I don’t often feel compelled to write reviews of movies, due mostly to the fact that I know my bar for an enjoyable movie is pretty low. I am not too difficult to please, and I often give movies a pass because I can, as a writer, understand what they were trying to do. I empathize and therefore am a sympathetic watcher.
But yesterday as I sat in the theater, checking my watch frequently to see how much longer the movie could possibly be, I realized that I couldn’t let this opportunity for real criticism pass me by.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the sequel to 2014’s surprise smash hit, Guardians of the Galaxy. That movie came out of nowhere to become one of Marvel’s best-received and most well-liked films. It was a breath of fresh air, for many, and just ridiculous enough to be both entertaining and genuine fun.
Now, for full disclosure: I didn’t think GotG was nearly as good as everyone else in the world. It was an enjoyable movie with fun, quirky characters, but I didn’t appreciate it’s aversion to any sort of seriousness and its lack of real stakes. Call me crazy, but when you defeat the big bad villain in a dance-off to save the day, I can’t help but think that’s kind of stupid. But it was still overall an enjoyable movie.
From the first trailer for GotG2, I feared. I feared that the success of the first would ruin the second. How many times have we seen sequels try to recreate the same exact formula that worked for the first one, only to fail because they’re trying too hard to be “more” of whatever it was that made the original so good? The best sequels don’t just recreate the original again with minor tweaks, but rather they build and expand. That’s why Empire Strikes Back is so good; Star Wars took the whole world by storm, and Empire was wildly different and somehow, even better. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is another example of a sequel that is superior because it takes what was so good about the original and pushes it into a new and different direction. (Granted, TWS had the benefit of taking Cap out of the 1940s.)
Unfortunately, GotG2 has no aspirations to do anything different than the first one. Instead it falls prey to the trap of “more.” More explosions, more Guardians-bickering, more characters desperately searching for the approval of father figures, more irreverence for potentially galaxy-destroying situations, more more more MORE. And it just didn’t work.
When James Gunn, writer and director, sat down to write this movie, he must’ve got his notes from “Introduction to Psychology” and his big book of clichés out and read them over for inspiration. GotG2 is a movie about fathers, which isn’t surprising because of GotG1. In fact, it’s not even a bad theme for a movie; it’s a theme Marvel has already touched on several times, to varying degrees of success.
But the trouble this movie has is that it knows it is a movie about fathers, and it hits the audience in the head with that repeatedly. Again and again and again we’re reminded, as if James Gunn himself were writing subtitles in big, bold letters: THIS CHARACTER HAS SEARCHED HIS WHOLE LIFE FOR A FATHER FIGURE; WATCH WHAT HAPPENS NOW. And it’s nearly every single character. Peter Quill, Yondu, Ego, Gamora, Nebula, Drax, Mantis, that pirate who mutinies from Yondu, and even Rocket are all in the midst of this quest to find meaning and hoping to find their meaning from being accepted by others or trying to overcome previous issues of not being accepted by important role models in their lives. It’s exhausting, quite frankly, and it came across to me as just so lazy.
At one point about half of the way through the movie, Yondu the space pirate sits in a prison cell with Rocket and monologues about his horrible, no good life of being outcast by the other space pirates, especially by the one who saved him from slavery, Sylvester Stallone. What could be subtext left for the viewer to interpret is instead two or three paragraphs spoken by a character who is essentially just talking to himself. It was so lame, honestly, that I looked at my brother and rolled my eyes. And sadly, that’s not the only example of overtly expository dialogue. Gamora and Nebula have a weird and pointless fight in the caverns of Ego’s Planet and have a similar exchange. Kurt Russell’s character, Ego, uses the words of an 80s song to explain to Peter Quill why he should give up on Gamora and instead join him in his weird quest to rid the galaxy of all life.
The ideas behind the story aren’t inherently bad ideas. Stories since the beginning of time have been about man’s quest for acceptance and belonging, especially with regard to fathers. It’s actually a classic way of moving a character forward. But the execution in this story’s writing and dialogue is notably poor. Perhaps Gunn had too much power and was never told no. Perhaps he’s just not a good writer (for GotG1, he had a co-writer, Nicole Perlman, who has since been hired by Marvel to write the upcoming Captain Marvel movie and is supposed to be working on a sequel to RDJ’s Sherlock Holmes movies). Maybe Perlman’s role was to reign in Gunn from being overly cheesy on the first one. We may never know, but there is a marked difference in quality of writing from GotG1 and GotG2.
The core of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been heart and character growth. Iron Man’s path from the beginning of this series to now has been an amazing one to see. Steve Rogers has had a similarly great arc. Even minor characters have had great opportunities for growth that came across as natural and genuine. Nothing in GotG2 feels genuine. Everything feels forced. What could’ve been a fun sequel becomes a bit of a drag at points, and I was honestly anxious for the movie to end. The characters were written poorly, the overall plot is fairly thin and rather dumb (seriously, another villain who thinks the only way to make life better is to destroy all life?), and it just feels like a big, dumb blockbuster. The original Guardians had gut and heart, but this one is about as empty as the core of Ego’s Planet, which is for some reason hollow.
3/10. One of Marvel’s laziest offerings in years.