Hooked On Their Feelings
This Marvel adventure is familiar in many ways but enters uncharted emotional territory, which, alongside its ever-endearing characters, makes for an entertaining and often surprising ride.
12A, 136 mins
By hook or by crook, the gang of intergalactic misfits have gotten themselves a sequel. Peter Quill, AKA Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) have returned to dispense their hyperactive, dysfunctional brand of saving the universe. As ever, there’s good chemistry between the Guardians, the colours are reliably garish, and the soundtrack is so retro you can practically feel yourself growing shoulder-pads as you watch. Given this, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 could be very fairly accused of coasting on its predecessor’s fumes.
On this occasion, though, after a mad opening sequence and the ensuing obligatory space battle, instead of going into hyper-drive, the film slows right down. After our team crash land on another planet, an unknown figure enters the fray: Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Quill’s long-lost father. Here the whole dynamic changes, and the film becomes more about something that Marvel has previously not focussed on so intently – relationships and emotions. This shift in tone may throw all hope of a proper plot out of the nearest wormhole, but that seems like nothing in comparison to the fact that Marvel Studios have done something they rarely do. They’ve pulled a surprise move.
This is a film which appears to be about the journey rather than the destination, and where space, the final frontier, is starting to get personal. But for those thinking that emotion may trump all else, do not fear – there are still jokes aplenty, fairly crude banter abounds and the mood remains at least 50% tongue-in-cheek. The writer knows how to play this. Vol. 2 is not just aware of, but seems to actively mock its own ridiculousness, with one hilariously-named antagonist coming in for serious flak, which makes a nice change from the po-faced approach of other Marvel stories.
As ever, the music forms a key part of proceedings here, and although it’s following the formula of the first film, every song feels handpicked to fit its particular scene, and so it works. The songs are the soundtrack to what often feels more like a family drama than a typical wham-bam comic-book blockbuster, as Quill’s burgeoning relationship with his would-be father comes to form the core of the film. There’s also more screen-time for Gamora and her somewhat estranged sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), as well as for the metaphorically-challenged Drax, all of whom, it turns out, have emotional depths to plumb.
However, the real surprise package swiftly becomes Yondu (Michael Rooker, above centre), the Ravager captain who took Quill in as a child. His motivations and emotions are uncovered very skilfully, and to their credit, the whole team put in good performances, up until a relatively unsurprising revelation forces everyone into action. This may be the first occasion on which a green woman, a hulking red giant man and a blue guy with a chip in his head have moved me. You really cannot fault writer-director James Gunn, who has done a stellar job in transforming this gaggle of strange-looking miscreants into a proper family who are all hooked on their own feelings.
But all this emotion cannot mask the fact that much of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a big space con. It recycles a great deal and so should inspire only apathy and eye-rolling, but remains easy to love purely because of its unshakeable confidence. It’s not as good as the first one, and in most respects not particularly original, but in terms of the emotional ground it treads, it feels very new indeed. This is especially true of its ending, which is perhaps the most muted climax to a comic-book film that I’ve ever seen. And so I feel that if plot had to be dispensed with on this voyage in order for Marvel to make the next emotional step up, then so be it.
You may have to engage your retro-thrusters, accustom yourself to all the colours of the rainbow and resign yourself to lengthy credits to really enjoy this film, but after a while, like with everything in Guardians, you get used to the strangeness. And so the spaceship travels on, reaching new frontiers, though I do wonder just where our heroes will head in Vol. 3. I suspect it may be too much to hope that they move away from the formula and do something new next time, preferably involving a plot. But then again, the Guardians of the Galaxy have surprised me before.