Sunday, May 7, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

I'm pretty sure nearly everyone wants to see this movie, and for good reason.

The original Guardians of the Galaxy was a miracle of a success story. I know that it's popular to say that Marvel can do no wrong, but I remember a time where people were genuinely concerned that Guardians of the Galaxy was going to be a huge failure. It had a bunch of characters that no one cared about, and Marvel has never really been great at telling space oriented stories. Guardians of the Galaxy looked weird and had a retro throwback soundtrack that got a lot of people hyped, and it turned out to be one of Marvel's most beloved properties. Everybody's familiar with "Hooked on a Feeling" and Baby Groot now, shocking literally everyone as being one of the best movies of 2014.

Cut to three years later and we have a sequel coming out that has a metric ton of people excited just so that they can see their favorite characters again. Regardless of whether or not the movie is good (it is, don't worry), people were just excited to see Star-Lord, Drax, Gamora, Rocket, and Groot again on the big screen. The only question now is whether or not it's better than the original movie. The answer is mixed. In some ways, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 exceeds expectations and is better than the original. But then you have a few instances where the original is better, but both instances all come down to personal taste to be perfectly honest. I can see people loving the original more and I can see people loving the sequel more.

It goes to show just how good of a movie Vol. 2 is; it's a sequel that can actually exceed a cult status in terms of quality. Wrap your head around that.

Our story picks up a few months after Guardians of the Galaxy where the Guardians are now outlaws to a genetically enhanced alien race called The Sovereign. They're hunting the Guardians because they betrayed them on a recent job, and while sending an entire armada to kill them, the Guardians are saved by a man named Ego who claims to be Star-Lord's long lost dad. So the team splits where half of them go off to Ego to see if he's really all he's cracked up to be while the other half stay behind and try and defend themselves from The Sovereign's forces and a rogue factions of Ravagers that broke off from Yondu to hunt the Guardians once and for all. Add in a few characters from the original joining the team and you've got an introspective look at the team and what makes them shake.

So let's get this out of the way right off the bat; I don't think this movie is as funny as the original film. It's super hard to try and capture lightning in a bottle twice, and a lot of jokes here do land really well, but there just simply aren't as many lines that I can think of off the top of my head. There were some great moments where I laughed and had a blast, but the humor here is more of a tonal humor than anything else.

What do I mean like that? Well for me, the original's jokes were just a perfect combination of timing and delivery. Here, the jokes are funny because the scenes last as long as they need to and come at just the right moment. One of my favorite moments of the film involves Nebula monologing her backstory and plans to a no name character, only for them to respond in just such an honest and deadpan fashion. Not only that, but the movie's focus lies more in analyzing the characters than telling one liners and puns. If you're going in expecting to roll on the floor laughing, you'll still get it, just not as much as you were thinking.

But what's not to love about actually getting to know the characters even more in this film? We've already established who they are and what they're like, but now we get to take a look at what makes them tick and their inner demons, all of which leads to a conclusion that's probably the most genuinely emotional a Marvel movie has ever gotten. It's powerful, colorful, and embodies everything that makes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 different from every other Marvel movie; a sense of fun and style.

And yes, there is a metric ton of style on display here. If the original movie was known for having a rich 80's aesthetic then Vol. 2 actually goes back a bit and gives a real 70's vibe. Ego's planet looks like something straight out of a 70's alt rock album cover, and even The Sovereign's planet looks like something out of a cheesy B-Movie. While DC movies want to be dark and gray, and even Marvel movies typically tend to have a more muted color palette, everything here is bright, interesting, and full of energy.

It pains me to say this, and I know that some people will find this devastating, but the soundtrack on display simply isn't as good as the original. It may seem like an odd thing to point out if you're not familiar with Guardians of the Galaxy (and shame on you for that), but the soundtrack is what sold the original for most people. Oh sure, there are some fun songs here like "Mr. Blue Sky" and "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)", but there's nothing that really hits as hard as any of the original's songs. That being said, the songs in this movie have actually been integrated even more into the plot than before, but they just don't have as much raw power as "Hooked on a Feeling".

Thankfully, the soundtrack still gives the movie an edge that just isn't seen in other Marvel movies. I can remember a ton of moments thanks to how good the soundtrack is, and when a song pops up in the action scenes, it makes the action even better, and dear lord is the action great! It's just a non stop blast of engaging sequences that made me feel like a kid watching everything explode. It was like if James Gunn took all of the action scenes from the previous movie, but injected everyone with the sugar of a pixie stick and they just. Went. Nuts. Massive set pieces, massive jokes, massive everything.

What's even more shocking is that there's actually a Marvel villain here that is, and I can't believe I'm saying this, good! Not forgettable, not underwhelming, not a big evil bad for the sake of being an end boss, but a complex, interesting villain whose plan actually feels like it will have ramifications. Marvel may be able to nail its heroes, but its villains have always been weak if your name isn't Loki. But here, the villain feels villainous and I almost feel a bit sad that we won't be saying them again in future movies. But at least they went out with a bang.

If I could really have a genuine complaint about the movie it's that it drags a bit towards the middle while the team is separated. Yes we do get an awesome, and I do mean AWESOME, action scene with Yondu and Rocket, and we get some great visuals and emotional scenes with Star-Lord and his group, but it goes on just a bit too long until we can get to the finale. Maybe if it was shorter by a few minutes I wouldn't have this kind of problem, but once the finale gets here it becomes an exhilarating battle to the death between a whole faction of forces.

And while this may seem like a nitpick, I feel like I need to say that Marvel went overboard with the post credit scenes. Not one, not two, but five post credit scenes, and out of the five of them, only one of them actually feels like it sets up plot points for future movies. Three are just kind of jokes while another one is an extended Stan Lee cameo that will make a lot of fans happy, myself included. Still, five just felt like way too much and stretched the goodwill I had for Marvel's post credit scenes.

So now we have the question that I posed in the beginning; which is better? Is the original's cult status better than the polish of the sequel? Is the rough around the edges charm of the original more entertaining than the beautiful action scenes here? It's a tough call, but I think the overall better experience is the second movie. Vol. 2 just does everything that a good sequel needs to do and makes it even more enjoyable than I think anyone expected. It reached the same high bar as the original and thanks to a more emotional story and a much more compelling villain, it cemented itself as the better movie.

I don't think that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will be as much of a pop culture point as the original, but the charm and the quirky sense of fun was still here. So now we'll just have to sit here and wait for the inevitable Vol. 3 and see if the magic can strike three times.


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