GUARDIANS of the Galaxy burst onto our screens in 2014, showing that lesser-known heroes could band together to create what was a very impressive film. The first Guardians carefully navigated meta references, action and juvenile humour, resulting in another, albeit more surprising family hit for Marvel Studios.
Typically a sequel ups the stakes, and the promotional material suggested that, much like the latter-day Die Hards, this increase in intensity was going to come from a family member of the lead. In this case, Star Lord (Chris Pratt) meets his long estranged father Ego (Kurt Russell). The stakes were set and I was ready for a goofy-but-clever thrill ride that hits the beats of the hero’s journey so well that it would make George Lucas blush.
The spark of individuality that made the first installment so entertaining was its combination of jokes and meta references. However, Vol. 2 uses these techniques as crutch rather that an addition to an already strong film. Romantic scenes are plagued with the characters outlining their archetypal roles, to the point that it takes away from the romance and makes the scenes completely redundant, as the audience already knows there’s ‘something’ between Star Lord and Gamora (Zoe Saldana).
There are also upwards of ten scenes which display the cuteness of Baby Groot (Vin Diesel). There is no denying the character is adorable and his appearance tweaks on the strings of even the coldest heart. Yet, after so many unnecessary shots of Baby Groot it becomes clear that this is crowd-pleasing pandering, rather than a character who will arc or do much at all. The jokes come thick and fast in Vol. 2 to mixed success and diminishing returns. It also manages to feature Stan Lee in his worst cameo appearance and undoubtedly the worst post-credit sequence in the Marvel films yet.
A common technique in comedy writing is to plant the seed at the beginning of the scene and let the joke pay off by its end. The film does this in its first few scenes, however jokes of chaffing sometimes fall flat. Fortunately the characters quick dialogue exchanges keeps comedy intact, although it is sparing. This illustrates the most complex critique of the film: the characters carry the film, yet the characterisation in Vol. 2 is, at best, poor.
The film pairs characters left, right and centre and brings them together in an emotional montage in the end. However, the reasons for these pairings are tethered on unstable ground, with stark confessions appearing out of nowhere and promptly disappearing from the film. Star Lord is the emotional focus of the film but even his arc is… Well, it’s not even an arc. It’s a momentary blip on a flatline. The film’s interesting characters keep it enjoyable, yet the actions does not. Unfortunately, the danger in the film is primarily hypothetical and so, like Die Hard 2 and Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 2, it’s not hard to feel a little cheated by the drama.
With all that said, the story operates efficiently and every moment is where it should be, whether it works or not. It is a film families will enjoy watching even if it misses the magic of the first.
This film is not bad, yet it has poorly done what its prequel did excellently. James Gunn claimed to have more creative control in this project, but this may have been what hampered the film. The film feels like another two drafts of the script were required, in order to justify character actions and make sure the jokes all land. There are also so many references that you’re left wondering how much cultural knowledge a child could honestly retain, further indicting its over-reliance on meta/pop-culture humour. There is no doubt this film will be loved by many but, beyond the lovable characters, it’s a pretty, hollow ride.