Saturday, May 6, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: You're Welcome. Obviously.


"And if you don't love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying
You will never break
Never break the chain!"
-Fleetwood Mac

Of all the pieces of all the Awesome Mix soundtracks to any Guardians of the Galaxy movie that ever has been or will ever be, none is better than my favorite Fleetwood Mac song. Hearing it in the Super Bowl spot for Vol. 2 was all the proof I needed that this movie would be undeniably awesome and terrifically top-notch, and barring a misstep or two, I was not at all disappointed in James Gunn's latest masterpiece.

Dysfunctional like Fleetwood Mac too, but I'll be damned if they don't serve some fine entertainment.

Like Vol. 1, this sequel is part of the MCU and yet detached enough from the overall narrative (especially since this one takes place only a couple of months after its predecessor, and thus predates all the other MCU movies of the last two years) that it's perfectly suited for outsider viewing. Outsiders to the rest of the MCU, and maybe to the first movie as well, but what the hell would you be doing watching these movies out of order?

If you saw the first movie (in which case, sweet!), you'll have an idea what to expect the second time around, especially now that James Gunn is not only director, but sole credited screenwriter. Tons of 70s music, eye-popping colors, alien mayhem all around, and anti-heroes you can't help but love (unlike, say, some of those that Zack Snyder and David Ayer keep shoving at us in their shockingly abysmal DCEU films) because they're so emotionally and mentally screwed up it's not even funny. Not that the movie isn't funny, of course. If you're not laughing your ass off at some Rocket Raccoon zinger or background event involving Baby Groot (and while we're on the subject...OH MY GOD BABY GROOT HE'S SUCH A CUTE LITTLE SHIT!), you're watching the movie wrong. But you know what? Funny isn't the only thing this movie has going for it. While the first one had a tear-jerker moment or two (I've especially got the prologue in mind), Vol. 2, in its quest to outdo its predecessor in every way, doesn't neglect to outdo Vol. 1 in the feels department. And let me tell you, this movie gets into Amazing Spider-Man 2 territory with its bittersweet ending where one of your faves dies. You will cry ugly tears, no doubt about it.

Pictured: everyone watching the ending, before the disco and five post-credits scenes came along to rebalance our feels.

But in addition to the laughs aplenty and those tears to feed James Gunn's suddenly-hungry muse, there's the visuals. Oh my God, the visuals. They're up to Amazing Spider-Man 2 levels as well, beautifully blending CGI and reality in unique and unforgettable ways, especially when we get to Ego the Living Planet, said to be Marvel's biggest VFX yet. (Bigger even than the climax of either Avengers movie? Yes, absolutely.) If you can spare some extra cash to spring for a 3D viewing (and you don't have a problem with an occasional headache), do it.

Sorry, Doctor Strange, you just fell to #2 on my list of biggest MCU visual treats.

Really, the only thing I can think of that's a point against Vol. 2 is that Gunn bloats the character sheet a bit too much. Sure, almost everyone's got a story to tell (though, for whatever reason, Rocket and Groot's story remains largely untold - dammit, Marvel, green-light their solo movie already!) But there are those whose stories don't add much to the big picture. There's the Sovereign, a race of golden-skinned aliens who contract the Guardians to protect one of their precious resources, and turn into the Guardians' enemies when Rocket steals some batteries from them, and go after them with remote-controlled ships that they play with like competitive gamers, or perhaps the cast of Ender's Game. Good for a few bits of fun combat (there's an especially fun scene where they chase the Guardians into a quantum asteroid field - the asteroids like to teleport around, making navigation of the field exceedingly unpredictable), but overall they wind up being surprisingly forgettable. Same goes for Nebula, who (other than being invaluable in the movie's incredibly high-stakes final act) doesn't do much other than angst over her long-standing rivalry with Gamora and her need to kill Thanos, which tends to drag the movie down at times. Funny, some people thought Nebula was underused in Vol. 1 and Gunn compensated for that here? I think the opposite.

But even Nebula has her purpose - being part of a seriously dysfunctional, and yet seriously loving, family. That's this movie's primary theme - family, as well as love and loneliness, the last of which afflicts most of the main cast to some degree. Star-Lord wants to date Gamora, but he's a guy who dances and she's a lady who doesn't. Rocket repels everyone he comes into contact with, but he's a smol cinnamon roll inside - and Yondu, that surprisingly charming rogue (Michael Rooker, when is he not?), identifies strongly with him for that reason. Mantis has been all alone with only Ego for company, and Ego is himself cripplingly lonely because, well, being an immortal god ("lowercase g, son") sucks elephant balls sometimes.

I related to just about all those guys and gals too much at some point while watching this.

So, to sum up, Guardians Vol. 2 is a killer cool sequel that, while not quite as good as its predecessor, still has no trouble throwing A-grade awesome at us, and needs to be watched by everyone immediately. If nothing else, you'll get more of Yondu's notorious whistle-powered arrow, the best movie weapon you'll ever see and frickin' fight me on this.

("Only he didn't use 'frickin'.'")

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

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