My Marvel Diary: Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2

Image: Marvel/Disney

Taking a cursory glance at today’s cinematic landscape it would appear that Marvel, or more accurately Disney, rule the world. Since 2008’s Iron Man the Marvel Cinematic Universe has built itself up into a box-office behemoth with huge cultural influence. I have never quite got the superhero hype, however. A long-time lover of ‘proper’ cinema and arthouse flicks, in recent years I have fought against this tendency to be a ‘film snob’. My Marvel Diary is a challenge to myself to watch all 23 MCU films, perhaps proving my prejudices correct, or perhaps turning me into a lifelong fan of all things superhero.

Release Date: 28th April 2017

MCU Phase: Three

Director: James Gunn

Writer: James Gunn

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Vin Diesel

Contains spoilers.

I know that this might make me quite unpopular, but I think I preferred this to the first Guardians of the Galaxy. I appreciated what the original film did, and had a good time with it, but I never really connected with it like some people have. This sequel does all the same things, but I really felt them this time. It is pure fun in cinematic form and, maybe just because I’m a big softie, it really got me. I now care more about this group of characters more than almost any others in the MCU. This is also the closest I have come to crying when watching a Marvel movie.

There are flaws in vol. 2 for sure, perhaps greater ones than I am willing to admit. The plotline with the Sovereigns feels completely unnecessary other than for spectacle, and criminally underuses the wonderful Elizabeth Debicki. The involvement of Earth and another world-threatening climax also feel tediously surplus to requirements. Yet these elements are just means to an end for James Gunn to focus on the heart and soul of the film. Bland action is most annoying when it is presented as something we’re supposed to care about, but with this film nobody expects us to be bothered about the saving of the world; it’s all about our heroes.

Often predictable and familiar, this is not a ‘great film’, but it charms you into submission. Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is melodramatic as all hell, and retains the first film’s annoying habit of spelling out all its messages, but I kind of love the film for it. It wears its heart on its sleeve and really goes for broke with the emotion. Unlike last time there isn’t a lot of snark undercutting the tender moments, and the love between the Guardians feels authentic and believable. It is a smart move from Gunn to alter his style a bit. Last time he recognised that too much schmaltz would come off as disingenuous having only spent a short amount of time with the characters, so he balanced it with a dollop of hard-edged humour. With vol. 2 our relationship with the gang is stronger, so we can more easily buy into the emotional notes that the film reaches for.

We are provided with the scenes of the Guardians chatting and hanging out that I wanted more of last time, whilst the story deepens and expands their relationships. The friendship/rivalry between Quill and Rocket I loved, and burrows into both their personalities. The Quill-Gamora ‘will they won’t they’ manages to feel fresh and believable despite cliché, and Drax gets some good moments with new addition Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Then of course there’s a greater role for Nebula and her ongoing sibling battle with Gamora, which finishes on a really well-judged note I think. It’s a hell of a lot going on, but somehow Gunn keeps it all together, and it leads to a real sense of peril and thrill come the climax.

That brings us to the action. Generally, it’s great fun just like last time. Not being tethered to Earth means Gunn can go crazy with the visuals, and there’s some real eye-popping stuff going on here. Rollicking action and constant humour were the first film’s strong points, and this matches it on both counts. There are some really funny bits in vol. 2 that blend in seamlessly with the more heartfelt moments.

For all the script’s strengths, I am a little tired of daddy issues stories. Having said that, I think Gunn gets away with it by pulling off something individual and engaging here. That first comes from a sense of intrigue surrounding Quill’s father Ego, who we know must be up to no good, but is given charisma and seemingly real goodness by Kurt Russell. This storyline goes in a nice direction and I liked the half-human, half-god complex it gave Quill. His renouncing of ‘greatness’ for being a loved and loving ordinary individual is sweet and moving. It subverts the litany of MCU characters who are obsessed with saving everyone and being the best all the time. It’s no accident that the father Quill rejects is called Ego after all.

The film also escapes getting mired in bland father-son stuff because it tells a different version of it than you first expect. When Yondu first turned up I thought he was surplus to requirements, but by the end I was fully on board with what the film was doing. I could see the idea of him as Quill’s real dad coming a mile off, but it still hit me hard. It’s partly because they killed him. It was a great sacrifice from Yondu, and a touching attempt to do something good for once. And thank god they actually killed him. They properly killed a character with a personality in an MCU film. At long last. The lack of conventional heroes and villains and less well-known characters in the Guardians films means that more characters feel ‘at risk’. Yondu’s role in the film goes beyond his bittersweet demise. He provides some great action with that cool arrow of his, and acts as the catalyst for some nice Rocket moments. He is, to my surprise, the film’s secret weapon.

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is one of the more batshit crazy MCU outings, prominently featuring a deranged talking raccoon and a tri-syllabic tree in its lineup. It’s also perhaps the most human film yet, showing flawed, hurt individuals in a recognisably human way. They may be lightyears away, but these are some of the heroes we feel closest to.

The Sting

As is now usually the case, there are multiple stings here, at different points during the credits. This time, however, there are four. It’s a bit excessive, and some of them are quite bizarre ones this time. The first shows us Elizabeth Debicki’s Ayesha as she unveils some powerful-looking thing she calls Adam, and vows to destroy the Guardians of the Galaxy. It all seems a bit excessive for stealing some batteries, but Debicki has a nice unhinged edge to her performance. I guess this sting means that her character will be back, which I have mixed feelings about. I think Debicki is good in the role and there is potentially a lot more to see from her and the Sovereigns in general, but they are such a spare part during this film that it’s hard to care come the end. The other one of note is a short scene featuring Sylvester Stallone’s Ravager chief and some others being inspired by Yondu to form their own team. Will we see more of them in the future, or are the filmmakers just teasing us here. There’s also a fun bit with Groot, who is now essentially a teenager and acting like one. It’s funny and also reaffirms the idea of the Guardians as a family, with Groot as the child. The final sting is just a light-hearted continuation of Stan Lee’s cameo in the film. The creator of Marvel Comics has, of course, cameoed in every other film up to this point.

Where it Ranks

I might regret my decision, because I do feel that in a more objective way this is a weaker film than Guardians of the Galaxy. However, in their big, brash way both films aim to make you laugh, excite you, and move you. vol. 2 achieved that more for me, so I feel as though it would be dishonest for me not to rank it higher up in my MCU list.

  1. Captain America: Civil War
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  3. The Avengers
  4. Iron Man 3
  5. Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2
  6. Guardians of the Galaxy
  7. Iron Man
  8. Doctor Strange
  9. Captain America: The First Avenger
  10. Ant-Man
  11. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  12. Iron Man 2
  13. Thor
  14. Thor: The Dark World
  15. The Incredible Hulk

Andrew Young