Monday, May 22, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017)

Film: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017)
Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell, Sylvester Stallone, Karen Gillan, Elizabeth Debicki
Director: James Gunn
Oscar History: The first film won two nominations for VFX and Makeup...considering they get a bigger budget for both on this film, I suspect they might duplicate that.
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

Few things have been as consistent (and as profitable) in the past few years as the Marvel Cinematic Universe coming out with 1-2 films a year, having people show up to the movies to catch the latest superhero installment (this also happens with the DC films, but no one seems to like them so it's kind of a bizarre conspiracy theory as to why they all seem to still be insanely profitable).  This May there was no exception, with the followup to one of my personal favorite films in the series, Guardians of the Galaxy (Winter Soldier is still the best movie by a wide margin the series has created, in my opinion) coming out.  Guardians set itself apart from Marvel and in particular the dour DC films by having a sense of humor about its crew, a motley group of space bandits led by a stuck-in-the-80's rebel named Peter Quill (Pratt).  Would the second film live up to the delight of the first?  Let's take a look...

(Spoilers Ahead) The film is centered around Quill, after a hilarious interaction with the Sovereign People (headed by the glorious and vastly-underused-in-every-film Elizabeth Debicki), finding his father Ego (Russell), who is essentially a god that has both created and exists concurrently as a man and as his own planet.  This leads to Quill realizing that he has some magical powers (Starlord, indeed), and bonding with the man whom he never knew growing up.  All-the-while, the Sovereign are intent on coming back and attack him for Rocket slighting them and stealing their batteries, while Yondu (Rooker), Quill's surrogate father, is also being chased toward the planet by his rebelling troupe, who are now under the leadership of Taserface (and yes, the name is properly mocked).

While the film has its fun moments, particularly anything involving Debicki as the Sovereign (easily my favorite storyline of the bunch), I will admit that this felt fun in the way that Pitch Perfect 2 felt fun.  It was great being in the saddle again with these characters, and in particular the chemistry between, say, Cooper's Rocket and Diesel's Groot, or Pratt with pretty much anyone but particularly Russell, is charming, but the wear is starting to show that wouldn't have in the entire series if there hadn't been a sequel.  This may be blasphemous, but the reality is that sequels aren't always a good thing, particularly when they point out ways the initial movie failed, and here it's that the characters are somewhat underwritten and occasionally one-note.  Dave Bautista's Drax, for example, becomes increasingly annoying as the film goes on, his unconventional reactions to social cues being relatively predictable and groan-worthy.  The film is more reliant upon you remembering the minutia of the first film than I was used to for a comic book film (I had to rely for parts of the picture more on my childhood knowledge of the Marvel Universe than I can remember having to do in any comic book picture since before the 2008 relaunch), and is too long.  The entire sequence with Taserface, for starters, is a bit of a drag, and while I enjoy Sly Stallone randomly showing up as much as the next person, between this and Andy Garcia in Passengers, is it in Chris Pratt's contract that an Oscar nominee has to show up and do almost nothing for a paycheck?  Seriously-unless Stallone is being positioned for a later movie or to be the Samuel L. Jackson of the Guardians pictures, I don't get what that was...was he James Gunn's matinee idol or something?  I generally like Stallone, but he had literally nothing to do here.

Still, it was not a film without charms.  Kurt Russell is such a joy to see onscreen always, and he relishes this moment in the spotlight.  In what has to be on either the Makeup or VFX clip reel for the Oscars later this year (from what I've read it was a combination of both), Russell's de-aging at the beginning of the film is the closest I've seen to actually avoiding the Uncanny Valley, perhaps because it's more makeup than CGI (it puts even Rogue One from last year to shame on that front).  In fact, the reliance on traditional makeup in the movie is intense-in a film that is a throwback to a different era (the 1980s continue their bizarre reverence in cinema), James Gunn wanted to celebrate such a time.

Additionally, the movie is funny at parts.  It's hard not to like this crew, even if I feel like the gimmick is being stretched now more than added to...no one wants to see Peter Quill become an Iron Man-level cascade of serious, but the world of Marvel's cinema has never been great about going deeper (the point of a sequel) without finding a solid balance between humor and drama.  This is all to say, I don't know where this goes in the third film, even if the post-credits sequence gives an obvious hint that Adam Warlock could soon be in-store for us.

Those are my thoughts-how about yours?  Are you leaving pleased, but not entirely as pleased as you were the first time?  Where do you think that the Guardians chapter of the Marvel universe should go next?  Are you feeling good about Adam Warlock as the next big challenge for the crew?  And who else is still in-awe of that Kurt Russell effect?  Share below!

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