Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017, dir. James Gunn)
The Guardians have made a name for themselves and now act as heroes for hire. They finish up their latest job, protecting the energy source of The Sovereign, a genetically engineered “perfect race” but run into trouble on the way out. This leads to Peter Quill meeting his father for the first time, a strange man named Ego. Meanwhile, Yondu and his Ravagers are hired by a party disgruntled with The Guardians and wanting revenge. Gamora is also dealing with family issues (her vengeful sister Nebula), and everyone else seems to have their own interesting arcs as well.
The internet has been abuzz in the last year with fans of DC’s superhero offerings decrying others of being Marvel fanboys. And maybe color me a Marvel fanboy because I loved this film infinitely more than a single thing DC has put out since their decision to offer their characters up to Zack Snyder. It was fairly obvious in the marketing for Suicide Squad that DC was trying to capitalize on the success of “non-conventional” films like Guardians and Deadpool. Trailers used vintage pop rock. Bursts of neon color were splashed across posters. But they failed to realize the reason why audiences enjoyed the first Guardians film. Its sequel is a perfect reminder as to why: The characters are interesting and enjoyable to watch on screen.
Writer-director James Gunn was allowed a ton of creative freedom to make the movie he wanted to make. This shows in his deep diving into Marvel lore and even more so in the emphasis on character development over huge set piece action moments. There are still those sequences of action, but there a lot more scenes about two or more characters interacting and the audience learning about them through their actions and reactions. The core cast each get engaging storylines that connect with each other. Side characters like Yondu get a full arc. And even all the new characters (Mantis, Ego, The Sovereign) get whole stories.
The theme of family is strong throughout and never comes across as pandering. So often modern big studio films wield their themes like sledgehammers, and we end up with migraines by the end due to them pounding home the message we’re supposed to get. There are actual stakes attached to the themes, and by the end, there are fatal consequences. There is a lot of humor threaded throughout the film, and I can see how that might get overwhelming to the audience. Gunn does have a tendency to undercut the emotional weight of scenes with a gag. Guardians gets often compared to early Star Wars and my one caveat there is that Star Wars allowed moments to have genuine pathos, while Guardians constantly feels the need to be zany and silly. Unlike Suicide Squad whose idea of humor was the textbook definition of “try hard,” the jokes in this film are genuinely funny.
The finale of the film did begin to get a little special FX riddled with so many moving parts on the screen it began to become hard to see who was where doing what. It never goes so over the top that it becomes like Bay’s Transformers in its incomprehensible action, but it is definitely on par with what is becoming the standard of big blockbuster denouements these days. Otherwise, the film is a fantastic use of digital effects. I’ve always stood by the idea that these effects should be utilized not to create realistic environments and creatures but to show us fantastic vista and alien beings that feel real. The worlds in Guardians are so full of detail and color that it’s a little disappointing that we only get to see them every few years. It’s obvious Gunn has lots of backstory for himself as the filmmaker and gives us just enough crumbs to infer what these cultures are about.
Guardians will likely be my favorite of the summer films this year. Looking at the upcoming schedule I don’t have much hope for what is down the pike. And honestly, this picture has all the sorts of things that make the summer movie season fun, yet doesn’t give up on building its characters’ relationships with each other.