Friday, May 5, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Guardian Harder

[Author's note: I offered Erin to opt out of editing this, as to avoid spoilers. She accepted. Any and all errors and/or typos are on me]

Otherwise knows as "Drax Has An Astoundingly Awesome Day." 

I've just left the theater about 30 minutes ago now. It's still fresh in my mind.

If Marvel rolled the dice and went big on Guardians of the Galaxy, they went hard and went bigger for Volume 2. Seemingly able to have solved the problem of 'the origin movie' always being the boring one, Guardians 2 brings together the established cast and thrusts them straight into an even bigger story than before, with a galactic (possible universal) level extinction event, and a story that puts an enormous emphasis on the theme of what it means to be family, on whether blood is thicker than water, and mending broken bridges, and manages to tie those two themes together astoundingly well.

Having accomplished seemingly the impossible first by taking the B-Team of The Avengers and turning it into a monster franchise, then taking the D-listers of the Guardians and making them just as beloved, they've thrown all caution to the wind here. Guardians 2 has some of the most breathtaking visuals I've ever seen in science fiction. Yes, it's a big mass market appeal, but there are some amazing risks being taken here that simply wouldn't have worked without the world-building that the MCU has dedicated itself to.

Spoilers from here on in...

The story starts with a seemingly unrelated cold-open, much like a Bond film, with a great action sequence that reminded me heavily of Deadpool's opening: a pitched, high-speed battle with a focus on a humorous character set to the soundtrack of a very retro song. Sometime between the first movie and this one, Nebula is captured and in return for the opening sequence's actions, she is handed over to the Guardians to be returned to the Nova Corp for imprisonment, but due to Rocket's incredibly short-sighted (and later fortuitous actions) things go terribly wrong, and Peter Quill is reunited with his father, who turns out to be a living planet with less than benevolent intentions for the galaxy. A new character is introduced, some of the previous film's side characters have much more expanded roles, and there's even a surprise cameo (or two) that I somehow managed to avoid hearing anything about. How they got him is no surprise, but how they got *him*? I swear Marvel has a time machine. Even the Stan Lee cameo (which if it's his last, is fitting) manages to explain how he keeps showing up in every movie.

This is possibly the most colourful Marvel film to date, which is relevant considering how often Marvel Studios has been criticized for its limited colour palette. Ego's World alone rivals Dr Strange's trippy visuals, and his little pods showing Peter his history have a fascinating artistic flair of their own, very evocative of someone who can perfectly replicate life, but has no real understanding of what it means to be human (or any of the other species). There are even moments of absurdity that stretch your suspension of disbelief to the point where they'd be at home in Spaceballs, but still stay within the boundaries set by the film.

No one in the entire cast was a slouch, either. The main cast delivered two-fold on the first movie's performances, and Yondu and Nebula's expanded presences were very strong as well, fleshing them both out and breathing much more life into their otherwise limited characters. The Sovereign managed to make the Nova Corps look downright humble and friendly. Kurt Russel's Ego was seductively charming and totally believable as space-rogue Star Lord's father, and disturbingly menacing once the big plot twist was revealed. The change in dynamic from Groot being a heavy to being a comedic and lovable character worked well. The stand-out performance, though, goes surprisingly to Dave Bautista's Drax, who was having a blast throughout the entire film. His unrelenting optimism coupled with a tempered naivete gave some of the most memorable moments throughout the film.

You great big goof. Don't ever change. 
The one thing that sealed the love letter to the old series, though, was Yondu's fin. Once it appears, Yondu has the most badass moment of the entire film, walking calmly through the carnage he's causing, with the ridiculous red head-fin of the comics proudly on display.

Spoilers ending here: You should definitely see this. Guardians, as a franchise, is less connected to the MCU as a whole, and it has a lot more humour than the rest of the MCU, Ant-Man aside, and is much more easily relatable on its own, but it is hands down the best space opera I've seen in years, surpassing The Force Awakens, Rogue One, Star Trek Beyond, and even its predecessor.

One thing I'd like to point out, unrelated to the movie itself, was that during the trailers, Thor: Ragnarok got a bigger audience pop than Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Maybe it was a better trailer. Maybe it was audience bias for premiere night of the newest Marvel Studios film. All I know is that a few people cheered for Jedi, but there was widespread applause for Ragnarok.

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