Marvel has made a name for itself by bringing humor, humanity, and cohesiveness to their comic book films. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been a juggernaut of profits. Not only are there innumerable comic book heroes to bring to the big screen, but the very nature of comic books–serialized stories–means that sequels almost write themselves.
Marvel has been the king of comic book movies with films that appeal beyond the devoted Marvel acolyte to the general public, who enjoy brisk pacing, witty dialogue, and overall enjoyable, entertaining stories.
Marvel has an almost infallible recipe for creating movies, and unfortunately the new Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, while not a recipe for disaster, is a recipe for boredom.
The original Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the best Marvel films to date, taking the over-used formula for a hero–being a misfit (fill in the blank)–and turning the formula into an enjoyable, adventurous ride into the wild west of the galaxy. What made the original so compelling, lovable characters, fast-paced adventure, and humor, are unfortunately lacking in the second.
“It’s Not Time to Make a Change”
Overall, the characters (and the acting) this time around feel strained and tired. Even the natural charisma of Chris Pratt (Peter Quill) isn’t enough to make the character (and the rather poor dialogue) grow from where we left the character. At the end of the first film, our heroes fly off into the galactic sunset to further adventures. By defeating Ronan the Accuser, our unlikely gang of misfits have become a family.
In the second, the family is already on edge and falling apart, but the reasons for this are not explained and not believable. The differences overcome in the first film feel meaningless as the heroes bicker about who can fly the spaceship better. It’s a false conflict that leads to false resolutions.
While there are standout moments (usually centered around Baby Groot or Drax the Destroyer), the writing in this sequel is so bland it hurts. Several times throughout the film, I found myself wondering if there had been casting changes for the second film. Zoe Saldana, a memorable character from the first, blends into the background and is so mundane to be forgettable. Chris Pratt, whose charm brought Peter Quill into comparison with Han Solo or Indiana Jones and arguably opened up entirely new acting roles to the comedic actor, can’t seem to pull off the magic a second time. But again, how much is the fault of the actors and how much is the fault of the writing?
“Just Relax, Take it easy”
Foundationally, the problem with this film is its plot. The plot of this film is a traditional “find your father, realize your father is evil” plotline, and while the first Guardians of the Galaxy had a derivative plot as well, it’s other attributes made it a fine film.
Vol. 2, without the witty writing and stellar acting of the original, floats in the doldrums of melodrama and Daddy issues. Part of Peter Quill’s charm in the first film was the tension between his ordinariness and mysteriousness. At heart, he’s a child of the 80’s living the carefree life of a 20 year-old in a very extraordinary environment. He’s almost a Tom Sawyer type character falling into adventure with boyish charm and slyness.
In this film, Quill finds out that his father is a “god” who has “phenomenal cosmic powers” (to steal a line from Disney’s Aladdin). And guess what? Peter Quill has the same power as well! But, as in most daddy-issue plots, the father is evil and the son has to make the ultimate choice: Daddy or friends?
Star Wars did it better, and one can’t help but wonder why, of all places to take these enjoyable characters, we had to end up in a mediocre pit of “Luke, I am your father” cliches? This film is only 15 minutes longer than its predecessor, but it feels much, much longer.
“You’re still young, that’s your fault”
There are plenty of enjoyable moments in this film, and there are moments that will make you smile. But the magic of the first film is not in its sequel, and overall the film is just another average action movie.
In the end, one wonders if the original Guardians of the Galaxy was an accident? A fluke of a more obscure comic book tale hitting a grand slam by happenstance?
I don’t think so.
Instead, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 suffers from a broader problem that Marvel is beginning to have. After so many films, characters, connections, and future sequel plans, Marvel has gotten caught in its own mammoth web. How can Marvel, with nearly a decade and 15 released films to its name, bring new stories, characters, and ideas to the big screen? How does one release film after film, in the same universe, without characters and plot-lines repeating one another?
The problem, of course, lies even deeper in that Marvel is a subsidiary of Disney, who is having a nearly identical crisis with its other subsidiary Pixar (see Christopher Orr’s wonderful explanation of Pixar’s slow death spiral at the Atlantic). With the end of Phase Three coming soon, can Marvel bring something new to the table?
In the words of one of the great songs from the Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 soundtrack, “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens:
It’s not time to make a change,
Just relax, take it easy
You’re still young, that’s your fault
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
It’s always been the same, same old story.