For those wondering on how long Marvel’s magical streak could last, it is sad to say that after watching Guardian of the Galaxy Vol 2 last night, that streak is finally over. Sure there have been bumps along the way, with Marvel not delivering on less than impressive sequels such as Thor 2 and Iron Man 2 & 3 respectively, but in those films regardless, I could never accuse those films as being boring per se. But Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is a boring film. What made the original Guardians of the Galaxy so fresh and exciting, has now become a stale imitation with plotless meandering and forced humor, that sadly adds up to being a collection of lazy nonsense drivel.
Much of the blame lies solely at James Gunn’s feet who served as both director and writer for this sequel. First of all, I love James Gunn. The dude is an amazing auteur with his previous works such as Super which I regard as one of the greatest superhero films of all time due its complicated bleak nature and deconstruction on the notion of what makes a person unique. In the first Guardians film, Gunn was allowed to take these themes and apply them seamlessly across a structured narrative which made the first film a whole heap of joy with meaning to it (much of the credit also has to go Nicole Perlman who wrote the initial script). However, instead of making a better or more entertaining movie, Marvel’s mistake in giving Gunn more control has resulted in a half-baked father & son movie without the entertainment value and joy from the previous film.
The biggest problem Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 suffers from is the lack of plot. Without going into spoilers (but already heavily hinted at by the trailers), the film is broken into two storylines. One is around Star-Lord, Gamora and Drax finding Star-lord’s alien father, Ego, and the other with Groot (in a cute baby form) and Rocket being captured by the Ravagers we saw in the previous film and rescuing Yondu, after mutiny is committed earlier on. The cardinal sin Gunn commits in this film is that he lets both stories drag on without ever considering the overall narrative thread. Much of the scenes are pointless yabbering between characters, often with forced humor at every point. We spend a lot of scenes with characters talking to one another but often with little context as to what is being said. Some films can do that and pull it off, but when all of these character development has already been done in the previous film, it makes the overall experience less interesting and just a rehashing of old ideas that goes nowhere. In fact, the biggest problem that Vol 2 faces is that the plot is so excruciating thin that there are literally scenes set up to just tell a joke. One of the countless examples includes a scene where the audience spends 5-7 minutes laughing at Taserface (one of the mutineers and de facto leader of Ravagers) because he happens to have a shit name. Other times we see action scenes be temporarily stopped so that another joke can be explained to the audience, because who doesn’t love a joke in the middle of a shootout? I lost count at the number of jokes vomited out because most of them were just so lazy compared with the original Guardians film. Instead of having a well-structured plot, all we get is a tedious pile of half-arsed jokes (including Amy Schumer’s favorite word) and where the characters do most of the laughing for you.
Aside of plot and comedy failure in this film, Guardians Vol. 2 also suffers from a myriad of problems (not present in the original one) ranging from the pacing of the film to even the selection of music for the film. One of the biggest contributor as to why Vol. 2 was so boring is that the action was non-existent. Literally, the film has only one scene where we see the Guardians as a whole fighting and that all happens in the opening. For example, Drax the Destroyer has only 2 action scenes throughout the movie and that all happens within the first 30 minutes of the film. Even with the action scenes, most of them are just either too overpowered (like Yondu’s fin we see in the trailer which doesn’t amount to any interesting action) or firing at generic enemies without any sort of danger. By far compared with other Marvel film, the action in this film is as non-existent as the plot which is totally unexpected, considering how good the action in the first one was.
Pacing was also all over the place where some scenes took way too long, whilst others were too short. Scenes that should naturally gel with one another, are abruptly cut short due the fractured narrative of having to bounce-in-between the two main threads of Rocket/Yondu versus Star-lord/Ego. Where the original Vol.1 had a direct pace and took time off appropriately for character development, we see none of the same care applied to this film. Instead, the film forces you to watch scene-after-scene of character development once they realized they ran out of time to shove it down our throats by the end of the middle section. A lack of care is also evident in the music choice of the film where instead of having well-timed songs scattered across the narrative, we instead get beaten by the ear, a series of 70s tracks, serving more as noise pollution rather than the complimentary scene stoppers we got from Vol. 1. The score for the film is also awfully generic compared to Micahel Giacchino’s wonderful attempt for Dr Strange.
Perhaps the other problem with this film, that suggests why it is a mediocre doppelganger compared to the original, is that much of the character moment and interaction lacks the context which Vol 1. had. The first film had both the Nova corps, Ravagers and criminals at Knowhere to give the film a space journey feel, whereas in Vol. 2, the characters spend a lot of time in their one respective location without interacting with other characters. Much of the dialogue is also expository in nature rather than genuinely interactions between one another which is why Vol. 2 lacks heart and an actual attempt to explore these characters further. What we get instead, is the word ‘family’ bashed across our heads the whole entire movie, making it seems like a running Hollywood joke on how many time they can fit the ‘F’ word between the Fast & Furious and Suicide Squad franchises
Without bashing the film more than any Marvel fan should, there are some positives that hold the film somewhat together. The acting in this film is superb with Kurt Russell (Ego) doing the best he can with the limited cheesy dialogue he is given. Chris Pratt, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillian & Zoe Saldana all give fine performances, especially Pratt going to some depths we haven’t seen before which is refreshing. The visuals of this film is also gorgeous but unlike Vol 1., there seemed to be more digital effects used this time around compared to the grounded nature of the first film – which I generally tend to prefer. Whilst the world building is not as comprehensive as the first one, there are some interesting worlds explored, in addition to many easter eggs that hint towards a certain important character yet to come. There is also care shown towards the lighting of the film, where you see much better contrasts in this film compared with other Marvel properties.
Although Vol. 2 is a disaster compared with Vol 1. and other related Marvel properties, I am still happy that Gunn is taking the helm of Vol 3. However, I would be concerned if Marvel doesn’t rein back some of the creative freedom the director has, considering Vol. 2 is as James Gunn as you are going to get in the Marvel Universe. Much of the problems of the film can be fixed and the plot hopefully will pick off from where Infinity War leaves us next year. However, despite this optimism, it is undoubtedly clear Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the biggest misstep to date considering how much goodwill has gone into this project. Any further miscalculations would surely tarnish the brand and have those critics at the gate with more ammunitions as to why the MCU is going to fail its audience. Perhaps the Guardians might have saved the galaxy again this time, but we are unsure if they can save the future of the MCU with this lackluster sequel.
Score: 5/10 – Mediocre compared with the original film and other Marvel property. Boring as hell with a lack of action and a lack of plot. Good visuals and some good jokes, but mostly characters laughing amongst themselves.