Monday 29 May 2017

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2

Director: James Gunn  
Screenplay: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, and Kurt Russell.

Synopsis is here:

After the first Guardians of the Galaxy, I remember being placed under interrogation for not proclaiming my undying love for the first film. To not place the film in you top ten of the year/all time, meant there was something wrong with you. I remember sitting at a BBQ and trying to explain that I found the first film to be rather forgettable. People could bend their head around it. Why wasn’t I like everyone else? Why didn’t I fall into line like a loyal foot solider?

I enter Guardians Vol 2 with a sense of optimism, despite my quiet apprehensions towards the approach towards the modern franchise. Again Guardians is quick with the gags, packed with set pieces and the characters still have a lot of colour (set aside how it leaves its female leads floundering). These come in thick and fast and yet this also does well to remind me that narratively, I found Guardians Vol 2 a haphazard affair. One pivotal point has a character ask why doesn’t (redacted Guardian name) want to be special. Said Gaudian obliges with an answer that basically suggests that he wants to conform like everyone else. This should really play in the mega-franchise world, where passive protagonists are simply issued with extraordinary powers and ushered to be “special” merely because they are. This sits uncomfortably within Guardians Vol 2. Our characters are meant to be a certain type of renegade. Why are they so down with a certain type of conformity?

Much like the first film, Guardians Vol 2 works best when it knocks out silly visual gags (the opening fight without Groot is wonderful) or when it’s more secondary characters get their time to shine (I really love Bradley Cooper’s voice work again). However, the films main plot point, which drearily comments on fatherly sins, feels dry and uninvolving. Gunn’s visuals capture of the world punctuates the bold colourful landscapes with neatly captured moments of isolation but struggles with a screenplay which does little to excite.

The whole thing does little to carry any weight. This is a creeping feeling that film writers get with a lot of modern mainstream fare, but certain features make it hard to make a fighting case against this. Guardian Vol two is not an exception. The secondary antagonists are considered so perfect genetically, that they do not go into battle, they fight via automated space drone which is controlled like a video game. It makes a cute gag but eliminates feeling even more that the CGI hordes that litter other comic book movies. A shallow criticism, but one that feels valid to a film in which it’s anti-heroes bode no real consequence. Hell, they want to be family, just like us.

This is, of course, a family who wish to kill in glorious slow motion (even the baby!) to 70’s pop classics a la Tarantino. Again, this probably wouldn’t be a bad thing if Guardian could drop its 12a rating and really let loose, but alas no. Guardians titters perilously between gleefully subversive (was that a sly S&M joke just then?) and tonally frustrating. We might be a little so happy to see Baby Groot become a killer so easily for instance. These guys are badass but bloodless. These are bandits that just need to be hugged. Amidst all this, there’s still a feeling of incompleteness about proceedings. Everything rumbles on with the knowledge that this is (again) leading up to the next episode, so there’s little time to really take on board what’s happening. In-depth analysis on if a baby plant should care about its sins maybe far-fetched, however, the film’s more prominent relationships also feel short changed. There always feels like there’s more to say about some of the dynamics at play. Every character gets their time to quip and wisecrack, and they do so with gusto. It’s just hard not to wish for a little bit more in their development. There’s little to unpeel, which something like Guardians may not really need as a summer flick, but for this writer, again, there’s no real desire to go back for a second viewing. Easter eggs are fine for the well initiated, but they may not work for everyone.  

So again, I brace myself for the BBQ inquisition. More probing about why I don’t conform and indulge in killer Baby Groot like everyone else. I’ll probably come up with a cumbersome analogy of a certain fruit-named company, which asked everyone to “think differently” before drowning the market quite considerably with its slightly varied but very similar toys. I’ll bemoan that we all think differently like everyone else. Like Guardians Vol 2, which rebels with one eye on its parents (think Disney). Then I’ll continue with my plate of special recipe wings.