Sunday, May 21, 2017

Dancin' thru "Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2"

Ah, the Curse of the Sequel - we all love the first (insert the franchise movie of your choice here), and because of that love, we all froth at the mouth in anticipation of the follow-up, then see it and either complain that it was either too much or not enough like the first one, and leave the theater in a snit.  Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is just as susceptible to this totally irrational judgment as whatever franchise you chose to insert above.  It possibly doesn’t have the same sheen of newness as its predecessor.  You may possibly find that it meanders a bit in the second act.  One could possibly observe that its climax revolves around yet another universe-shattering menace. I personally wouldn’t make such judgments myself about this movie, though.

The movie opens on a planet where our heroes await the arrival of an inter-dimensional monster they have been hired to dispatch. The ensuing chaos that follows the beast’s appearance plays behind the opening credits in what was probably intended to be a harkening to one of the fan-favorite moments from the closing of the first film, with more 70s-era pop tunes blaring away and CGI-cuteness shoved in our face, but I thought it was a bit too much “fan service” and went on a tad too long.  However, my gripes about the movie pretty much ended right there.

I didn’t find this to be a mere copy of the first film, as it embraces a completely different structure, something that brings with it positives and negatives.  While the first movie was a fast-moving caper movie, with various parties after the powerful Orb of which the Guardians had taken hold, Vol. 2 takes the time to build up its plot more naturally. As such, the first half of the movie, while still enjoyable, doesn’t have much in the way of forward momentum. Rest assured, though, things coalesce in the second half to form a stronger movie with a much more emotional climax than I would’ve imagined we’d get at the start.

There’s so much to enjoy throughout the rest of the film, starting with Kurt Russell being Ego, a “celestial” being who happens to be Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) long-sought father.  Who better to portray the father of the swaggering, cocky Star-Lord than the man who perfected that type of role while Chris Pratt was still in diapers?  I mean, this is Jack Burton!  This is Stuntman Mike!  Any movie Kurt Russell chooses to do MUST be worth seeing!  Forgive the nerd-gasm, Dear Reader, but I think one of the great strengths of the Marvel movies under Disney is that they have been able to successfully draw such top-level talent, in front of as well as behind the camera, to do these movies, getting National Treasures like Snake Plissken… uh, I mean Kurt Russell to play along with them.

“Play” is the operative word when it comes to the Guardians of the Galaxy films, and with this outing, it continues to be the most lighthearted of Marvel’s cinematic efforts (yes, even more so than Ant-Man).  While this means the films don’t have quite the depth of previous films like Captain America: Civil War, there’s still something irresistible about watching a cast have this much fun.  Michael Rooker has to receive special mention, as while his surly Yondu was a secondary character in the first movie, he is elevated to full-star status here, and every minute he is on-screen is just golden.  

Family drama drives most of the story, of which Quill’s parentage is just one example.  As in the first chapter of the Guardians saga, Vol. 2 spends some time ruminating on its characters’ need for a family, whether they want to admit it or not (most of the time it’s not).  Drax (Dave Bautista) is still dealing in his own inimitable way with the death of his wife and children. Rocket (voice by Bradley Cooper) continues to have issues with his communication skills. Gamora and Nebula (Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan) continue to struggle with their upbringing under Thanos' heel.  Baby Groot needs parental guidance. It’s all dysfunction at its finest.

Of course, this ain’t a Woody Allen film, where we expect gobs and gobs of whining and introspection.  We buy a ticket to a Marvel film for lots of flash-bang, pretty-colored-lights exploding around spandexed and heavily-makeup’ed famous people, and I promise you, folks, you get that in spades here.  The film’s $200 million-dollar price tag is all up there for you to see, and not a penny wasted.  Writer/director James Gunn’s passion for this section of the Marvel Universe is obvious, as we can tell this film was made by someone who cares deeply about the material.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is not as good as the first film.  That is true. The first film was something incredibly original and caught movie-going audiences by complete surprise.  That is also true (boobie-prize if you get the reference!).  We all have expectations now, and humans tend to be very unforgiving when it comes to having our expectations met.  Do not let that prevent you from seeing Vol. 2.  It is fun, funny, touching and maybe even slightly-"touched," and is a great way to kick off the summer movie season.