I've said it before and I'll say it again: Marvel Studios sucks. Their characters are bland; their movies are samey; and they spew franchise installments with the sole goal of setting up the next cash-cow to bring the profits in. You must remember, kiddos, Deadpool and Logan are not Marvel Studios movies...
There is, of course, one exception to the rule.
|What a sexy promotional image... eh?|
Even more so than the original, Gunn seems to be going straight for the Star Wars vibes this time with a Jack Kirby - esque (man, those were the good days, huh....) cosmic fantasia: an epic of fathers and sons, living planets, and red-light districts. Hell, if we were being a little more picky here, we could really boil the entire affair down to A New Hope/The Force Awakens (given they're the same thing). For some reason, nobody else has really picked this out - but watch it and let me know what you think: the resemblance is uncanny.
Anyways, despite the smaller location count (a lot of the action happens on one planet), there's a lot more imagination at play here - from the almost trippy visual output of certain starry vistas, to the core story-line involving gods and higher levels of threat than merely planetary domination. A paradoxical situation where less is indeed more: it feels like the cinematic equivalent of Creamola Foam. If you're wondering what that is, think crystal meth for kids.
|The fearsome Sovereign|
Throughout these slightly confused, but endlessly interesting plot strands, Gunn folds in a mix of luminescent characters both ubiquitous with the Guardians brand, and perhaps less so... Of course we also have Baby Groot (Vin Diesel - is that ironic?), the hilarious Drax (Dave Bautista), and Yondu (Michael Rooker) - who is apparently now a good guy.... But we also now have fantastic new characters in Ego (Kurt Russell playing an 80s-tinged crazy role he was just destined to fulfil) and some guy called Tazer Face. The breadth of character can, at times, feel more than a little confusing - and combined with the weird orbital narrative structure I just discussed, the whole thing can feel a bit unhinged. But that's part of the joy of watching a Guardians movie: chaos is allowed - even encouraged - to reign.
|OK, I'm sneaking another poster into this review...|
Emotionally, interestingly, there's a lot of darker content floating around in this iteration. Of course, I'm not going to spoil what's going on; but there are very sinister undertones from discussion of terminal illness and mortality, and as mentioned before, an evil master-plan with some interestingly dark undertones. What this makes for is a more intense and full movie than the first time round - with a larger playing field for our characters to work on. And, yes, there is comparable emotional heft to the ending as with Vol 1.
Obviously it looks beautiful... Saying that about a Guardians movie just seems daft: you already know that it'll be one of the best-looking superhero movies of the year from the title alone. Of course, Logan has probably gone and stolen it for 2017 with it's western-inspired palette, but same rules apply... At times, admittedly it feels a little too safe (the Sovereign ships and space fight scenes seem like direct rehashes from both the first film and multiple other sci-fi flicks), but in general it's a winner. The planet of Ego is rendered in stunning detail - looking intricate, yet unexciting on the surface, but being really quite something else on the inside. Ego's mansion, as well, is filled with the kind of awesome visual inspiration (porcelain-looking statues aid in the telling of stories) to put the cherry on top. An Amsterdam-esque red light environment - all neon signs and sleaze - adds some much needed grit to the production; and at times we stray into Fury Road territory: open galactic vistas, with the brightly colored sky emphasized against the dirt ground (Stan Lee's obvious cameo is a particular highlight in this vein). Large portions of the movie take place on the Sovereign planet - and with all characters here painted an immaculate gold, an ethereal and almost 50s sci-fi aura (*Tommy Wiseau voice* oh hi Jack Kirby once more) perpetuates these secenes - which is always nice. And, of course, by default, all Kurt Russell scenes are oh-so-80s (what with the Hasselhof clothing, vintage tunes, and that goddamn haircut). It's kind of like a jawbreaker melted in a puddle and created a multicoloured spew. In a good way.
And, I don't know what you were expecting - but the soundtrack is the absolute bomb. It would be hard to improve upon Awesome Mix Vol.1, and Vol. 2 probably doesn't - but it does provide an equally satisfying ride. From the ELO-scored opening, to the repeated appearances of Fleetwood Mac's The Chain (I wonder how much that cost), Gunn and co really know how to have a good time. What's more, the tracks align with the story beats - a little George Harrison here on a God planet; a little Cat Stevens there for an emotional reflection: it all just works so perfectly.
|This one too...|
The momentum of the story also greatly dips in the third act. We, of course, never fear for the safety of any of the Guardians - they are all key characters who cannot die in the second installment of the franchise. So when the 'end-of-the-world' shtick starts to inevitably fly in, nobody's buying it. This is made doubly hard to take by the insanely long (and I mean insanely long) boss battle that just keeps on going and going, despite the fact that most people would rather be seeing some more cool visual output.
And, finally, the CGI content is overwhelmingly omnipresent. In 10 years time, this movie will be nigh-on unwatchable form the use of outdated technology. I've never understood why studios do this, and I still don't understand now. When you can watch 2001: A Space Odyssey and feel like it was made yesterday; but Avatar looks ancient, you know something's up. But Guardians at many times is almost exclusively a CG creation. For me, the longevity of a film is incredibly important when measuring prestige - and Guardians, as both a product of 2010's pop-cultural obsessions, and of a particular computer generated era, has very little.
|Yup. Another one.|
Until then, however, we thankfully have Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. People describe Michael Bay movies as popcorn-movies; this is a Tango ice-blast movie: a neon coloured, sugary, and fizzy slush that crackles and pops at the seams. It's like an LSD trip inside a nursery inside a VHS tape. And that, my friends, is a shitload of fun. Enjoy.
|Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 gets 4 stars!|