*WARNING, POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2*
“Guardians of the Galaxy” was in many respects Marvel’s final exam. Could they sell the public on a movie that prominently featured a talking raccoon, a tree that only ever utters one phrase, and three other misfit heroes with minimal superpowers? Lest anyone forget, not even comic book nerds had much affinity for these guys.
The answer, as we know, is yes, with the first movie delivering $333 million, a 91% RT score, and fans clamoring for more.
The success was great news in that it told Hollywood it could get weird with their characters, without any history with them, and still make a movie people wanted to see.
However, when you get a successful franchise starter, the sequel usually doubles down on what everyone claimed to have liked about the first one. And Vol 2 was no different. And therein lies the problem.
As a result of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, we are left with a space adventure franchise without much in the way of adventure, but much to say about 70s/80s music, and much to say about friends sitting around bickering and whining about their childhoods.
So while Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 broke new ground as a comedy, it has served up nothing but retread ground as far as everything else goes, including Marvel’s now famous villain problem, which I won’t get into here because these thoughts echo mine.
So let’s discuss the soundtrack then: first, it became an odd focal point of the marketing of the movie, leading to an actual exclusive interview granted to announce the songs chosen. So was this the sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy or the sequel to Sing? Are we watching a space opera or an actual to goodness opera?
When you’re selling a movie based on your selection of pre-existing radio songs that you and only you could make, that usually indicates the story is incidental to the movie. Can you imagine Martin Scorsese tell the press “Yeah I’m making a movie about the greatest wall street con job ever, but who cares about that, you will never believe what Bo Diddley song I picked for the 2nd act!!”
Secondly, James Gunn, the director of both movies, decided it wasn’t enough in Vol 2 to force in clichéd 70s songs into certain plot points like he did Vol 1; he had to have an actual scene, a pivotal one at that, featuring Kurt Russell as Ego doing his best William Shatner imitation describing the meaning of the song “Brandy” to Peter Quill(it was groan-inducing even amongst the teenagers in the theater with me who probably had no idea what the song was). There were much more clever ways for Ego to tell Peter that they are not meant to be tied down to anybody rather than spell out the meaning of the song. But, when you sell the world what brilliant song choices you made for the soundtrack, you can’t stop the sell!
There’s also the issue of the overall theme of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 being misfits acting as their own dysfunctional family and ultimately coming together, with not one, not two, not three, but four subplots of “family dysfunction”. In of itself, the theme isn’t a problem, except that they already did it in their own franchise, never mind other prior marvel movies, never mind other 2017 releases.
You know what hasn’t been done lately? A “fun for the sake of fun” space adventure for all ages. Let me take that back: a GOOD “fun for the sake of fun” space adventure. We’ve gotten some space romances, some space horror movies, and some space realism, but the last GOOD PG-13 legitimate space adventure (outside of 40-50 year old franchises) was Zathura in 2005. Don’t believe me? Go ahead, check. I’ll wait here…
Ok you’re back? Good. Now where was I…
The Marvel directors like to say they want to make their comic book sequels smaller, not bigger (Joss Whedon said so here about Age of Ultron. I guess a giant chunk of earth falling on Sokovia is slightly smaller than aliens invading NYC, I’ll give him that), and James Gunn said Vol 2 is going to be bigger and yet more intimate than the first movie here. And frankly, it’s easier to go smaller than go bigger. When you go bigger, you have no choice but to keep trying to outdo yourself in future sequels. But the danger in going smaller is you are banking on the audience having serious connection to the characters, which, after just one movie, is a tall order.
Whether Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 succeeded on that front, I leave to you. Whether it did or didn’t,
ultimately, it still comes down to the question of whether we are totally cool paying $15 to jump into space just to see these characters undergo counseling for two hours like in a super-sized Dr. Phil episode? Haven’t we seen that before in other movies in more earthly settings?
You know what we haven’t seen before on screen? A freaking living human planet!!!!! A planet with an actual face on it!!!!! And what does James Gunn and the Marvel gang choose to focus on? Sisters squabbling over their mean dad and an adult complaining about his dad leaving him.
You tell me what is more interesting?
Look, I know what Marvel is going after: these characters are just like us. A raccoon can have human feelings too. That’s wonderful. The academy voters will consider GOTGV2 for an extra five seconds before putting the screener in their discard pile in favor of the next SJW/Member Berries movie they will swoon over for best picture. Congratulations Marvel!!
What I would like to see Marvel go for is a movie that puts us in situations our imaginations never dreamed of, to make us forget about our lives (for better or worse) for two hours, that puts us in positions to feel like a kid again. We romanticized the adventure movies of yore for creating new imaginations within us, not making us depressed about friends and families that can’t get along.
If I had to guess, I bet Marvel views getting a best picture nomination as its true final exam to attain its place as an elite movie studio.
However, in my opinion, if Marvel can demonstrate in Avengers 3-4 (movies rumored to heavily take place in space) that space is a place to have fun again and not just a regurgitation of all the problems we have on earth, then it will have really passed its final test.
Greg Ehrhardt is an occasional contributor to OnStage and OnScreen, and no, you do not have to get off his lawn.