‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2’ (2017) Review – Galactic Family Reunions

Ego

Believe it or not, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is not only the 15th Marvel movie to date, but the first of three Marvel movies in 2017. If this particular sequel is the standard for this year’s Marvel features, then it set a high bar for Spider-Man and Thor to live up to.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 reunites the titular group of misfits for yet another cosmic adventure. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) team up once more to deal with multiple problems, including but not limited to: the vengeful Ravegers under Yondu’s (Michael Rooker) command, the spiteful Sovereign People, and Star-Lord’s father, Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russel).

Given how I’m not the biggest fan of the original Guardians movie, I was hesitant about Vol. 2 because the trailers promised more of the same. Thankfully, the sequel delivered a Marvel movie at its best, despite awkwardly tripping along the way to its lofty heights and expectations.

Galaxy Questing on Factory Settings

As a sequel to one of the most popular entries into the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Vol. 2 had the obligation of giving audiences exactly what they wanted before doing anything else. This leads to the movie’s clunky first half, where it prioritized repeating itself over doing something else.

Because the first movie had a sense of humor, Vol. 2 ramps up the jokes and one-liners. Since its predecessor had lots of action scenes, Vol. 2 crams in as many ludicrous fights as possible, such as the skirmishes between the Guardians’ lone ship against an entire fucking armada of golden arcade players. The first Guardians was littered with references to ‘80s pop culture, and you can bet your ass that the sequel nearly drowns itself in this self-indulgent nostalgia trip, bordering on the pettiness of an entitled hipster who was totes born in the wrong generation.

For the first hour or so, Vol. 2 felt as if it were going through the motions. The once-organic banter between characters now feels rehearsed, with the shoe-horned romance between Star-Lord and Gamora being the worst. Their “romance” was already forced to begin with, but Marvel tries and fails to play matchmaker for a love-team that has as much chemistry as a pair of chairs trying to fuck. The Guardians work as a dysfunctional family because of their clashing personalities, not because of a shitload of characters who are burdened by backstories and a romantic subplot that only adds to a growing mess.

Granted, director James Gunn brings order to this chaos. But when Gunn and the Guardians finally get past the contractually obligated explosions, clichés, formula, and set-ups for future cosmic Marvel movies, Vol. 2 comes alive and delivers what almost every other Marvel sequel failed to bring onscreen.

Emotional Seconds

If the first half of Vol. 2 felt like every cookie-cutter Marvel sequel at its most generic, what this predictable fare builds up to is the exact opposite.

Despite being set in a galaxy filled with special effects and computerized aliens, Vol. 2 is actually a lot smaller than its predecessor, but only because the stakes are much more personal this time around. Sure, the galaxy needs to be saved again, but the fate of the nameless billions only comes second to the main characters’ struggle with emotional baggage and old wounds – which they deal with while trying to save the galaxy at the same fucking time. Though the moral dilemmas that could have been played with are never fully delved into, Vol. 2 manages to hit its emotional beats, giving everyone in the cast equal time to grow and earn the audiences’ emotional investment.

Where sequels like Civil War quickly reverted to the status quo despite the implied stakes or where Iron Man 3 proudly shat on audiences’ faces and said “Fuck You” for expecting a better movie, Vol. 2 emphasizes the human tolls of loss, loneliness and betrayal by showing how fucking painful these are for the characters at hand. As far as Marvel sequels go, Vol. 2 is almost on par with Capt. America: The Winter Solider (aka the best Marvel sequel so far) in terms of properly building-up previously established characters not by giving them bigger toys to play with, but with bigger personal problems to overcome.

This dramatic second half was unexpected, resulting in the film’s major tonal issues. The transition from campy to emotional was jarring to say the least, because Vol. 2 has a problem with balancing Gunn’s intent to bring the Guardians to more serious territory and the annoyingly comical audience-friendly Marvel formula that demands stupid quips every five minutes. Thankfully, this problem wanes by the time the second act kicks into full-throttle.

Guardians In Imperfection

On a technical standpoint, Vol. 2 isn’t as well-balanced as the first movie, but it’s more creative, daring and visually batshit insane than the previous Guardians. While certainly not a bad movie, the first Guardians of the Galaxy was a corny, by-the-numbers, live-action Saturday Morning Cartoon that I couldn’t care about because I simply wasn’t a part of the movie’s intended age group. Its sequel, on the other hand, thankfully grew up and showed that a superhero movie can bring outlandish characters and stories to a mature level while never losing any of the entertainment value.

Not only does it stand out among the repetitive Marvel sequels thanks to its calculated but mostly effective emotional punches, but Vol. 2 convinced me to give a shit about what the Guardians will be up to in Vol. 3.  It may be flawed, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an improvement of the first part and a satisfying ride with surprising depth.

And like its titular heroes, the chinks in its armor only add to the sequel’s personality. At least you know the movie took the risk and tried something new, instead of retreading a tired story or revealing the overall antagonist to be a stupid fucking junkie who probably reeks of alcohol, wasted character development, and disappointment. 


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Capt. America: Civil War (2016) – Avengers 2 Part 2

Civil-War

It should go without saying or explaining much that AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015) wasn’t half bad but it was still a let down. Instead of just being a sequel dedicated to showing Marvel’s most popular superhero group save the world from the bastard child of SkyNet and Robert Downey Jr, AOU wasted god knows how much time hinting at a bunch of other Marvel Movies that had yet to even hit production at the time, including the coming war against Thanos in INFINITY WAR and whatever the fuck is going to happen in the next Thor movie (which is now apparently a Celestial Road Trip movie starring Hulk and Thor). Another movie that was hinted at through the log chopping scene in AOU was this year’s CAPT. AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, where the polar ideologies of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark finally clash and as expected of Superhero Movies, sparks and punches fly before any disagreement that could’ve been solved by chatting in a coffee shop for maybe two minutes could be tossed into the backburner.

Taking place right after a massive fuck-up during a mission and with the wounds of Ultron’s attack still fresh, CIVIL WAR sees Cap and Co. dealing with the real world ramifications of being a group of “enhanced”beings enact their own brand of justice with close to no government control on their actions and as engaging as the premise is, it’s not given much light or substance at all. Even if the movie was advertised with that particular theme in mind, CIVIL WAR instead chooses to ignore the politics and rhetoric in favor of the more personal conflicts between friends who find themselves on opposing sides of an ideological war. This bold narrative choice which is barely seen in Superhero Movies serves as a double edged sword that lifts CIVIL WAR above the rest of the Marvel shlock in terms of character development while also dragging it from being the perfect Superhero Film fans were hoping for.

I’ve said this quite a few times in reviews of previous Superhero Movies but for the sake of argument, I’ll bring it up again: One thing that never sat well with me was the lack of humanity and stakes in many examples of the genre, where everything usually ends with the world being saved and everyone moving to the next adventure. Thankfully, CIVIL WAR decides to fuck that happy ending crap up and shows just how catastrophic the human toll of Superhero Shenanigans really are. By building up from the damage seen in AGE OF ULTRON before it, CIVIL WAR doesn’t just acknowledge Marvel continuity but fixes AOU, somehow turning the lackluster AVENGERS follow-up into an important plot device in a serious debate about superpower. From collateral damage to the angry relatives of the dead, CIVIL WAR smartly took a lot of hints from real world events and disasters to drive in the fact that living in a world where an Artificial Intelligence could go rogue and develop a sick fascination for songs from Disney’s PINOCCHIO is seriously fucked up dangerous and not fun at all, even if a beefy senior citizen with a weaponized Frisbee could save you. Too bad this serves more as a great concept than a critical element in this movie.

When it comes to pushing the envelope and showing just how devastating the personal toll really is, CIVIL WAR pulls its punches all the fucking time instead of going the extra mile. Sure, there’s a lot of onsceen property damage and reported civilian deaths that acknowledge the human cost of previous movies like AGE OF ULTRON but when it comes down to the characters themselves, the conflict comes out more as simplistic than divisive. What should’ve been a grey debate instead ends up being painted in broad black and white strokes, where everyone on Team Cap is a saint and the rest can go fuck themselves. Compared to the last movie starring Steve Rogers (CAPT. AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER) where the fate of the free world was literally hanging by a thread, arguments and conflicts were surprisingly resolved quickly in CIVIL WAR with little to no impact outside of witty snark. This was most evident in the way the movie ended, whereas in WINTER SOLDIER it finished on an ambiguous note that implied Hydra was still a threat, CIVIL WAR just calls it a day the same way a teacher would break up a playground squabble: there were some bruises but everyone’s all hunky fucking dory by the end so who gives a shit.

Obviously this has something to do with the fact that the stars of the movie have contracts that stretch all the way to INFINITY WAR and beyond but the lack of grave stakes and desperation made the titular internal conflict of the Avengers feel slightly hollow and lacking. Yes, there were bonds and friendships that were severed for maybe two minutes but knowing Marvel Movie Logic, everyone will be back to talking in the annoying dialogue of One-Liners and trying to upstage Tony Stark in terms of come backs. But to be fair, CIVIL WAR at least knows it’s based on a fucking comic book so even if it treats its politics seriously, it doesn’t forget to have fun so even the energetic action scenes and Tony Stark Snark has its place.

And yet despite that massive hole in its armor, CIVIL WAR is still a surprisingly strong Superhero Movie. As mentioned earlier, this movie did a curious thing by concentrating on the personal conflicts rather than the ideological one and this helped CIVIL WAR turn into a Character Piece rather than the Espionage Thriller it was hyped to be. While we don’t get to see what exactly is written in the Sokovia Regulations, we’re shown in detail how these rules and limits affect the heroes in play. Some of them don’t like being told what to do while others are more than ready to atone for their mistakes and if they need a government body to get that done, then they’re going to fucking get it. The stakes may not be global but they sure as shit are personal, with Rogers fighting to prove Bucky’s innocence from a conspiracy that threatens to tear the Avengers’ public image in half. Giving light to the more human moments of the story may have affected the political themes and analysis in CIVIL WAR but it gave the characters more time to shine and be given something most Superhero Movies tend to forget: humanity.

CIVIL WAR may lack the philosophical depth of stuff like THE DARK KNIGHT but it greatly benefits from a cast filled with people you can give more than a fuck about and considering that there are twelve named costumed heroes here who at one point engage in the most epic Royal Rumble ever, that’s a fucking accomplishment. By evenly balancing each character’s amount of screen time and never letting any one of them overshadow the other no matter how popular or obscure they may be, everyone gets their time to shine and showcase just what they can do while earning the sympathy of the audience, minus the forced emotional moments weaker films have. Even if the conclusion of some of the character arcs ended in either contrived or convenient ways simply because sequels just HAVE to be fucking made, there’s no denying that these guys were all likable and fun to see on screen.

Remember the smart banter and group dynamics that made the non-action portions of the first THE AVENGERS so great? Imagine that spread throughout an entire movie and you’ll get where I’m coming from. For perspective, think of it this way: You’re reading the words of a man who fucking hated Paul Rudd in ANT-MAN because he was nothing but a bargain bin Tony Stark who just couldn’t shut the fuck up in a two hour slog of a movie but here in CIVIL WAR, the dude has maybe twenty minutes of screen time and yet I actually found him funny.

Another praiseworthy bit of writing in CIVIL WAR was how naturally it introduced the new MCU entries, namely Black Panther and Spiderman. A common complaint I share with many out there who grow weary with each passing weak Superhero Movie is that these movies tend to concentrate too much on establishing a connected universe instead of making stand-alone movies work well, with a common symptom of this being too many fucking characters. Even if CIVIL WAR has quite a fuckton of people in it, it learned from the mistakes of AGE OF ULTRON and instead seamlessly weaved these newcomers into the narrative of the Regulation conflict rather than shoehorning them for in-movie trailer filler. In doing so, CIVIL WAR turned itself into a self-contained story that still successfully hypes up its audience for future Marvel projects. Couple in some fucking amazing action set pieces and possibly one of the best Marvel villains since the Neo-Nazi/Illuminati hybrid of Hydra and you’re good to go.

It’s a pity that CIVIL WAR wasn’t able to fill in the shoes of the astounding WINTER SOLDIER but it’s far from a failure. Rather than just redeem the Marvel brand for making generic PG-13 crap, CIVIL WAR does more and proves that there’s a lot left in Marvel’s creative bank. Maybe by the time INFINITY WAR hits, we’ll finally get to see Marvel mature as a brand and take its movies into the same dark and unforgiving territories its Netflix shows have shamelessly reveled in but for now, CIVIL WAR will have to do because even if it kept shying away from greatness, it’s still a good watch.

 

 

 

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