundbreaking first.
|It's a conundrum with no easy fix.|
So while the film had a heart in place as a source for grounding the emotional journeys and creating a common theme, the film's focus was too widespread to properly utilize it -- thus the film felt disconnected. The problem traces back to not showing the story through the sole eyes of Peter -- that is the root of any problems this films has. That being said, I enjoyed this movie like nobody's business. After it was over I had to come to terms with its domino-effected shortcoming, but in the moment I was all in, %100, let go, tickled to the core. The visuals (perhaps over-the-top at times) thrilled me; the jokes and gags landed (though they were generally of a slightly lesser quality there were more of them); the twists and plot developments involved me (they were, in fact, unexpectedly well done, and grounded in the film's darker core) and the music compelled me to be open to every bit of character-love I could glean. That was all I asked for and more; I was satisfied.
Who knows if a second viewing will be so carefree and eagerly open, (it's one thing to ignore and push aside issues; it's another to deny their existence) but no matter what I'm glad for the one I had. If nothing else I want to give a hearty "thank you" to James Gunn for the scene where Peter is asking the other Guardians for tape. That is half of the embodiment of why I love The Guardians of the Galaxy in the first place. The other half is the unexpectedly deep heart hidden under that kind of fun and humor -- here, it wasn't embodied in one thing, but wasn't completely absent either, you only have to scrounge around for it.
|"I can still hear you sayin', you would never break the chain..."|
Too much of a carbon copy of the original where it didn't matter, not enough of a spiritual copy where it did, Vol. 2 is a traditional Marvel sequel; more of the same on steroids. It both creates problems and brings back the sources of our original adoration. Its success is drawn out of that of the original's, and with the doozy of an original this one had going for it, it's no surprise it features such a cosmically high concentration of fun -- if only all that fun substance could have been applied to a more concise and well constructed framework, to better enhance the fun and the thrill the characters and the heart alike. Two-time Galaxy-savers? Absolutely -- but repeating the past can only get you so far.