Well, I finally went to see Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2.
I’ve seen people on both sides of this one, but personally I thought it was pretty great.
Our unlikely band of heroes are back for more adventures in space. This time they must face long-lost fathers, homicidal sisters, pissed off gold people, and the challenges of raising a sentient baby tree who really just wants to dance.
1. I really enjoy the first Guardians of the Galaxy, but I don’t quite love it the way other people do. Mind you, there’s an awful lot to like about it. The movie is a lot of fun. The tone is completely different from anything that Marvel had done at the time; plus, they even made a talking space raccoon work, which, I’ve gotta tell you, I was pretty skeptical about from watching the trailers.
OTOH, while GotG was wildly different for Marvel, it felt pretty much like what I’d expect from the guy who made Slither and Super. Which let me be clear: absolutely not a complaint. I’ve been a fan of James Gunn’s work since watching Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake (which Gunn wrote). But it also meant that GotG didn’t feel . . . IDK, as revolutionary to me as it might have for other people. And that wouldn’t necessarily be a big deal, except that there are definitely aspects of the film that I do find disappointing: Big Bad Ronan, for instance, is basically the same Marvel villain as half a dozen others, and honestly, I expected a little more out of Gamora’s story, particularly since she’s our one and only girl on the team.
I’m not telling you all this just to bag on the first GotG. Hell, I own it and watched it only two weeks ago. I really do like the movie. I’m just trying to explain what I think worked so well for me about its sequel. Cause one of the most common complaints I’ve seen so far about Volume Two is that, for a lot of people, there was just no way it could live up to the gloriously original experience of watching the first film. I get that, and I’ve totally been there with other movies. Books, too, for that matter.
But for me, Volume Two exceeded expectations because it did something I usually want but don’t get from sequels: it told a much smaller, more intimate story. People making sequels often seem compelled to try and up the ante on everything about the original, which, with superhero stories, usually means even higher stakes, even bigger explosions, and even more dangerous villains. On paper, that sounds great; unfortunately, it often leads to convoluted stories with less room for character work and more room for that extra long chase scene no one really needed and doesn’t make a lot of sense, anyway.
GotG: Volume Two isn’t really like that. There’s a threat to the galaxy, sure, but this movie barely even focuses on it. Primarily, it’s interested in the emotional relationships between our band of heroes. It’s talking about biological family versus found family. It never feels the need to add, like, four new heroes and six new villains to the mix. There are new characters, but the movie doesn’t feel overstuffed in the way that, say, X-Men: The Last Stand did (you know, when they decided to introduce, like, 17 new mutants, plus a dumb classification system no one had ever discussed, plus a ridiculously stupid backstory for our love-interest-turned-villain, plus a whole cure storyline that didn’t work, plus . . . okay, I probably shouldn’t have used this movie as an example, considering how much I hate it.) Pivotally, the new characters in Volume Two never feel like they’re taking away time from the characters we fell in love with in the last movie, you know, the old school crew. We actually get time to learn even more about them, expand on their motivations, their fears, and how they feel about one another. Volume Two is a character first sequel, and I loved that about it.
2. That all being said, my biggest problem with the whole movie is how the character dynamic between Drax (Dave Bautista) and newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff) completely fell flat for me.
I feel like I can see how it could have worked, like, I can imagine where the idea began. Drax is the extremely literal member of the team and completely fails to understand a lot of nuance, including but not limited to sarcasm. Mantis is the completely innocent noob who has, like, zero context for anything all these strange people say. Those energies could work really well together. I could see all types of potentially hilarious misunderstandings between them (as well as a basis for a real emotional connection).
And in the very beginning, I was mostly okay with these two. Like, sure, Drax says Mantis is hideous, right, but a) Mantis is super obviously not hideous, b) Gamora assures Mantis that she’s not hideous, c) it makes sense that there are different cultural ideas of aesthetic beauty, and Mantis very well might be totally hideous to Drax, who probably would mention it because, well, Drax, and d) even if different cultural ideas of aesthetic beauty didn’t apply, we’ve kind of already proved in the opening credits that Drax isn’t, like, a paragon of logic, like, his opinion is not necessarily the one I’d trust, you know?
But here’s the thing: Drax isn’t just an insensitive ass once. He repeatedly calls Mantis disgusting. He makes gagging noises to indicate just how much she physically repulses him. The whole thing is played for laughs, but . . . it’s just not funny. There’s nothing particularly hilarious about a dude calling a lady ugly for two hours straight. At best, it’s repetitive and irritating. At worst, it’s downright cruel. Like, there’s a difference between being overly literal versus being a massive dick, you know?
About the only thing I did like with this ongoing gag was how Mantis made it pretty clear that she wasn’t sexually or romantically interested in Drax, so I felt good that, at the very least, I didn’t have to worry about the movie shipping her with this asshole . . . until one line near the film, which made me reconsider the film’s intentions in that regard. Either way, I don’t like their scenes at all, but if I’m actually supposed to ship them? Um, no.
3. That opening credits, though? AWESOME.
I know some people were worried that Overnight Success and Toy Juggernaut Baby Groot would take over the whole sequel, but that never really happened for me, and I think a large part of that was making him the focus early on. Like, we quickly acknowledged that everyone loves Baby Groot and his adorable dance movies with an appropriate follow-up to the original film’s opening credits . . . and then we just moved on without making the whole movie one giant commercial for Baby Groot. I thought that was well-handled. Plus, it’s just a really fun scene that both introduces the tone for the uninitiated and reestablishes it for anyone who worried the sequel would forget to bring the funny.
4. I was also a little bit more into Gamora this time around.
It’s not like I hated her in the first movie or anything. She has some fun moments, and I’m a pretty big fan of Zoe Saldana. But in a movie with wildly original characters, Gamora felt like a pretty generic mashup of Aeryn Sun from Farscape and Princess Kitana from Mortal Kombat, and I was disappointed by it.
Essentially, she’s still the same character here. There’s nothing particularly weird about Gamora, which is bit of a bummer. Still, I really like that there’s a lot more focus on her and Nebula in this movie. For one, I’m forever about sister stories, whether those sisters are homicidal or not. (I mean, obviously, we prefer everyone to be at least a little homicidal at My Geek Blasphemy. Nothing says family relations like a little attempted murder between relatives.) It also means that Gamora’s entire storyline isn’t about her will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic with Peter, which is usually what happens when it comes to The One Girl on the Team. I enjoy Peter/Gamora, but that kind of shit gets old real fast.
Also, significantly, I noticed Gamora’s hair much more this time around. I approve. I definitely approve.
5. Also enjoyable: Kurt Russell, as always.
I don’t know how much I have to say about him, in the long run, but he was fun. Kurt Russell is pretty much always Kurt Russell to me, but you know, sometimes that’s exactly what you need. And he works well in this movie. I generally like all of his scenes with Chris Pratt.
6. Finally, before spoilers, we have to discuss the soundtrack.
Ultimately, I think I like the first movie’s soundtrack a bit better, but this one is still pretty delightful. Best of all, it uses “The Chain,” which is absolutely my jam. If you’re judging, you can just fuck right off, because that song’s awesome, and some of us grew up on Fleetwood Mac, all right? The only way I would have been happier is if the movie had somehow managed to include “Tusk,” too, since that’s my favorite Fleetwood Mac song. Ooh, also “Gold Dust Woman” . . . although that might have been a bit on the nose, with Ayesha in the mix.
Everything else I’d like to discuss includes spoilers. You know what to do.
We begin this movie with a flashback to the 1980’s, which I mostly bring up to say that Young Kurt Russell actually looks pretty decent, and we’ve come a long way since X-Men: The Last Stand and its bullshit CGI. (See, I just can’t help myself. That fucking movie, I swear to God.) Russell’s hair, in particular, is pretty magnificent. (ETA: Apparently, this might be because, according to interviews, it’s mostly makeup with a sprinkling of CGI. If that’s true, I think it’s the way to go.)
I never trusted Ego because I’m not an idiot, but I’ll admit that at first I didn’t expect him to be the film’s Big Bad. I initially assumed they were going to expose him as a selfish jackass who only came for Peter because he needed him for something or other, which, to be fair, is basically what happens. It’s just that what Ego needs Peter for is to basically destroy all life as we know it. Whoops. Anyway, as the film continued along without a Big Bad emerging (Ayesha was clearly never a true contender), I figured oh, this guy’s up to some serious No-Good. Still, I did not expect the revelation that Ego killed Peter’s Mom. Like, that was definitely an oh, SHIT moment for me.
But all that happens pretty late in the movie. I don’t know if I feel like going through the whole plot today, so let’s just ABC it, shall we?
A. I really do love all the found family shit, like, found families–along with Fleetwood Mac–are absolutely my jam. That being said, it does occasionally get a bit on the nose. Just once, really: when Drax says that they’re not friends, they’re FAMILY, and I’m like . . . dude, no, I got it. Theme already firmly established. No need to Bat Label it or anything.
Still, everything else I liked: all of Nebula’s scenes with Gamora (including her backstory which, under 60 seconds, manages to be tragic, funny, and provide some serious justification for her vendetta), Rocket pushing the team away, the parallels between Rocket and Yondu, Yondu’s complicated relationship with Peter, Peter’s bitter longing for Ego, everyone acting as parents to Baby Groot . . . it all works really, really well for me.
B. Yondu’s death was touching and sad, but didn’t quite succeed in making me tear up.
I’m normally a ridiculously easy cry, so I figured there are two reasons for that: one, I watched this shortly after finishing k-drama Goblin, so I was probably already all cried out, and two, I knew going in that someone was going to die, and of the three most likely suspects (Yondu, Rocket, and Nebula), Yondu was my least favorite character, like, I liked him but . . . not as much as Rocket and Nebula. So, when his Redemptive Sacrifice moment came, I was kind of, you know, relieved. Which, yes, is probably not the reaction James Gunn was looking for, but so it goes sometimes.
That being said, he does have a good death scene. I’m totally a sucker for man tears. I just wanted to give Peter a big hug.
C. I kind of wish Peter still had some of his alien abilities. I don’t want him to be immortal or all-powerful or anything like that. It’d just be cool if he could, IDK, make a ball of blue light every now and then or something. I’d be delighted if we discovered this was the case in Volume Three, but I’m not exactly betting the farm on it.
D. More importantly, I also hope that in the next film Mantis gets some kind of Badass Moment of Awesome, because she didn’t really get one here, and I was a bit disappointed by it. It doesn’t need to be a fighting thing. There are a lot of different ways to be a badass. But I want her to have something cool to do, some standout moment that gives her more agency and preferably is somehow plot relevant. Especially because she’s an empath. There’s so much underused badass potential with empaths, I swear to God.
E. The two things I like about Gamora and Peter’s relationship:
One: as previously mentioned, it doesn’t overpower the whole story.
Two: it isn’t easily resolved in some dramatic fashion during the final act. It isn’t really resolved at all, actually, and while that can sometimes be frustrating (since people have a tendency to drag out “will-they-or-won’t-they” relationships for far too long), it felt right here. This wasn’t the moment for some big I Love You declaration scene. Having both parties simply acknowledge that there’s something between them felt like the right step forward to me.
F. I know very, very little about the comics, so I obviously had to look up all the cameos and Easter eggs and the like. What I do know is this: I am ALL HERE for whoever Michelle Yeoh is playing in this movie. Mek checked out the character’s history, and it sounded . . . kinda sketch, so hopefully we’ll be making some alterations. Still. I saw Michelle Yeoh, and I was like yes, THIS. I want more of her IMMEDIATELY.
G. There was one other cameo I cared about, and it definitely wasn’t Sylvester Stallone or Miley Cyrus. It wasn’t even Michael Rosenbaum, although I like Michael Rosenbaum. No, the person I got all excited about seeing in space? John Crichton. Okay, Ben Browder, but still. He played one of the gold alien dudes, and while his character didn’t do anything particularly interesting, I sat up straight in the theater when I heard him talk. Like, I was all . . . is that . . . I think that’s . . . holy shit, that’s totally Ben Browder! YEAAAH! I’d recognize that Fake Sebacean accent anywhere!
It was a tiny thing, but the diehard Farscape fan in me was ecstatic, so thank you, everyone involved in this casting decision.
H. Finally . . . c’mon, Baby Groot is just the best.
How can you not love this little guy? HE’S SO ADORABLE. I want to take him everywhere and make him attack all my enemies for me.
Gamora: “Maybe this man could be your David Hasselhoff.”
Yondu: “He may have been your father, Quill, but he wasn’t your daddy.”
Peter: “You shouldn’t have killed my mom and squished my walkman!”
Drax: “There are two types of beings in the universe: those who dance, and those who do not.”
Peter: “I get it, yes. I am a dancer. Gamora is not.”
Drax: “You need to find a woman who’s pathetic like you.”
Peter: “Thanks, buddy.”
Drax: “You earthers have hang-ups.”
Rocket: “You people have issues.”
Peter: “Well, of course I have issues! That’s my freaking father!”
Kraglin: “What are you gonna do with your share?”
Nebula: “As a child, my father would have Gamora and me battle one another in training. Every time my sister prevailed, my father would replace a piece of me with machinery, claiming he wanted me to be “her equal.” But she won. Again, and again, and again, never once refraining. So, after I murder my sister, I will buy a warship with every conceivable instrument of death, I will hunt my father like a dog, and I will tear him apart slowly. Piece by piece until he knows some sort of resemblance of the profound and unceasing pain I knew every single day!”
Kraglin: “Yeah . . . I was talking about like a pretty necklace, or a nice hat, you know. Something to make the other girls go “ooh, that’s nice.”
Ego: “It broke my heart to put that tumor in her head.”
Ego: “I know that sounds bad–”
(Peter promptly shoots Ego)
Yondu: “You like a professional asshole or what?”
Rocket: “Pretty much a pro.”
Drax: “I say if you are about to go through a doorway that is too low, your antenna will feel this and keep you from being decapitated.”
Peter: “Right, and if it’s anything other than specifically being decapitated by a doorway, I win.”
Rocket: “Tell me you guys have a refrigerator somewhere with a bunch of severed human toes? Okay, then let’s just agree never to discuss this.”
Peter: “Like, I could use the light to build cool things, like how you made this whole planet?”
Ego: “Well, it might take a few million years of practice before you get really good at it, but yes.”
Peter: “Well, get ready for a 800-foot statue of Pac-Man with Skeletor and Heather Locklear . . .”
Ego: “Whatever you want.”
Peter: “I’m gonna make some weird shit.”
Gamora: “Why would they do that?”
Drax: “Probably because Rocket stole some of their batteries.”
Drax: “Right. He didn’t steal some of those. I don’t know why they’re after us. What a mystery this is.”
Rocket: “Alright, first you flip this switch, then this one, then you press this button, which will give you five minutes to get out of there. Now, whatever you do, don’t push this button, because that will set off the bomb immediately and we’ll all be dead. Now, repeat back what I just said.”
Groot: “I am Groot.”
Rocket: “Uh huh.”
Groot: “I am Groot.”
Rocket: “That’s right . . .”
Groot: (points to death button) “I am Groot!”
Rocket: “No! No, that’s the button that will kill everyone! Try again!”
Groot: “I am Groot . . .”
Groot: “I am Groot . . .”
Rocket: “Uh huh.”
Groot: “I am Groot.”
Rocket: “NO! That’s exactly what you just said–how’s that even possible?!”
Rocket: “Does anybody have any tape out there? I wanna put some tape over the Death Button.”
Peter: “I’m not going to answer to Star Munch.”
Rocket: “Don’t call me a raccoon!”
Peter: “I’m sorry. I took it too far. I meant trash panda.”
Rocket: “. . . is that better?”
Drax: “I don’t know.”
Peter: “It’s worse. It’s so much worse.”
Peter: “I told Gamora how when I was a kid I used to tell people that David Hasslehoff was my dad. He’s a singer and actor from Earth, a really famous guy. It never really struck me: Yondu didn’t have a talking car, but he did have a flying arrow. He didn’t have the voice of an angel, but he did have the whistle of one. Both Yondu and David Hasslehoff went on kickass adventures and hooked up with hot women and fought robots. I guess David Hasslehoff did kinda end up being my dad after all. Only it was you, Yondu. I had a pretty cool dad. What I’m trying to say here is that sometimes the thing you’re searching for your whole life, it’s right there by your side the whole time, and you don’t even know it.”
Gamora: “Can we put the bickering on hold until after we survive this massive space battle?”
Taserface: “It’s metaphorical!”
Rocket: “I am so sorry. I just keep imagining you waking up in the morning, looking in the mirror, and all seriously saying to yourself, ‘You know what would be a really kick-ass name? Taserface!’ ”
Just an awful lot of fun and almost everything I wanted from the sequel. Probably would have been a solid A, too, if not for the really frustrating Drax/Mantis stuff.
Family ain’t blood. Family is who you sacrifice for. They’re the people who’ve got your back, and you’ve got theirs too, even when they steal stupid shit they don’t need.