Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is definitely a middle sequel. Not the kind that takes the franchise to another level like Terminator 2 or The Empire Strikes Back. It’s the kind that tries so hard to be different it sabotages everything that was great about the original. The good news is, part three is usually an apology that goes back to the successful formula.
The characters are no longer themselves anymore. Drax (Dave Bautista) laughs and bellows at others’ expense. That’s not the literal brute who didn’t get sarcasm and metaphor. Even worse, his put downs to Mantis (Pom Klementieff)’s appearance are not endearingly dumb. They’re mean and objectifying, and sound dangerously like male comic book fans insulting human girls. Rocket (Bradley Cooper) begins the movie by blatantly endangering the entire group, for no reason, for something he doesn’t even need. The movie aims at forgiveness but not correcting destructive behavior.
I don’t know why filmmakers still think darker is the way to go with a sequel when audiences historically respond poorly to it. Guardians 2 includes ruthless mass executions, Nebula (Karen Gillen) determined to commit sororicide, apocalyptic landscapes (and not the fun flamboyant Mad Max kind), even Hellraiser imagery at one point. Adorable Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) even gets involved in dismemberment.
I am actually a fan of dark sequels like Temple of Doom and Back to the Future Part II but the tone of Guardians’s whimsy does not mesh with the kind of vicious violence they’re celebrating. Even though it’s PG-13 it’s still our heroes committing mass murder at times. In Temple of Doom it was only the evil cult villains ripping out hearts. The villain’s plan has at worst Nazi undertones and at best Satanic temptation. I mean, can’t we just chase another bad guy for a magic stone again? The idea of corrupting Peter (Chris Pratt) is never developed anyway because Peter never really toils over it. He’s still good old Peter.
Part two is too early to change everything. How about just giving us the Guardians of the Galaxy on another adventure before you sabotage everything we love about them? Then it’ll mean more when you do a movie turning them on their head because you’ve established a tradition. If even Yondu (Michael Rooker)’s gang isn’t the same reliable old scamps, what can fans even believe in? And what a missed opportunity not having Sylvester Stallone say, “Yo, Yondu!”
I get that any space movie is going to have a lot of visual effects and green screen, but this is like a Star Wars prequel. It’s running from ships and lasers on a green screen, and shooting back with an animated cannon that doesn’t really exist either. The scene on Ego (Kurt Russell)’s planet is egregious with the Guardians floating through the green screen so they’re not even touching the actual ground.
One scene is literally enemies playing a video game at the Guardians and the climax is just a higher tech version of the face on the planet in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Are fans actually going to say it’s okay now because it’s CGI? (I love Star Trek V but that’s another story. If fans hate that, I want consistency.) That Ant-Man effect of making a famous actor look like their younger selves is going to get old soon. It also doesn’t always look as good as Michael Douglas. Don’t get cocky.
A lot of the plot is Ego explaining what a Celestial is to Peter. Isn’t that apt, that exposition is ego? Everyone thinks what they’re saying is so important. We get it. We can move on.
That thing where they do a movie cliche and then diffuse it is poorly telegraphed this time. When a villain makes a melodramatic vow, it’s already become old hat for a Guardian to break the tension. The story also takes generally lazy shortcuts, like as soon as Mantis says she has something to tell Drax, she gets interrupted. Find a subtle way to foreshadow danger. Don’t just say you have something to say and then delay saying it.
Even the things people liked about the first movie get exaggerated until it’s not cute anymore. Since everyone loved the blacklight joke, there are now constant sex jokes. Everyone loved Baby Groot in one scene, so now he’s in the whole movie. Sure, they find ways to use his minuscule size but it’s still pandering.
And five credits scenes? Honestly.
One thing Guardians 2 does right is split the team into interesting configurations. The best parts of the movie are when Yondu is with Rocket and Groot. It’s disjointed and we spend too much time away from Peter, Gamora and Drax, but Rooker is doing real drama with a CGI raccoon.
Another fun recurring joke is when they shift the big battle into the background to focus on some non sequitur. That’s funny, and we know we’re not missing anything because the battle would just be more green screen. There are fun cameos but I’m not sure a joke or two is worth leaving uncomfortable silences earlier in the film when they’re setting it up.
Perhaps in time I’ll look back on Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and praise it for being the only film in the franchise to take chances, betray its characters and slyly embed misogyny into a mainstream family film. I don’t imagine those aspects improving with time the way other dark sequels have, but when there are 10 Guardians of the Galaxy and nine of them are great, this one will become a more interesting case study.