After my off-brand (?) foray into limited edition food, & Zack Snyder’s reclusive axes, I’m back with a much more mainstream collaboreview of Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2! The Wages of Cinema had me back to remember names & tell me I’ve been pronouncing esoteric wrong my whole life!
The first Guardians of the Galaxy may be my favorite MCU movie. This may be because it felt like a Farscape relaunch, the clearest parallel being Star-Lord retooled to be more like John Crichton. (Ben Browder has a cameo in this one!) It’s one of the rare adaptations that change almost everything from the source material while managing to be wonderful. (Meanwhile the 2017 Free Comic Book Day issue of GOTG has Marvel rejigger the team to be even closer to the movie.) It even works as a stand alone space opera without needing to worry about the other Marvel movies. Fortunately this sequel maintains the magic of the first installment without falling into the trap of just rehashing it. Even the credits are fun! The trailers did a great job not spoiling the movie so I would have something to do here!
One of my favorite aspects of the first GOTG was how it focused on Star-Lord’s non-Oedipal mommy issues rather than cliched daddy issues. Unlike Martha Wayne or Maria Stark, I got a genuine sense of who Meredith Quill was as a person & what she meant to Star-Lord. (While he could’ve used much more screentime, Ronan the Accuser subtextually contrasts as the product of a toxic patriarchy.) So I was nervous that building a movie around Star-Lord’s dad would completely overshadow Ms. Quill (not to be confused with the one on the Doctor Who spinoff Class). Luckily writer-director James Gunn avoids this.
In yet another gargantuan deviation from comics canon, MCU Star-Lord’s biological father is Ego the Living Planet! (Apparently Fox traded Ego from its Fantastic Four rights to Marvel Studios in exchange for letting Negasonic Teenage Warhead have new powers in Deadpool, even though Fox had never been too concerned with how it depicts mutants.) I was worried Ego might not be a living planet here, but I was happy to see that he is explicitly & Kurt Russell’s face graced its surface for an all too brief shot. Ego is one of the rare one-shot MCU villains that doesn’t underwhelm. Not only is Russell inspired casting as Star-Lord’s dad, he has a joyful charisma that belies his villainy. Siring kids across the cosmos to use as batteries to transform their homeworlds into extensions of himself is the most high stakes fiendish plot yet & it doesn’t even rely on Infinity Gems! Solipsism incarnate even callously killed Meredith! So the sequel confirms that Star-Lord is a superhero because of good mothering not planetary genetics.
Thanos aside, this sub-franchise is pro-stepdad. Thankfully Yondu Udonta gets an improved fin to go with his expanded arc. (He was a noble savage archetype in the comics when the original team had no representation, so it feels a bit like whitewashing to slather Michael Rooker in blue even if his movie counterpart is almost completely reimagined.) I know from experience that real dads threaten to eat you! Yondu’s glorious Trillium arrow murder spree is everything I want out of Darkseid’s Omega Beams in a Justice League movie! Unlike Phil Coulson or Groot, it looks like Yondu’s martyrdom will actually stick. (I suppose James Gunn is saving Kraglin’s gruesomely hilarious demise for the trilogy’s conclusion out of nepotism.)
Gamora is the least interesting Guardian because the villainous beginning of her redemption arc was off-screen like Black Widow’s. Even her outfit is more boring this outing. It’s not that Zoe Saldana or the character is bad so much as being the responsible mom in a kooky sitcom family is a thankless role. Whether she actually reciprocates Star-Lord’s romantic affections remains murky so they’re stuck in unsatisfying liminality. (I’d prefer they officially stay platonic pals, but at least hooking up would move them past this tedious phase.) A nifty wrinkle reveals that she was the prime antagonist in the violent sibling rivalry with Nebula. (While her disguise voice is solid, I miss Karen Gillan’s Inverness accent.)
Baby Groot is weaponized cute! Even the delightfully named Taserface (legitimutannt comic character) isn’t immune to his adorability. He’s also really creepy when he steals toes, which says a lot about Rocket Raccoon’s parental influence. The adorable runner-up is newcomer Mantis, which made me feel bad for her when Drax the Destroyer of Self-Esteem said mean things to her. (Curse Hasbro for making her a BAF!) In a movie about dads, it’s a missed opportunity not to reveal Drax’s daughter, Moondragon, is still alive.
In addition to the post-Annihlation era GOTG core cast, watch for barely recognizable cameos by members of prior iterations as assorted Ravagers. This includes Miley Cyrus’s voice as I Can’t Believe It’s Not Widget! Michelle Yeoh is squandered as Aleta when she could’ve been The Ancient One. My favorite is Krugarr the serpentine sorcerer! Where’s Sharon Stone as Nikki? Unfortunately Nathan Fillion’s cameo as Simon “Wonder Man” Williams was a casualty of editing. GOTG vol. 3 will be really crowded if they stuff the proto-GOTG Ravagers into it in addition to Adam Warlock, so maybe maybe they’ll just be killed up by Thanos during Infinity War to make him seem less pathetic. Or will they just be forgotten like The Leader?
Even more so than its predecessor, this is head & shoulders above the MCU in terms of visuals. Not only does it embrace the bizarre & colorful nature of comic books, it doesn’t suffer from murky color grading. It’s full of prismatic rainbows! Ego is made of prog rock! It even makes drone spacecrafts seem fresh by having them piloted just like Dave & Buster’s rides. Its imagery is complemented by a soundtrackthat’s still on point (including a Zardu Hasselfrau original).
GOTGv2 juggles a lot of tones but handles them all deftly. This is tied with The LEGO Batman Movie for the film that’ll make you experience the widest array of emotions. So whenever a filmmaker says “we had to tone things down because otherwise it’d be too weird for audiences to connect with,” beat them over the head with this contrary evidence. This character-driven spectacle proves a cog in Marvel’s mega-franchise machine can still ooze personality.
Marvel Studios, quote me on the home release: “Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is out of this world!” Get it? It’s metaphorical! It can also be taken literally, ergo mine is the best of all possible reviews.
Come back for the Agents of SHIELD season four wrap-up review next week! Should I work in a Riverdale overview too?