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In Guardians of the Galaxy, a group of intergalactic criminals are forced to work together to stop a fanatical warrior from taking control of the universe. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2′ continues the team’s adventures as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill’s true parentage. (Marvel Studios)
When I saw the teaser trailer for the first Guardians of the Galaxy, I wasn’t all that into it. I fully blame the Thor franchise for this, as the forced humor in those films, seemed to be rearing its ugly head here. However, to be fair, I knew very little about the Guardians of the Galaxy. Instead of getting on the internet to bitch and moan about what I wasn’t liking, I hopped on to Amazon and bought two trade paperbacks of the newest comics. In truth, the humor was perfectly appropriate for the odd ball bunch of characters that make up the team. After finally seeing Guardians of the Galaxy, I absolutely loved it. It quickly became one of my favourite MCU films and ranks in my top 5 from Marvel Studios. Yes, there’s a lot of comedy throughout but what James Gunn does, is make you care about the characters and shows you their tragedies, so that the humor has greater effect when it finally happens. This film starts with young Peter Quill by his mother’s bedside, as she gives him one last parting gift and words of wisdom, before succumbing to brain cancer. He then runs out of the hospital, only to get abducted by an alien space ship. That is a harrowing but heartbreaking way to open a film. While the rest of the story also hinges on Peter Quill, the other Guardians have their own issues. Most of these aren’t brought to bear visually like Star Lord, however they’re all discussed. Gamora has familial issues, being the adopted daughter of Thanos and having a sibling rivalry with her sister Nebula. Not to mention, she’s acting as a double agent of sorts, in the process of double crossing Thanos. The family drama is very real world, just like Peter’s mothers death from cancer is, it just takes place on an intergalactic scale. I love that no matter how odd these character are, their emotional baggage is very relatable. Rocket Racoon and Groot are more unique from the rest of the humanoid looking group. Rocket is a creation, a genetically altered talking racoon, while Groot is the last of his kind, a talking tree, with a speech impediment, where everything he says is heard as “I am Groot.” While both characters are adorable, they are outcasts amongst a team of misfits. If you’re someone who doesn’t feel comfortable in their own skin, or you feel misunderstood, you will gravitate towards these characters beyond their cuteness. Drax is the only character that’s hard to relate to. After all, when we first meet him, he’s in prison for going on a murderous revenge tour. However, he is trying to avenge the deaths of his family and has killed or is going after, Thanos and or those connected to him, or took part in the murder of his family. So while you might not identify with him, you will sympathize with him.
In several trailers and promotions, the Guardians of the Galaxy were classified as criminals and outlaws and technically they are, but that’s a misrepresentation. They don’t do anything in the film to make you second guess them, or root against them. As you discover their backstories throughout the film and watch them interact with each other, they’re nothing but lovable characters. This is an ensemble film but as I said, Star Lord is the main character and the team all meet through him. That occurs when the film picks up with the adult Star Lord stealing an orb contain an infinity stone and attempting to sell it to a dealer. The dealer reneges on the arrangement when he learns Thanos is after the stone. Speaking of Thanos, not only does he send Gamora after Peter Quill, he sends out a bounty for the capture of the self-proclaimed Star Lord. This gets Groot and Rocket on his trail, as well as his old partner/father figure Yondu. Yondu is the alien who kidnapped Peter at the behest of Peter’s mysterious celestial father, who Yondu describes as an asshole. He decided not to take Peter to his father and groomed him as a Ravager. However, he feels betrayed by Peter and wants to get in on that bounty cash. As Gamora, Rocket and Groot try and apprehend Peter, they are all caught by Nova Corps officers and are thrown in the Kylm, a prison in a trading post called Knowhere. It is here where the characters truly meet. They decided to team up to not only break out of prison, as well as selling the orb/gem to Gamora’s contact, the Collector. Drax comes into the equation because he wants to kill Gamora, in his quest for revenge on Thanos. However, Peter Quill talks him down, suggesting that if he joins them, he will get his revenge on Thanos, so he acquiesces. Speaking of Thanos, displeased with Gamora’s efforts, he sends Ronan, essentially his overpowered henchmen to take them out and retrieve the infinity stone. After they escape prison, they eventually strike an accord with the Nova Corps and Yondu, to join forces and bring down Ronan, which they obviously do. As for the infinity stone, even though Star Lord promised to give it to Yondu, he double crosses him and entrusts it to the Nova Corps. I mentioned the humor throughout the film and it comes in the characters interactions. I loved all of Peter Quill’s 80’ references, including Patrick Swayze in dirty dancing, and Tony Danza in Who’s the Boss. Not to mention, Peter’s ship being named after Alyssa Milano. Gamora’s naiveté mixed in with her overall badassery made the character a good addition. As I said Groot and Rocket were the most adorable characters but having Rocket be the only one to understand Groot is hilarious. It’s like a one sided version of broken telephone, where based on Rocket’s response, we the audience can piece together what Groot says. Also, Rocket being a sarcastic jackass and asking the group to steal another inmates prosthetic leg to assist in his escape plan just to see if they’d do it, made me laugh.. Drax’s humor came from his bluntness and lack of understanding of sarcasm. For example, when Star Lord says a pun went over Drax’s head, Drax responds; “Nothing goes over my head. If it did, my reflexes are so fast, I’d reach out and catch it. “Or when he refers to Gamora as a “Green Skinned Slut”, when he admits he has gotten over his grudge against her . He’s so straight faced and honest about it, I couldn’t help but laugh at the dichotomy of calling someone a slut and your friend in the same breath.
Two aspects of the first film I didn’t like were the villain and the third act finale. Ronan is another terrible villain. He’s a glorified lackey for Thanos, and the character is so over the top. It’s mustache twirl level. The film tells us that he wants to use the infinity gem to put an end to the Kree/Xandar treaty, which he feels has wronged his people the Kree, but the story never delves further into that. His antagonism to the Guardians of the Galaxy is nothing more than them being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as well as being in position of the Infinity Gem. The other thing that I didn’t care for was that Star Lord challenges Ronan to a dance off to distract him, while the others get the Infinity Gem away from him. As noted, I’ve loved every bit of humor in this film up to this point, but this dance off was out of place. The fate of Xandar and potentially the universe is at stake, and that’s the first thing you come up with. Does Marvel have a “1 Joke per Script Page” rule for their films or what? Not only did this gag pull me out of the film, but it lessened the severity of the situation and the impact of Groot’s death to spare his teammates. Don’t worry, in typical Marvel fashion, Groot didn’t really die, Rocket was able to collect pieces of him and plant him in a pot, so he could regrow.
The sequel for my money is a step up from the original in my opinion. Make no mistake, in terms of story, and story structure it’s pretty much the same. Characters and situations change, but the story structure doesn’t break the mold. This time around, the Guardians of the Galaxy are hired by the leader of the Sovereign nation to retrieve special batteries from a monstrous alien. In exchange for returning the batteries, the group is granted custody of Nebula who was captured for stealing the batteries in the first place. As they are dismissed, Rocket can’t help but steal a few batteries. Upon discovery of this the Sovereign leader sends of fleet of ships to attack the group and retrieve the batteries. When that fails, she hires Yondu and his Ravagers to retrieve the batters and capture the Guardians of the Galaxy. The Guardians of the Galaxy eventually team up with Yondu and his crew, not only to defeat the Sovereign army, but defeat the much larger threat of the film. A Guardian of the Galaxy even sacrifices themselves for another team member. Sounds a lot like the first film doesn’t it!? Despite this, there’s enough fresh elements that make this sequel better than the original.
The film does pick up on several open ended threads left open from the first film. One of which is Peter Quill’s celestial father. The character is first introduced in a flashback to his courtship and mating with Peter’s Mother. For this scene, the filmmakers used the de-aging CGI on Kurt Russell and you know what, it looks really good. I thought I was watching actual footage of 1980’s Kurt Russell. We first see him in earnest in the film, when he mysteriously provides an escape route for the Guardians as they evade the Sovereign Fleet. After a rough landing by the Milano, Star Lord finally meets his father Ego. Ego invites his son and crew to his planet. Once there, we get plenty of exposition detailing that Ego is a Celestial that manipulated matter to form a planet and placed itself at the planet’s core. After hundreds of years, he got lonely, so he formed a human body and traveled the universe, which ultimately led him to Earth and the love of his life Meredith Quill. When Peter asks why he didn’t return to Earth when she got ill and died, he intimated that a world without Meredith was a world he didn’t want to be on. He reiterates that he sent Yondu to retrieve him after Meredith’s death and blames Yondu for their delayed reunion. We get scenes of the newly acquainted father/son do bonding over shared taste in Earth music and Ego teaching Peter how to use his celestial power and manipulate energy and matter. This leads to a celestial game of catch. I got so swept up emotion of these scenes, that I didn’t see the twist coming. That twist being that this is all a ruse and Ego is the true villain of the film. He’s been looking for his son all this time, to use his son Peter’s celestial power, combined with his, to activate the seedling he planted on Earth to terraform it into an extension of himself. If that isn’t bad enough, he reveals he planted the tumor in Meredith’s brain, so she would die, allowing him to be left alone and easy for the taking. Even worse still, he’s attempted to do this on other planets he’s visited, but failed because his other progeny died when trying to harness their celestial powers. To use a wrestling term, I did not see that heel turn coming. One of the main reason I like this film a bit more than the first, is because Ego is a much better villain than Ronan. Part of that is the familial connection between Star Lord and Ego and part of it is the acting of Kurt Russell. The way both he and Chris Prat switch between being best of friends, to mortal enemies is emotional, raw and flawless. I could feel both the love and hate between the two characters through the course of the film. This plot point also gave us more info and more screen time for Yondu.
In the first film, you saw that Yondu and Peter Quill had an admiration for each other but the relationship was fractured. From Peter’s perspective, he believed that the only reason Yondu took him and kept him around, was because he was someone who could help him steal, getting into places where Yondu and his team couldn’t fit into. In this film, Yondu reveals that the main reason he kept him around, was because he didn’t want Ego to get his hands on Peter. Yondu taught Peter how to be self-sufficient and fend for himself. In a revealing dialogue with Rocket, Yondu reveals that he grew to love Peter and considers him his son. His action of taking Peter as a child got him in trouble with The Ravagers higher up personnel. Child trafficking is a no-no amongst The Ravagers. This plot point gives a cameo by Sylvester Stallone, who plays Stakar Ogord, and Michael Rosembaum as his right hand man, who exile Yondu and his crew from the Ravagers. Yay to James Gunn for including a cameo from Sly and Rosembaum. Boo to James Gunn for not putting Stallone and Russell in a scene together, for a mini Tango and Cash reunion. Anyways, back to Yondu. The moment where he sacrifices his life, to save Peter from dying in an explosion in a fight with Ego, was epically tragic. The moment before his death, where he says; “He may be your father, but I’m your daddy”, brought me to tears. This death does have a finality to it as well. Earlier in the film, Yondu makes a Marry Poppins reference that is quite funny. I won’t spoil it but keep an eye out for it. Michael Rooker is known as a character actor but he steals the film. By far my favourite character in the film, with Ego coming in second.
Three of my favourite characters from the first film left me with a mixed reaction. Groot was even better than last time, while Rocket and Drax left me wishing they would just shut up and had me rolling my eyes. Groot had only one way to go and that was up. As much as I loved Groot the first time around, how can you not love Baby Groot? The cutest part was how at every chance he got, he cuddled every member of his Guardians teammates. You will “aww” every time you see it. The funny part is when Rocket tries to explain to him about not touching the button to set off the bomb. He understands the words coming out of Rocket’s mouth, but he can’t truly comprehend them, which is why he wanted to push the button that set off the bomb. Essentially he has the mind of a two year old. Every time he appeared in a scene, that dynamic when mixed with what the rest of the group was going through, added the perfect amount of levity and fun to the situation. Rocket’s attitude in the first film was bold, brash and justified given his characters circumstances. However in this film, his attitude was amplified, to the point where he actively tried to push his crew members away. I understand that he felt that getting close to people hasn’t worked out in the past, so why go through that again, however, he got through those issues by the end of the first film. So this behaviour felt like retreading old ground from volume one. Speaking of retreading, Drax was a huge step backwards in volume 2. In the first film, his bluntness and naïveté was a driving force of humor. So James Gunn decided to ratchet that up ten notches, to where it became forced. This resulted in Drax becoming a cackling misogynistic brute, who besmirched and insulted Ego’s assistant Mantis, just to deflect his apparent growing feelings for her throughout the film. He flat out calls her ugly, I believe the word he uses is hideous. Then there’s the barrage of dick jokes he makes. He literally stops Ego in a piece of important, character building dialogue, to ask Ego if he created a dick for himself and how big it is. Then he and Star Lord make suggestive comments about the sizes of their package, I’m good with a raunchy penis joke now and again, but I think the four or five in this film were a bit excessive. Also, seeing as the Guardians of the Galaxy is the most kid friendly franchise to date in the MCU, you should be mindful that there are youngsters in the audience. There may have been more dick jokes in this film then Deadpool and for me, that’s problematic.
Much like the rest of both films, I am overall extremely satisfied with the visual effects in the films. The entire VFX team should be commended for making two entirely CGI characters Rocket Racoon and Groot look so real. Not going to lie, there were so many times in the first film, I wanted to reach out and pet Rocket or swing from Groot. Yes the performances are what connect you to characters, however, the first visual impressions makes you believe these characters exist, and these visuals succeed in that aspect in spades. Considering his background in smaller, low budget films I was impressed with several action scenes he crafted. Both films feature a space battle, between The Milano and Ronan’s warship in the first film, and the Sovereign fleet in the sequel. The space battles are epic in these particular scenes, almost Star Wars level worthy. Notice I said almost, so no one freak out. During the fight with the Sovereign fleet battle, when looking at the space battle from a POV shot of inside the Sovereign’s ships is a visual nod to an 80’s video game, which is in keeping with the fun tone of these films. The opening scenes of both films, are some of the most enjoyably interactive I’ve ever seen. Seeing Star Lord dance his way through an alien landscape, using dead fish like creatures as a microphone, dancing his way to stealing the orb, is like a hilarious absurd melding of So You Think You Can Dance and Indiana Jones. That shouldn’t work, but it does, making for an incredibly fun opening montage. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 starts with The Guardians fighting an alien monster, while Groot has music blaring in a stereo and is dancing, oblivious to the fight in the foreground. I love this opening because as a viewer, you’re totally transfixed, wanting to watch the battle, but at the same time, hooting and hollering over Groot’s adorably hilarious dancing. The third act featured Ego the living planet being destroyed. We almost got a firsthand look at a planet crumbling to its extinction. I’ve never seen it done quite like this. Ego transforms into a disembodied head at one point, which normally I don’t like, but it forces Peter to manipulating matter into Pac Man. Any time I can get Pac-Man references in a film is a positive. There were two instances where the CGI looked terrible. In the first film, when the Guardians join hands, trying to grab the infinity stone, the scene is engulfed in purple, as the team is literally being torn apart. This had to be one of the lamest looking third act finales in a comic book film. A clear sign that the filmmaker had exhausted his budget. In the second film, during the aforementioned fight with the alien monster, said monster looks rather rubbery and obviously CGI. Not as rubbery as the shark in Batman ’66 but considering we’re in 2017, this shouldn’t be an issue.
As I mentioned, when this film franchise first began, I had no idea who The Guardians of the Galaxy even were. As I said, the first trailer for the film didn’t even get me excited for the film. Yet, here we are two films into the franchise and their two of the best of the Marvel brand. One of the best things about these movies is, while they’re part of the MCU, they are standalone films in their own right. While I seem to have more issues with the second film, there was enough positive elements in Volume 2, that I still put it ahead of the first film. No matter which film you enjoy more, you’re guaranteed a sci-fi space opera full of emotion, humor and action featuring instantaneously lovable characters. Revisit the first one and most definitely see Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, if you haven’t already.