Review: Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (cinema)

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Sometimes I find it hard to remember how much I enjoyed the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. It’s one of those things (aka a part of the MCU) that, although I am glad people are critical of it, was fairly effectively ruined for me last time I had a tumblr. Yes, Drax has one dumb line. Yes, Rocket’s an asshole about that guy’s leg. These aren’t enough to make me want to write off the movie. One might even argue that they’re in-keeping with both these guys’ characters. Do so if you want; I don’t really care enough. I’m here for: pretty pretty space, the AMAZING supporting cast, the music, and the family themes/character development. And in those respects, volume 2 delivered, even more than volume 1.

I was dubious about the additions to the ensemble going in, and about the tiny cutsey Baby Groot, worrying that characterisation would get swamped and the movie would be aiming to appeal to a much younger average viewer. Although it took a few minutes to properly hit its stride — the opening’s fun, but was Trying Quite Hard — I needn’t have worried. Mantis and Nebula are incorporated successfully into the emotional arcs of the rest of the team, and much to my delight, my surprise favourite from vol. 1, Yondu, got a really great journey.

As usual, the theme is one of found family; all of the Guardians have family issues of one sort or another, and although this movie is centred around the story of Peter’s father, the other characters’ stories are never fully eclipsed by this. Gamora and Nebula finally have a chance to work things out — to an extent — Rocket finds a kindred spirit in Yondu, Drax’s continued mourning is exposed through particularly effective scenes with Mantis. This time, despite the gaping absence of several fridged women — Peter’s mother, Drax’s wife and daughter — the movie works hard to let those who are onscreen — Gamora, Nebula and Mantis in particular, but even the Priestess Ayesha — have their own stories. Splitting the team for part of the movie actually makes this development for effective too, rather than resulting in a focus on one group as opposed to the other.

It’s also a movie I’d love to see on the course list for a ‘psychoanalysis and literature’ module I took a few years ago. We watched Jurassic Park, but Guardians of the Galaxy volume 2 isn’t even subtle about its Freudian influences. Peter’s father is called Ego, for one, and Peter’s struggle to come to terms with his identity, via opposing father figures, manages to be both entertaining and affecting, if oh-so-familiar. Spoilers: (I think there’s something particularly interesting going on in the inversion of Peter’s fantasy view of space, as played out by Ego. The movie has an early reference to Peter’s womanising, reminding us that he’s part of the old fantasy where human males go off travelling in space to make out with all the hot alien chicks. Then we find out his father did that too, in a concerted effort to spread his kind, going on to kill his own offspring when they didn’t live up to his ideals. Peter’s not just participating in the classic sci-fi fantasy, he’s a product of it, and enjoys some of the benefits of being that special human in space still.) End spoilers.

Other things I really appreciated about the movie were: Tommy Two-Lines Flanagan! Living up to the nickname I gave him over ten years ago again… (and providing symmetry with his Gladiator colleague Djimon Hounsou’s role in GotG vol. 1). Did I mention that I love Yondu? Coz I love Yondu. And particularly how the movie doesn’t really excuse his behaviour; he broke the code and he knows it and he doesn’t apologise because he messed up. Similarly, Ego’s moral code isn’t really judged as ‘evil’, just too destructive to be tolerated. Villains are normally the most boring part of a movie for me — and I like it like that, I’m not interested in identifying with them most of the time — but this is a setting that successfully avoids ‘villains’, leaving just enough nuance (or absurdity) in to make it about more than inherent good vs inherent evil.

Also, there’s a satisfying level of meta going on between the seventies/eighties soundtrack and the presence of David Hasselhoff, Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone.

Some scene changes felt rushed, and some dialogue was trying too hard for my tastes, particularly Peter’s references to Cheers. But these were minor points in what was a fun, funny addition to the MCU. Not only did it remind me how excited I am for Thor: Ragnarok, it also put me in the mood to watch some Farscape. Can you imagine the crews meeting? Crichton and Peter’s conflicting cultural reference points, Gamora and Aeryn eye-rolling so hard, Drax and Drogo probably completely misunderstanding each other, and Rocket stealing Rigel’s chair to modify it/for shits and giggles. I hope there’s fic of that somewhere out there. If not: internet, you know what to do.

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