Almost three years ago, Marvel Studios took its biggest chance to date. They released a film with a massive budget – $170mil. production budget (via the_numbers.com) – helmed by a relatively untested director and featuring a cast of characters the movie-going masses were oblivious to. Up to that point, every film populating the MCU was built on a safe bet. If you’ve never in your life read a comic book, you still probably knew who Captain America, Thor, the Hulk and Iron Man were. And then the Guardians of the Galaxy walked into our lives and changed everything.
They did more than just save the universe, they may have also saved mainstream comic book adaptations. Up to that point, any film not including Batman, Superman or an Avenger in its title didn’t get the massive budget required to fully realize its absurd comic book potential. Thanks to the doors kicked in by GotG, studios suddenly announced films like Aquaman and Deadpool, and we now have shows about Legion and Lucifer. Well done Mr. Gunn.
This year the Guardians face a whole new challenge: Themselves. Last week Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 invaded global cinemas and its $146mil. in opening weekend domestic ticket sales proves the world was very ready for more Starlord, but did this new iteration do right by the franchise’s initial offering? Let’s talk about it.
More of the Same. But in a good way.
For the most part, every movie ever made fits a prearranged storytelling formula. GotG Vol. 1 is no different. Its success didn’t come from some innovative new act structure, it came from taking a structure that already works and filling it with an amazing story, genre defining effects and a host of characters worth giving a shit about. Not a new mouse trap, but a simply amazing version of one we’d seen before.
Vol. 2 is no different. Minus the origin-esque elements of the first film, the sequel’s pace, style and characterizations are perfectly inline with its predecessor. Trust me, that’s a really good thing. And even though there’s still a galactic sized threat, Vol. 2 is a far more personal journey, for Starlord and Gamora in particular. But what writer/director James Gunn brilliantly avoided – something almost every sequel to every team/buddy film ever made does – is the trope filled, “Now that the team is together, let’s have them fight amongst one another.” There’s always tension between divisive groups of people, but when the primary conflict is internal, things tend to quickly get boring and lame. Nothing, absolutely nothing, about this story is boring or lame.
Send in the clowns
Despite me saying it now, it goes without saying that Vol. 1’s humor was the glue that kept the craziness together. Vol. 2 takes that already clever banter and slapstick style to a new level. This is where the script shines. Yes, some gags fall a little flat (Thanks Vinny), but I think that adds to the ones that don’t. It’s fair to say that Peter and Gamora are the characters whose arcs get the most attention this time around, but every single member of the Milano’s crew gets their moment in the suns.
Based solely on the trailers, you probably already knew that Baby Groot dies early on. Just kidding! That adorable little bastard steals more scenes than a baby hugging a puppy while cat videos play in the background. Also taking Rocket into consideration, I can’t even imagine how hard it is to make comedic timing work when two of your primary cast are 100% CG – I know there are on-set body actors, it’s not the same – but Gunn and his production team did it.
Next up in the show stealing department is Dave Bautista’s Drax. That dude is just funny. I know non-artsy sci-fi films never get any real award consideration, but the job Dave does once the green body paint is slathered on is nothing short of remarkable. When it comes to the ridiculous, consistency is key to selling it, and wow is he consistently hysterical. More Drax please.
No matter how much I break it down, the simple truth is that they’re all funny. Even Nebula offers some chuckles. It just emphasizes how critical casting is and how important it is to write to the strengths of that specific cast. Again, James Gunn proves his skill.
Amongst the stars
The watermark for visual FX rises every year, so I almost hate to even talk about the overall fidelity of the film’s CG usage, but damn this movie looks amazing. The gap between computer generated and practical is almost indistinguishable throughout. But looking good isn’t the real win, it’s how impossibly cool everything looks. The detailed textures wrapping every creature and covering every surface give you so much to look at that if you’re not loving the story, you’ll at least be able to enjoy the scenery.
Tying it all together very nicely is some of the best sci-fi set design I’ve seen this decade. Again, like with the CG, everything is interesting to look at and everything you’re looking at makes sense in its own ridiculous way. It just feels like every single item was thoughtfully placed and contains its own intriguing backstory. I can’t wait to get my hands on the blu-ray’s special features.
All of those glowing compliments to the detail and beauty imbedded in every background, set and prop can also be said about the costume design. Thematically its a proper successor to Vol. 1, offering a consistent, otherworldly – though totally appropriate and believable – aesthetic that subtly transports you light years away.
Hear’s the problem
After watching GotG2 I left the theater with an ear-to-ear smile, a renewed sense of childlike wonderment and two small gripes. First among them was the usage of the film’s score. Overall the composure is great, but the “Hero” music that accompanied our team’s success in the first film is way too overused in the second. There are moments where it’s appropriate, but the amount of times it plays makes it meaningless and tired. I just wish they added a new “Hero” track to ring in the cast’s victories.
The second, and this is where you’ll likely skewer me, is the soundtrack. I LOVED GotG1’s soundtrack. Everyone did. But the kitschy collection offered up in Vol. 2 just felt forced and, in many places, too obscure to be interesting. It’s quite possibly the only area I felt the franchise took a step back, but I still wouldn’t change a thing.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is just simply wonderful. Much like the first, the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and its parts add up to a lot. The story is great, the acting better and the look and feel of the environments are top shelf in every scene. James Gunn and crew have once again delivered a quintessential movie-going experience. If you loved the first, see it now! If you just like great movies, see it now. And if you hate amazing cinematic experiences, you should see it too. It might bring you around.
Now that you’re running out to see GotG Vol. 2, swing by Facebook after and tell us what you thought!