Greg, looks like the galaxy needs saving yet again. Do you think the Guardians are equal to the task?
The Guardians are back: Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel). The group has been asked by the Sovereign race to fight and destroy a huge monster from another dimension. In exchange, the Guardians receive custody of Gamora’s evil sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). When the Sovereigns discover that Rocket has stolen valuable batteries, they give chase and force the Guardians to crash land on nearby planet.
And who should be on that planet but Quill’s long lost father, Ego (Kurt Russell). He wants Quill to work with him to rule the galaxy. Ego teaches Quill to draw power from the planet to create magical power balls and other stuff. Meanwhile, Nebula has escaped and is in search of Gamora to kill her. And Drax is making friends with Ego’s sidekick, the empath Mantis (Pom Klementieff). While Rocket and Yondu (Michael Rooker) are searching the galaxy for their lost friends. It’s wild and wacky mayhem in a galaxy not so far, far away.
Greg, Guardians Vol. 2 fascinated me. I couldn’t help think that this entertaining screenplay was penned by a group of Marvel writers who were a bit inebriated — by alcohol and by the unparalleled success of their movie studio. Guardians Vol. 2 is Marvel’s 15th straight number one opening at the domestic box office. And this movie feels like a film drunk on its own success.
What this means exactly is that the movie winks at itself and is saturated with irreverence. David Hasselhoff from Baywatch makes a cameo; the soundtrack thunders with 1970s hits; a giant pac-man swallows up the villain; and we learn that Drax has sensitive nipples and generates large turds. Just when I thought that the film was missing a reference to Mary Poppins, sure enough we got one.
Marvel films have always boasted some of these droll elements, but along with Deadpool I think the studio has now crossed the line into the comedy genre and is veering perilously close to Spaceballs in the wisecracking department. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Guardians Vol. 2. But let’s not begin to think about this movie as a serious hero story packed with meaningful life lessons. Guardians Vol. 2 is a high-quality space comedy, and coupled with Deadpool it underscores the increased comedic trajectory of Marvel.
If by “high-quality” you mean that the filmcraft was excellent, then I’ll agree. The CGI, camerawork, and acting are all first-rate. But the story lacked any coherence. The main plotline seemed to be Quill’s reuniting with his father and mending the pain of being abandoned by him. The secondary plot involved sisters Gamora and Nebula reconciling after years of sibling rivalry. So, the theme of this movie seems to be “family”.
But there was scant little plot. There was no “main goal” to be acquired. Rather, we’re to be sustained by the ongoing mystery of “who is Ego” and a ton of wisecracks. If Guardians is, indeed, a spoof or farce, then story may fall prey to comedy. As we’ve seen recently, horror and comedy stories often lack strong story lines as they, instead, rely on shock and awe.
However, I expect more from Marvel and from my science fiction adventure films. There wasn’t a clear villain in this story until the very end when Ego is revealed to be evil. Without a strong villain, you cannot have a strong hero. And so, Quill is just following his father along until he realizes that he’s not a very nice guy and must be destroyed. But this realization doesn’t occur until the three-quarter mark and by then it’s much too late. I was hopelessly bored by Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
I can see your point, Greg. We’ve watched plenty of movies that are long on comedy and short on storytelling. I don’t think Guardians Vol. 2 is the best example of movies of this type. There are two stories running parallel here, one involving family division moving toward reconciliation (or lack thereof) and the other focusing on the Guardians’ mission to save the universe. The two stories are effectively intertwined, too, with the seemingly good dad, Ego, turning out to be the father from hell, and the seemingly bad dad, Yondu, turning out to be the terrific father. Ego’s efforts to destroy the universe must be stopped and our heroes do the job.
The transformations here are interesting. Quill, Gamora, and Nebula glean significant insights about family, loyalty, and love. In our book Reel Heroes & Villains, we call this a mental transformation. The character of Yondu seems to especially evolve into selfless heroism, undergoing a moral transformation. Nebula also experiences significant emotional and moral transformations. So all told, I’ll have to rate the film highly on this dimension.
The traits we look for in heroes are here. Quill looks to do the right thing by himself and his crew. Gamora is loyal to Quill and her friends. And even when battling her estranged sister, shows mercy and compassion.
The transformations are less clear. Quill doesn’t seem changed by his experience. He’s still “Star Lord” by the end of the film. And while Gamora and Nebula have reconciled, they’re still who they were at the beginning of the film. And Drax and Rocket continue to be Drax and Rocket. And this should come as no surprise – as this is a franchise film. The films are episodic. So, we need our characters to reset at the end of each episode. We keep coming back to these films because we expect to see the characters we’ve come to know and love. So, any true transformation is squelched by the need to return the characters to their initial states.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 represents another Marvel triumph, despite my misgivings about their film products slowly evolving in farce. We have strong, memorable characters comprising the heroic ensemble; there are two parallel-running plots that satisfy us emotionally; and we are treated to remarkable CGI effects. The opening 5-minute scene featuring a dance number by Baby Groot dazzles us and is worth the price of admission by itself. I am concerned that Marvel films are morphing into a theater of the absurd, but even with this concern I would be a curmudgeon to award this film anything less than 4 Reels out of 5.
These Guardians remain a diverse and highly enjoyable set of heroes. As you mention, Greg, they possess many heroic traits and their strengths complement one another. They go on a pretty standard hero’s journey, encounter unexpected friends along with a surprising villain, they undergo change, and they live up to their job description by saving the galaxy. The timeless message at film’s end is that the main hero, Quill, had the secret to success within him all along. I see every reason to award this hero ensemble a rating of 4 Heroes out of 5.
Greg, I’m surprised you don’t see as much hero transformation going on as I do. Perhaps you are focusing only on inner transformation, which is understandable since that’s how we describe the concept of transformation in our last Reel Heroes book. But I can’t overlook the power of relationship transformation. Relationships in this film undergo vast change — consider the relationships between (1) Quill and Ego, (2) Quill and Yondu, and (3) Gamora and Nebula. They are all completely metamorphosized. And each relationship metamorphosis reflects deep changes within each party involved in the relationship. As such, I award this film 4 transformation Deltas out of 5.
I guess I’m a curmudgeon, then, Scott. I was totally bored by Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. This was a CGI fest with no story to speak of. I wasn’t impressed with Quill’s gradual realization that Ego was a bad guy. And I wasn’t impressed with Rocket and Yondu flying through 700 wormholes. And I wasn’t impressed with the battle between the two sisters Gamora and Nebula. There was no plot and that left me waiting for over 2 hours for something to happen. I give Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 only 2 out of 5 Reels.
These are bland heroes with no particular qualities that made me care about them. Yondu in particular has always been a sort of gray moral character. So when he was revealed to be a father figure for Quill, I was not bowled over. I didn’t feel any sense of loss when he died. I give these characters just 2 Heroes out of 5.
And while I’ll grant you some relationship deltas, Scott. This is an action adventure and I wanted to see something more for transformations. This was not a romantic comedy or drama – so a relationship transformation isn’t interesting. But as I said before, these are episodic heroes and transformation is not in their model. I give them 2 Deltas out of 5.