Let’s be clear, you can’t catch lightning in a bottle twice. Your emotional reaction to a previously experienced event will always be influenced by that previous experience. So, inevitably, a second helping is going to go down differently than the first. That said, Volume 2 of this franchise from Marvel Studios, maintains the right tone, humor and high production quality of it’s predecessor, while adding some interesting layers to the story and characters. It is a great follow up which will leave you with another sense of euphoria, but it won’t quite be like your first piece of the pie.
I swore five years ago that I would stop going to these late night preview screenings on Thursdays. After having left the house at six am, worked at my desk for almost three hours, taught for more than four hours, attended a meeting late in the afternoon, drove to another campus, taught two more hours, rushed home, took the dogs to their training class and finally returning home at 9pm, I got up after eating and went to a 10:30 pm screening. With trailers and movie, I did not get to bed until 2 am. I’m not whining, I’m simply explaining that it was a long, complicated day and I’m bushed. Still it was totally worth it and if my prose comes across a little toasty in this review, well, that’s the reason why.
For several years now, I have used an example in my classes about how cultural references from different generations can be misunderstood. For instance, one time in class, as I was passing back grades, one of my students was named Phillip, and when I called his name I joked that I really just need five bucks worth. People who who have only ever pumped their own gas might not get that. Another time, my student got her quiz back and when I called her name, “Brandy” , I said , “you’re a fine girl, what a good wife you would be”. I got horrified looks from millennials who thought I was hitting on this poor girl and did not get the pop culture reference. After this movie, that will never happen again. As much as this film is a product of today’s Hollywood, the cultural appropriation of late seventies and early eighties pop music and culture is one of it’s strongest points. Hearing the great Kurt Russell, quote the lyrics of a pop song from 1972, as a way of summarizing his characters plot line was just perfect for an old guy like me. Baby Groot should sell a million copies of ELO’s greatest hits, and if you don’t have Fleetwood Mac’s “the Chain” on your music feed, you will.
Our main characters are known quantities at this point. There really are not a lot of surprises when it comes to the way they act and talk. Writer/Director James Gunn and his screenwriting collaborators have a clear understanding of the emotional neediness of Star Lord and match it with cocky bravado at every point. Rocket is a badass for some clearly emotional reasons, but you don’t expect them to be as poignant as this film manages to make them. There are several new characters in the story but the best narrative belongs to two characters from the first film who take a more prominent role in Volume 2. Nebula has daddy issues like everyone in the story, but she is taking them out on Gamora. Their relationship continues to splinter, mesh and then separate again on a regular basis. The surprise feature character is Michael Rooker’s Yondu. This turns out to be the key reason for this movie working as well as it does to supersede comic spectacle and actually achieve some emotional resonance. Who’d have thought that?
Drax continues to be one of the oddest comic relief characters in films. David Bautista’s deliver of deadpan insults and bon mots earns him some acting cred in the range he handles very well. Zoe Saldana has the narrowest story developments in the film, but Gamora still manages to be an important presence in the story. New character Mantis has the sincerest demeanor in the plot and her by play with Drax is a highlight.
Peter Quill gets to be the hero of the story, but it ends up being a position that is well earned and paid for. The Guardians add a few new enemies to their list of folks they have to watch out for. You can see a few threads of future stories lurking in the background, but the one major story from the previous version is cleanly tied up here. Not having heard of this comic series before it became a film, much less having ever read one comic, the denouement of the family story was a good twist that made the film a lot more interesting.
The special effects of the film are impressive. We went to a 3D IMAX showing and it showcases the space battles and weapons very well. The soundtrack is loaded with music that if you don’t yet know, you will because it is used so well in the story. There are some nice details in the film that you may miss if you don’t watch closely. For example, I’m pretty sure Peter’s grandpa is in one shot very briefly. It wasn’t necessary but it shows that the film makers care about details and in this Universe, details seem to be pretty important. If you liked the first film, you should be more than satisfied with Vol. 2. And if you like Mary Poppins, you’ll love Yondu the most.
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