It’s been a week since I went to a Thursday, May 4th night opening for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and I mistakenly believed that waiting a few days would make me more able to process the film and comment on its merits. There is so much visual and aural input while watching the film that the impression of light, color, and fairly unrelenting action is still with me as if I just came out of the theater.
And while a reaction to that phenomenon will vary depending on taste, in my case it means the film made a big impact on me, and one which I’m still trying to quantify in a way that will enable me to review it. Because I’m still in sensory overload mode, I’ll have to stick to the basics.
[*Note: There are no active spoilers below, but there is information about the film’s plot and characters, so if you don’t want to know anything about the film, don’t continue!]
Character: I loved the first Guardians of the Galaxy film and I have enjoyed several of the comics connected to the characters since then. That means that I would not have liked the second film if I felt that it didn’t tell me anything new about the characters or if I felt it told me things that weren’t in keeping with my experience of the previous films. Because the second film is set only a short time after the events of the first film, there shouldn’t have been much danger of radical character shifts. And I didn’t find any.
What I found was an increase in confidence and group mentality, which in my mind would be a natural development of this team continuing to spend time together, and even better, a massive spike in aggressive arguing among them, which seems like exactly like what would happen if you get a group of big personalities in a small vehicle and throw them into space. A group who have been through a crisis together, and genuinely care about each other, but actually don’t know each other that well yet, and are certainly not immune to the annoying behaviors that each character has brought with them to the team.
The dialogue was punchier than the first film, with more posturing and arrogance, and more “fun” in general because Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and adorable (ADORABLE) Baby Groot now feel they are not alone and that someone is listening to/observing their posturing. They now have a greater luxury of dramatic effect on each other.
Plot: Guardians stories in comics, generally, often explore more than one “gig” or heist-type situation, and the idea that they are constantly on the run from conflicting governments, conflicting mob bosses, or “misunderstandings” of some kind or another is in keeping with the property–and part of what made the first film so entertaining. In Vol. 2 we find that to be true again. One for-hire job of epic proportions opens the film in a long, splashy musical fight sequence, and the complications it leads to take us into another plotline as well.
The amount of time spent on ships, on planets, or involved in space battles is varied and we move from location to location along with the meanderings of the plot. That makes for variety for the viewer and gives a greater chance to show off the aesthetics of the film, which we’ll get to in a moment. The upshot of the plot is that we get a much wider understanding of how weird and bizarre the galaxy is for these Guardians, and that sense of wonder, conveyed at breakneck speed through conflicts, never lags or loses its luster.
Aesthetic: Most viewers will probably say that this is the strongest suit of the new film. The first Guardians movie brought a pretty strong A-game to art and design, showing us an interestingly retro, pop-bright color scheme of purple, gold, blue, and orange, that still resonates. The second film takes those colors, adds and expands on them, and gives them an almost psychedelic luminosity. This is particularly possible when we meet Peter Quill’s father and the paradisial planet he inhabits. But it’s already there in the opening sequence, too.
We also see much more of Ravager culture and ships in this second film, and all those elements of costume, design, and mechanical craft fit in well to create a cohesive piece of the galaxy for us. If anything, the second film’s aesthetic feels like the first film’s aesthetic unleashed and cranked up to 11, rather than taking a new direction or discarding past elements. And since viewers liked the aesthetics of the first, they are likely to respond well to the second. It’s quite possible that the unexpected success of the Guardians film property led to a much higher budget on Vol.2 which is why, through special effects and costuming, we get such an ambitious aesthetic. It could not have been cheap to CGI so many monsters, settings, and baby Groot-dancing.
Trying to think critically of what viewers might find at fault with the film, the only options I can conjure in my own brain are simply observation-based, and are not things that particularly bother me. For instance, this film is a sequel, and part of what will be at least a trilogy, and so the pacing and set-up for the second film are more episodic than the first.
As the second film starts, we’re dropped into a scenario already in motion, without much explanation, because the explanations are part of the first film. Likewise, we aren’t much reminded of information that was already given in the first film. The pacing of the film feels like events lifted out of a sequence, relying on events that have gone before (though we have added information about the past dropped in, too), and to some extent, supposing things that will come afterward.
The emotional arc of the film is very much focused on Peter Quill, though not entirely, and that also has a different feel than the first film. Though Peter has always been our earthling “perspective character”, viewers may wish that the emotional lives of the other characters were more fully explored here, too. However, there are some nice additions to Rocket’s psychology that don’t come off as too heavy-handed in this second film.
For some viewers, the episodic pacing and the focus on Star-Lord might not have the epic feel of a standalone one-and-done film. The super satisfying feeling of a complete picture will probably only dawn on us after we see the third film. However, the film we have in front of us is satisfying in a broad sense, bringing us characters we know and want to see more of, a plot that moves between several elements in an entertaining way, and an expanding and wonder-inducing galaxy adorned with a harmonious aesthetic that nevertheless surprises us.
I’ve heard some fans and comics professionals say, basically, “It was great, but not as good as the first”. It’s understandable to have that reaction. But you also might find, depending on your tastes, that “It was great and really showed me what the filmmakers can do with a sequel and a larger budget”. That, in my opinion, is a more practical assessment of a very appealing film.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is currently playing in theaters. I highly recommend going to see it.
This review was written by Hannah Means-Shannon.
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