∴ ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ Is Almost as Great as the Original

(Stress on the headline’s “almost.” Almost almost.)

We went to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 last evening. The film’s predecessor, Guardians of the Galaxy, has become cherished comfort viewing for me, so much so that I was chagrined when I heard there’d be a sequel. Leave well enough alone, I thought. Apparently no good fun can be had one-and-done when there’s money to be made, though; there must be sequels. 

The trouble with a sequel to a well-loved film is that the writers, director, and actors often, though not always, end up trying too hard to bring the magic that made the first film terrific. I got that feeling last evening. The Atlantic’s review encapsulates where it fell flat for me:

The Guardians sequel and latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe certainly has its moments—quite a few in fact—but too often it finds itself weighted down by just the kind of portentous themes and overwrought drama the first film was so careful to avoid.

In particular, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 breaks the “show, don’t tell” rule of good story-telling. There’s a lot of navel-gazing dialog between Peter Quill and his father, Ego, and to a lesser extent between Gamora and her sister, Nebula. In the latter case there were at least a few long, side-eyed glares in place of dialog, enhancing their intense story-wthin-a-story.

The band-of-misfits-as-family we were encouragingly left with at the end of the first film (“we’ll follow your lead”) morphed into Kurt Russell’s long digression into who and what, exactly, he is and what, exactly, he’s been up to for millennia, which was, well, kinda gross. Quill spends much of the second act torn between the Guardians and Ego, to no good effect.

The revelation of Ego as Quill’s father was disappointing for how very early it appeared. I was stunned speechless when, after the first film’s long build-up about Quill’s male parentage, we met Ego in the first five minutes of this film. It was practically the whole reason for the sequel, and it zipped past in the first scene.

My other beef with Vol. 2 is that, unlike its predecessor, it lets almost all the air out of the balloon by its end. There are fewer mysteries left to beg the audience back for more next time. Most inter-personal issues are resolved.

In the wake of this film’s story are the gold-hued people bearing a grudge, and Sylvester Stallone’s Ravager navy getting the band back together. As Kelly said, ”I guess we know what the next film is about.” Let’s hope the golden folks and the Ravagers don’t resolve their issues in the first few minutes of the next film.

All of this is not to say the film was without charm. The CGI didn’t break my suspension of disbelief, the live action was shot in 4k, creating gorgeous visual detail, and the story, when not bogged down in dialog, was fun.

My favorite characters from the first film were good-to-great in this one. Drax was a riot. Nebula’s character developed out of one-dimensionality and, while still fiercely angry, came off vaguely “human.”

Alas, Yondu Udonta does not live through the end of the story, but becomes more interesting through his bonding with Rocket along the way. His knife missile weapon is well-used throughout, and is passed down to his first mate, Kraglin, to mine humor near the film’s end. There’s much to like in this story.

I’ll rent it for another viewing and see if it grows on me like the first one did. I just wish writer/director James Gunn had left 30 – 40 minutes of digital “film” on the virtual cutting room floor.

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