Hammering Out... is a series of movie reviews featuring a lively he said/she said discussion between John and Julie. Next up: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2.
JOHN: At this point, Marvel pretty much runs Hollywood. They own the early May date that kicks off summer. Their movies consistently top $200M and often go higher. And, they can take more obscure characters, give them a film, and create a new franchise JUST LIKE THAT. Case in point: Guardians of the Galaxy. I think the industry and audiences were caught by surprise back in August 2014 when the first movie was released. A talking raccoon and a sentient tree? Yeah, this thing won't work. But it did. That's due in huge part to the likeable cast and writer/director James Gunn.
Here we are, 3 years later, and everyone is back. The question this time is: will it be as good as the first? Nobody wants to be disappointed. Fear not, friends. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 lives up to high expectations and easily overcomes any sense of sequel-itis by doubling down on everything that made the first movie work. Rather than just repeat the same formula though, Gunn is interested in exploring these characters and their relationship to one another. What it lacks in surprise or taut pacing, it more than makes up for it in humor and emotional depth. So yeah, I loved it. Is that because I'm a Marvel fanboy who's already in the bag and unable to summon objectivity? Or is this movie just really, really good?
JULIE: I'm no Marvel fanboy (though I have liked most of the movies), but I really liked Guardians Vol. 2. There were several circumstantial things working against my enjoyment of this film. We'd just come from an unfortunate restaurant experience. We were watching it in 3-D, which is an annoyance for this glasses-wearing American. AND we had to sit through about thirty minutes of previews before the movie even started, which meant our daughter crashed on me about forty minutes into this two+ hour movie.
YET. I still enjoyed it. Very much. The plot is whatever--blow up the core of this planet, because reasons (somewhat personal reasons), but Gunn does a great job up amping up the tension and throwing all kinds of believable obstacles in the way. While the first film focused heavily on Peter "Star-Lord" Quill, he's marginalized a bit on a personal journey. And that's fine. Chris Pratt is great in the role, but the bench is so deep here. I love that Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan (playing sisters) get a very satisfying arc. Dave Bautista as Drax gets most of the best lines here. But the two most roguish characters--Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Yondu (Merle...I mean Michael Rooker)--bring the biggest emotional punch.
Beyond the fantastic character work here, I love the realization of the universe. The gold people, the B-story villains--I have no idea what they're called--are so fantastic. I could spend more time in their world, and with Pom Klementieff's Mantis, and with Sean Gunn's (yay Kirk!) Kraglin. This world is so rich and so full of interesting personalities and relationships, there's really no end to where this series can go. Chris Pratt can, and should, take a back seat to let other characters shine.
What did you like most about the film?
JOHN: I think you hit upon a lot of things, but the thing I like most, upon reflection, is the favoring of character development over story. Gunn is way more interested in pairing these characters off in interesting twosomes and digging into their psyches a little more. While I think that might lead to some slack pacing in the middle, where not much seems to be happening plot-wise, I really appreciated that Gunn chose that route. We've seen sequels go bigger before, but there are a number of sequences where Gunn pulls back on the action in favor of a comic beat or character moment. The dancing Baby Groot during the opening credits is one example. I mean, that's just a bold, confident move and it sets the movie on exactly the right note. I was down for whatever else the movie wanted to do after that.
This movie is insanely funny and clever. There are so many choice bits, and detours. Where other movies zig, this one zags. I liked how disconnected it was to other movies in the Marvel universe, and I was delighted, and even moved, by the hidden depths of emotion on display in the final 15 minutes. I think I actually teared up a little. The Guardians cast is stacked with talent, but Michael Rooker is the movie's MVP. I liked Yondu in the first Guardians, and always thought there was more to him than meets the eye. Vol. 2 takes those seeds of complexity and brings them out to play in a major way here. My favorite scene is Yondu's (w/ Rocket and Groot) escape from the Ravagers, when he unleashes his arrow and kills dozens while Jay and the Americans' "Come a Little Bit Closer" plays on the soundtrack. Plus, his line, "I'm Mary Poppins, y'all!" is the movie's best catchphrase.
Kurt Russell is great as Ego the Living Planet, but when is Russell not great? That's a tricky character to pull off - both in terms of explaining how he works and visualizing it - but I think the performance and effects do a bang-up job of it. And, that young Russell at the beginning! Holy crap. The technology is there.
Anything you didn't like? I think I already mentioned the movie's slack pacing. It's about 10-15 minutes too long. And, as much as I appreciated splitting apart the characters, I missed their chemistry from the first movie. This cast was made to play off each other, and you just don't get as much of that in the sequel, especially with Pratt's Peter Quill being used for more emotionally resonant scenes rather than humor (though he does get off a few good one-liners).
JULIE: You know I'm always going to favor character over action, so I was fine with most of the character work here. I love on TV shows when the writers play around with different character combos, and Gunn seems to enjoy doing that as well. It really opens up the world, and opens up possibilities for the third movie--like Drax and...Mantis? Nebula? I feel like eventually Drax is going to get a love interest, and I adore that they didn't commit him to anyone here. We're watching it play out organically. (I could totally see him and Nebula, by the way. Or Nebula and Kraglin. Nebula and someone. She deserves some happiness.)
That's goes along with my one beef here: the Gamora/Quill love story. It doesn't feel like it works. Or maybe they jumped the gun too quickly with it in the first movie. While we see Drax slowly start to see Mantis in a new way, there's never been any doubt that Gamora and Quill will get together. And honestly? I don't see it. At least not right now. I'd love to see the two of them get new love interests in the next movie--Where is Gamora's Frasier Crane, if we're going to keep the Cheers metaphor going?
JOHN: Love this thought. Yes, I don't see Gamora and Quill together. They definitely have more of a Sam and Rebecca thing going. Bringing another player into the love triangle would be a good move. And, I'm always for giving Drax more things to do. Dave Bautista kills it, and easily shoulders a lot of the comedy here. You know, for a wrestler, his comic timing as an actor - at least in this particular role - is second to none. Big props to him.
I've seen the movie twice now, and I walked out the first time thinking it wasn't as good as the first. I think I still feel that way, but not as strongly. This is a fantastic sequel that nearly matches the wit and verve of the first. It's definitely in my Marvel Top 5. As good as Thor Ragnarok looks, I'd be perfectly content just getting new Guardians and Captain America movies every few years. Those are my faves. What do you think? Is Vol. 2 a worthy successor? As good as the first? And, where does it rank for you out of all the Marvel movies?
JULIE: I think it's a good complement to the first film. I don't know if it's better or worse. It kind of reminds me of Austin Powers 2 with its addition of new characters who fit seamlessly into the world. As far as Marvel goes, I don't know where this fits for me. I enjoy these movies, but they don't totally feel like "Marvel." For my Avengers fix, I'll always go to Captain America.
How about we rate this bad boy? On a Cheers scale from Early Diane to Frasier Crane I give it a solid Woody.
(Which is just the kind of pun Guardians Vol. 2 wouldn't have shied away from making.)
JOHN: In many ways, Vol. 2 the film is a lot like its soundtrack. Some deeper cuts than the first but lacks the novelty. No matter. I had a blast watching the movie, and I think everybody else will too. If you liked the first Guardians, you'll like this one. Marvel does it again! 4/5 stars from me.
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