When I got to thinking about the original Guardians of the Galaxy and this new one, I keep coming around to the title sequences. The first one starts, as films irritatingly thought they could do for a while before, the production cards with that prologue about the death of Star Lord’s mother. Then it has the character walking through the remains of a destroyed alien city to some downbeat orchestral as the titles start to flick up, a nice fakeout to the point he puts on his headphones and Come and Get Your Love by Redbone starts playing and the title card flashes up. Course we’d all had the tone spoiled for us by the trailers before then.
Vol. 2 sets its opening titles to Mr. Blue Sky by the Electric Light Orchestra. It’s fun and silly and stupid, it feels like it has got licence now. I’m not gonna say there was a lack of confidence in the original, but walking out of the cinema back in 2014 it felt like there was a need to be epic, we had all that side plotting with Thanos and the infinity stones? cubes? I ain’t sure. Also the whole space police bit with John C Reilly, it felt packed, and as we got closer to the end the Guardians themselves got a little lost in the mix.
Well, audiences know who they are now, and they want more. That’s what Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 delivers. It’s not the Marvel show now, it’s theirs, for all the good and the ill that means.
So, instead of being an epic or an adventure it’s a family story. Kurt Russell turns up as Chris Pratt’s biological father, which is of course going to sow some strife with Michael Rooker’s character, the adoptive father. Karen Gillen’s Nebula, the sister of Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, turns up too to resolve their sibling rivalry established in the previous joint. Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) also get involved, along with newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff) but they gotta deal with family in the Fast and Furious sense rather than the biological one.
Which sure makes for a busy film, especially as they split up halfway through and so have to reconcile plots doubletime, but equally it makes for a more tightly focussed one. Rather than forcing its characters from scene to scene, it allows them time to relax into their world, gives them secrets to uncover and time to plan their moves, they’re no longer flying by the seat of their pants, they got some measure of control over the situation.
Which does occasionally become a bit of a drag, especially when, as these stories about family do, they’re forced to sit down and have their therapeutic discussions about what they all mean to each other. About how they thought they were closer than this and how the sudden arrival of new dad is destabilising their whole dynamic. Unfortunately so much of this work falls square onto the shoulders of Zoe Saldana, because she’s like the only woman in the flick so she gotta be the nagging one. Right. She so much better than that sorta material, especially because towards the beginning the film be giving her these jokes that she never got in the original.
Better time spent in these periods then is with the actual comics. Director James Gunn (also the cowriter and director of the original) took on the script himself this time and boy is he a funny gent, working his way around setups and punchlines deftly, although there is a late in the game Pac-Man goof which is just totally awful, and stupid because the setup is right there for another better joke they just don’t use.
It’s getting better too at action comedy, but that’s a weaker point. Not to say the action sequences aren’t good, they’re usually pretty solid (though a few come off as something superfluous) they’re just rarely comic. Like, you’ll have a fight scene and then you’ll have some jokes during a pause in the action. There’s that trailer with Rocket and Groot and the bomb, which thankfully it turns out the pacing of was totally murdered by the trailer house, it comes across so much better in the film. But even then, it’s a break from the action for the sake of some jokes as not to exhaust the audience. There’s very little in the way of Jackie Chan, Edgar Wright style action comedy, even if Gunn turns up his soundtrack real loud.
A note: it’s another good soundtrack, I’m not sure anything there really shook me up, but some choice picks regardless, even if it leans towards the indulgent.
That’s a good word, it is indulgent. I’m seeing on the film web that Gunn has come out and said people shouldn’t mind spoilers too much in this case, finding his quote now: ‘…we’ve created a movie where the story, humour, visuals, music, and emotion don’t rely on surprises…’ Which yeah, kinda says what it needs to say about story there, although he’s probably playing for those box office dollars too. No way to spoil an excitable camera, or a slick visual trick, or a fun song coming in at the exact right time. You can spoil a joke, but come on now, who would do that?
Which is to say, your tolerance for this joint is basically how open you are to have this teams indulgences shoved in your face. If you’re like me, Homer Simpson in that doughnut hell, you’ll be quite happy, but not quite satisfied.
Whatever, we’re getting a third, maybe they’ll nail it then.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is currently screening in cinemas worldwide.