Director James Gunn returns to the helm in the second entry about the escapades of the Guardians of the Galaxy. After the unexpected success that was the original, the audience’s expectations were very high. An overload of pop culture references could not cover up the flaws however and the result is a film that is inferior in almost every way.
My primary issue was the soundtrack. I want to make it clear that this only covers the licensed songs used in the film. Tyler Bates’ original soundtrack maintained the same impressive quality as last time, complementing the on-screen action seamlessly. The problem lies in the promotion for the film. Far more emphasis was put on the continuation of the Awesome Mixtape series than the Guardians of the Galaxy series. Whilst the integration of music was organic previously, this sadly did not continue. Some of the songs felt unnecessarily shoehorned in, others lacked the emotional punch the scene required and a couple, namely Cat Steven’s Father and Son spoon-fed the audience how they should feel in the scene, making it an incredibly emotionally narrow experience. Ultimately the film felt more like the music video to the Awesome Mixtape Volume 2 album.
It is hard to call the story of Guardians a story in the traditional sense, a soap opera would probably be the most apt comparison. All the main characters go off to pursue their own little emotional journeys reuniting in some grand finale. All we are missing is for Pratt and co to come out on stage and do it live. The opening scene is the galactic avengers fighting a giant octopus-like creature. Instead of keeping the camera on the battle we watch an adorable Baby Groot dancing to Mr. Blue Sky (arguably the only well implemented song throughout the film) while giving glimpses of what goes on behind him.
From this, you would imagine the core ideology of the movie is to feature action solely as a vehicle for the comedy elements. Immediately after this though the comedy is relegated to the cracks between each mini-film. In an attempt to hide the lacklustre writing there is an overabundance of pop culture references ranging from David Hasselhoff to Pac-Man. This felt like a cheap attempt to deceive the audience, making them believe the wave of nostalgia they are feeling for said reference is actually appreciation for the film.
Once you have left the theatre there is nothing to ponder, no ideas to mull over. You won’t notice any subtext you missed the first time. What you see is very much what you get. Whilst this is partially true for volume one it was at least a feel-good film that can be watched on a rainy day. Gunn tries to deliver so many emotional blows during the 138 minute runtime that, aside from the climax, they became repetitive, stale even. The only reason to watch this again is in anticipation of it’s sequel.
The humour was the only aspect that built upon the existing foundations. Gunn does deserve high praise for this, especially the fact this is the first film since 1999’s The Iron Giant where Vin Diesel has not been utterly unbearable. Each character’s unique idiosyncrasies were developed further and all of the best scenes stemmed from this. My personal highlights include every scene involving Drax and an adorable scene where Baby Groot keeps fetching the wrong item to help an imprisoned Rocket and Yondu escape. The only comedic missteps came from Rocket. There are only so many times I can listen to Bradley Cooper yelling before it becomes worn out, but aside from this the humour does hit the mark.
Had it not been for the comedy elements this film would have been a huge drop in quality from the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There is still a noticeable drop, but not enough to make any noticeable dent into Disney’s seemingly endless box office revenue stream.
In a preview screening of the film, James Gunn called it ‘a film about outcasts, for outcasts’. I disagree. This film represents the increasing commodification of geek culture. Things previously considered nerdy and would result in you being exiled form ‘popular’ circles are now mainstream. But not entirely. Pink Floyd and Nirvana are not widely popular, but the association to them is. While music sales of their albums may not have increased, t-shirt sales with their logo have skyrocketed.
Bringing this back to Guardians, I feel that most of the effort has gone into the branding rather than making a high quality film. Attempting to make it fashionable to like the 70’s/80’s ‘outcast’ music accompanying the film rather than the film itself. This is a smart tactical move by Disney. It won’t change the box office revenue. Fans of the genre, myself included will still want to see the next instalment. Their gain is in the merchandise and album sales, which will easily surpass the box office gross.
Leaving the theatre, my disappointment was palpable. I did not expect a cinematic masterpiece, but I hoped to lose myself in more outlandish adventures of the lovable misfits. Instead I simply lost interest.