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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

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.”

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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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin