OP-ROB RATING: BUST
“Guardians of the Galaxy 2” opens with all the familiar characters from the first film: Peter “Starlord” Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and the reincarnation of Groot (Vin Diesel) who is now “Baby Groot”. In the first scene the Guardians are tasked with fighting off a space monster that seeks to destroy some invaluable space batteries belonging to the gold-crusted “Sovereign People” in exchange for Gamora’s criminal sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). The intro credits role as the motley crew struggles to fend off the monster and Baby Groot dances around the battleground to the tune of Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky”. After killing the monster, Rocket decides to steal the batteries just for the fun of it. However, Rocket’s selfish act leads to a near deadly attack by Sovereign spaceships and the Guardians are forced to crash land on a woodland planet called Berhert. Within minutes of landing, the group is confronted by a dapper, kingly looking man named Ego (Kurt Russell) who emerges from a spaceship that looks like a white chocolate Cadbury Crème Egg. Ego declares that he is Quill’s father, and insists that everyone come visit his home planet. After some deliberating, Rocket is left on Berhert to repair the ship with Nebula and Baby Groot as company. Quill, Gamora, and Drax all board Ego’s ship, where they are introduced to Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Ego’s “empathic” servant girl.
In the next few scenes, Rocket encounters some trouble when Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his Ravagers from the previous film track down the crash-landed ship. But the far stranger development occurs on Ego’s planet, which is aptly named “Ego’s Planet”. Upon arriving Ego explains that he is a “celestial” which is essentially a god. Over millions of years Ego learned to create his human form and subsequently build his own planet. However, being lonely, Ego sought out other life forms ultimately leading to Earth where he met Peter Quill’s late mother. This whole timeline is explained as Quill, Gamora, and Drax amble through Ego’s palace; the scenes from the timeline are depicted through peculiar shape-shifting ceramic statues. Despite Ego’s warm welcome, Mantis tells Drax that he and his friends are in danger. I won’t spoil the twist, but it comes shortly after a scene in which Peter Quill and Ego bond by playing catch with a conjured ball of shining blue energy.
If any of that explanation sounded too strange, well, it’s what happened. By the time we enter Ego’s Planet, “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” has ramped up the weirdness a full ten notches above the previous film, which was bizarre in its own right. While this second installment of “Guardians of the Galaxy” shares many similarities with its predecessor, there are two definitive characteristics that set it apart. For one, the outlandishness of the film is over the top. Ego’s planet is akin to a colorful, bubbly, LSD-induced trip. In one scene Drax asks Mantis, “how did you get to this weird, dumb planet?” The audience is asking themselves the same question. The second major difference is that the plot revolves around Quill’s relationship with his absentee father and similarly around Gamora’s relationship with her abused little sister, Nebula. These strained bonds culminate in different ways, yet are equally cheesy in their execution.
This brings me back to when I saw the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” at a dingy little theater in Lebanon, New Hampshire. The seats reeked of that blue chemical stuff you find in port-a-potties and the screen was dented squarely in the center. Usually, these things would be enough to ruin a movie for me. Yet, by the time Quill had put on his Walkman and queued up Redbone’s "Come and Get Your Love", the nastiness of the theater had melted away. That is what "movie magic" does. It transports you away into a different world. The first “Guardians of the Galaxy” was funny, weird and imaginative all while being neatly wrapped into a standard Marvel plot. This second installment feels like a cheap knockoff of that first charming film. It feels like “Guardians of the Galaxy: The TV Special”, with all of the secondary plot lines, jokes, and songs that didn't make the first cut. Peter Quill’s quips are less spontaneous; Rocket’s jabs pack less punch, and Drax’s literal interpretations go from being funny to overdrawn by the end of the film. The soundtrack is still strong, but references to it are so obvious that it robs the subtlety from the tunes. Furthermore, the plotline is dominated by phony father-son, sister-sister relationships that sap the energy right out the action. Perhaps the first film was just as weird, and the camaraderie piece just as tacky, but those aspects were unnoticeable because of the sheer joy elicited from watching such a peppy, original film. Is “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” overwhelmingly bad? No. But it is less inspired in every category. It is a prime example of what Hollywood movies have become in America today.
Walking into the theater for “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” I passed posters for “Spider-man: Homecoming”, “Alien: Covenant”, “Baywatch”, “Transformers: The Last Knight”, “The Mummy” and “The Nut Job 2: Naughty by Nature”. Notice anything these advertisements have in common? They are all remakes or sequels. Granted, some of those films may turn out to be very good. But if the history of sequels and remakes is any indication, maybe one of them will truly be worth watching. In the long hallway of posters there was a single fresh adaption: “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie”. That is where we are at now. It brought to mind a 2014 article called “The Birdcage” from the now defunct website Grantland. In the article the author insightfully describes the sequelization of Hollywood, and how to be a great studio executive you “make your bones by showing you can maximize the potential monetization of a preexisting brand or reawaken a dormant one.” The result is a bevy of prepackaged, hackneyed films. Reading that article a few years ago, I didn’t feel the author’s same dread. I had seen “Guardians of the Galaxy”, a Marvel summer blockbuster, mainstream of the mainstream, that was completely novel. But if there is anything to take away from “Guardians of the Galaxy 2”, it is that no franchise is immune to being recycled, tweaked, and re-released at the expense of the viewers.
Link to Grantland article: