- Movie Rating -

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

| May 5, 2017

Let’s talk about Baby Groot.  He’s precious.  You could watch his antics all day.  He’s like a cute puppy, he could be the star of a series of YouTube videos where you watch him do anything.  Clearly the people behind Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 know what they have in Baby Groot.  They understood it the moment that his dancing scene in the first movie started trending.  Much of this sequel is devoted to his adorable antics and thankfully they don’t get in the way of the meat of the story.  During the lulls, the movie cuts back to something he’s doing.  He’s just so darn cute!

He’s at the center of this movie but he’s not the focus – that’s a good thing.  He gets his moment to play as does everyone else.  I expected a lot from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 but one thing that I didn’t expect was that the film’s forward momentum would primarily rely on traumatic relationship issues.  This movie is a textbook of relationship types: father to son; son to father; sister to sister; friend to friend; and of course, the difficult bond between lovers.  All of the relationships are strained for one reason or another and it takes the entirety of the movie (plus near obliteration) to bring them together.  Yes, this is a space adventure, but half the time it’s like being backstage at a talk show where the guests are firing laser cannons at one another.

That’s not a criticism.  I spend half of my cinematic life complaining that screenwriters don’t allow their characters to connect in any meaningful way.  Both in this film and the first Guardians of the Galaxy the characters connect.  They have issues with each other beyond the problems at hand.  Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamorrah (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and Drax (Dave Bautista) fight, argue, and say mean things to one another but they love each other.  In other words, they’re family.

If their second adventure doesn’t seem to have as much surprise as the first it is probably because that first film felt like a welcoming and unexpected bolt out of the blue, a rock and roll comic book adventure for those of us looking for a few laughs.  It didn’t feel nearly as organized as The Avengers; more like a fun and hearty desert in cinematic universe that was threatening to take itself too seriously.  Both films are a welcomed break from the dark and sullen trajectory that other comic book adaptations are determined to travel.

In that, I’m happy to report that the second adventure is just as much fun.  This is becoming the tonic to other, more serious comic book adaptations by focusing on whimsy rather than on universe building.  One thing to note is that this is a true sequel.  It continues the adventures of Star Lord/Peter Quill and his crew based on what was established in the first film, most notably the mystery of Peter’s father.

The movie opens with that scene that has been played over in the ads, however they leave out the key element. The Guardians are fighting a giant slug over an opening credit sequence that is, I’ll say it, kind of inspired.  The filmmakers realize that one of the most popular elements to the first movie was the presence of dancing baby Groot.  Here that’s ramped up in a sequence that had me laughing.

After a gross misunderstanding with an alien race, The Guardians are under attack but are then saved through the efforts of a being named Ego (Kurt Russell) who turns out to be Peter’s father; he’s a celestial being who has settled himself into a perpetual Garden of Eden on a far-off planet.  He invites his son to join him with the promise of showing him the greater nature of his own heritage.  Yet, Gamorrah smells a rat, particularly when Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empath who serves as Ego’s Girl Friday, begins to exhibit signs that she knows more than she is saying.  Something about Ego feels a bit off and so does his perfect world.  She asks logical questions like why are there no other people on his planet?

Ego is played by Kurt Russell with a seductive, yet snake-like charm (no pun intended).  He was kind of inspired casting because we are use to Russell playing good guys and that persona gives us the feeling that maybe Ego’s motives are on the up and up.  There’s something in his soothing voice makes us question his motives but at the same time understand why Peter is so drawn to his promises.  Without giving too much away let me just say that Peter finds himself torn between his biological father and his adopted family.

The beauty of the union of these characters is that, while they have issues, there is a genuine sense that they belong together.  Each has a story to tell  It might have been easier to put Quill out front and just have the rest of the crew gather behind him, but everyone is given time and some measure of depth.  Quill tugs at his daddy issues.  Gamorrah deals with her sister Nebula (Karen Gillian) who wants to kill her.  Rocket fights his insecurities that he covers up with an habitual need for suicidal tendencies.  Drax wrestles with his bizarre feelings for Manis.  And even Baby Groot, in his own way, tries to find a place in the grand scheme of things.  I appreciated the time and effort given to these characters, and all through the movie I kept thinking of another family that they remind me of: The Fantastic Four.  They are another family who bicker and argue but who still remain devoted to one another.  Why couldn’t their cinematic adventures been this bright and complex?

Much more of the story I cannot divulge so allow me to move on to the film’s single greatest asset: it’s production design.  WOW!!  This is one of the most gorgeous productions that I have ever seen.  There’s a LOT of “show, don’t tell” going on here.  The spacescapes, the landscapes, the planets, the interiors and exteriors of Ego’s palace are an inspired work of creative thinking.  I was mesmerized by the look but when Ego brings up a spinning wax-like moving effigy of his own personal history, my jaw was on the floor.  I can’t give these filmmakers enough credit and I’ll say that if the Academy voters don’t nominate the work here they might as well just hang up their envelopes.

I was also impressed by the character design.  The make-up artists have pulled out every tool and trick in their arsenal to create creatures that range from heavenly and beautiful to gross and disgusting.  My favorite is a particularly unpleasant being name Taserface, whose silly moniker gets a lot of comic mileage.

The weakness I’m afraid comes in the third act.  Put simply, it goes on way too long.  The aforementioned relationship issues all come into play as the universe is about to be obliterated (isn’t it always?) and the movie jumps back and forth between each character and their respective strained relationship trying to solve it as they try and stay one step ahead of impending doom.  While I was interested in what was going on, I felt that it was allowed to go on too long – it makes it point over and over again.  Then it comes to a downer of an ending that illicits a loving celebration of a character that, I’m sorry, I haven’t really been able to build up much affection for.  At that, it felt like me and the movie were not on the same page.

Much more of the plot I can’t discuss without massive spoilers, I’ll just say it’s one sour part of a movie that was otherwise grandly entertaining.  Perhaps, it is inevitable that the shock and awe of the original isn’t quite as potent this time.  We’ve settled into these daffy characters so their bizarre antics inevitably don’t seem as fresh – a joke is always less potent the second time you tell it.  But credit is due to writer-director James Gunn for trying to move these characters in a new direction rather than try an capture the first film’s cold-water surprise.  He maintains the laughs (this is one of the best comedies of the year) even while his story may not have the same freshness.  I give Gunn points for his hard work.  I’ll come back to the film for it’s comedy.  I’ll come back for its look.  Mostly I’ll come back for Baby Groot.  I’ll watch that little guy do anything.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2017) View IMDB Filed in: Sci-Fi/Fantasty
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