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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

MPAA Rating: PG-13 | Rating: ★★★
Release year: 2017
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Superhero Director: James Gunn

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is louder, crasser, and more colorful–both in visuals and language–than the original film. The film has a Luc Besson-meets-Looney Tunes aesthetic in its vibrant palette and elaborate sci-fi landscapes, all while attempting to find humor in death and destruction. There’s a lot of stunning images mixed with violence and mayhem, much of it meant for laughs, which makes the stakes feel remarkably low even though the fate of the entire universe is in jeopardy. One of the Guardians, Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), is the embodiment of the film itself. He’s violent and silly, laughing at everything and running pell mell into danger without any sense of personal consideration. He’s like a middle school boy in a giant body with knives. Vol. 2 will make such middle school boys laugh with its turd and penis jokes, its “kill everything” ethics, and its lack of abstract or mature concepts. Like spending extended time with middle schoolers, it can be a lot of fun at times, but it can also feel quite draining after awhile.

Vol. 2 picks up somewhere after the last film left off, with the Guardians–Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Drax–caring for Baby Groot (Vin Diesel, somehow?) while working as mercenaries. The first fight scene with the Guardians focuses mainly on Baby Groot dancing around while we watch the rest of the team fight a giant alien monster in the background. It’s funny and well-crafted, even as it sets the tone for the rest of the film–this is going to be a lot of fun. This is the strength of the Guardians films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a series which sometimes takes itself far too seriously (though not as seriously as the darker-is-better DC films). Though the other MCU films also employ sarcasm as the primary comedic modus operandi, the Guardians films, especially Vol. 2, turns up the cynicism and snark to a full 10. The Guardians bicker and yell at each other with creative epithets, and the jokes-per-minute ratio in Vol. 2 is the most of any MCU film to date. Thus, I found myself laughing a lot, just as Drax laughs throughout the film. I also found myself, at times, uncomfortable at what we were all laughing at. It calls for laughs when Peter Quill describes Rocket the raccoon as a “trash panda,” but it probably shouldn’t be funny when we see characters being murdered in slow-motion or Quill lament about his mother dying of brain cancer; in one scene, where Peter Quill confronts an enemy about his mother’s death, there were some moments of laughter in my theater. It was like the audience had been conditioned to laugh at EVERYTHING, including moments intended to be tender or serious.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the tone and aesthetic of this film, but haven’t really described the story. That’s probably appropriate, as the film doesn’t focus on the story either, instead choosing to spend time with these characters and explore their various arcs and motivations. Quill finally meets his father, Ego (Kurt Russell), who turns out to be not such a great guy. Much of the story’s pathos is found in supporting characters who were former enemies of the Guardians, Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). Both of their performances are quite strong, and they provide much-needed emotional depth in a story light on contemplation. The film spends a painful amount of time with the Ravagers, the gnarly, mutinous mercenary group led by Yondu (and somehow Sylvester Stallone is in this film?). Their scenes are simply ugly, both in aesthetics and ethics, as they torment characters and are wiped out in a variety of ways, bordering on nihilism with a “who cares who lives or dies?” mentality. Baby Groot often steals the show with his adorable cuteness, and he brings out the tender side of the otherwise rough-around-the-edges Guardians. A character-driven film with so many characters to explore means our emotions and energies are stretched thin, and its themes are vague or varied. Some arcs are more affecting (Rocket, Yondu, and Nebula) while others just…aren’t (Drax, Gamora, and Quill in particular, who are arguably the central characters here). Ultimately, even as I enjoyed spending more time with this motley crew, I fear Vol. 2 suffers from a sophomore slump. It’s fun and thrilling, but it’s simply not as fresh or meaningful as the original.

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