Earlier this year, James Mangold’s Logan was rightly championed as a dark, thoughtful, and (relatively) adult take on the now ubiquitous superhero genre. Marvel’s latest release, the sequel to 2014’s smash hit Guardians of the Galaxy is in many ways Logan’s polar opposite. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is light entertainment at its feather-lightest: a funfair experience of jukebox hits and kaleidoscopic colours frothed to breaking point.
The titular gang of purportedly lovable, broadly-drawn rogues pick up pretty much where we left off, fighting a giant squid-like monster to the sound of Electric Light Orchestra’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’. It is soon revealed that they have, since the first film, built up something of a galaxy-wide reputation as a formidable team, anchored, no doubt, by their universe-saving heroics at the end of Guardians 1. Soon, however, they have pissed off their most recent benefactors, a race of completely gold space Aryans, and are high-tailing it through an asteroid field when they encounter a mysterious man (Kurt Russell, cashing in on his post-Tarantino career pickup).
“a funfair experience of jukebox hits and kaleidoscopic colours frothed to breaking point”
The man turns out to be Starlord’s (Chris Pratt’s) father, an eons-old being who is simultaneously a whole planet and a Kurt Russell-shaped human form. Much of the rest of the film then centres around Starlord’s lingering daddy issues, as the whole situation takes a predictably climactic turn for the worse. There is certainly more plot – and a more thematically coherent plot – than the original, although Guardians, vol. 2 still suffers from the boilerplate pacing of Marvel films that makes every new release feel so ploddingly incapable of surprise. This is, however, one of the few Marvel entries where the serialisation works strongly in the story’s favour; the idea of taking a detour into a character’s parental issues, returning to the status quo a little wiser, has been a tried-and-true template for (particularly American) television for decades now, and until recently an infeasible gambit for feature films.
The cast are quite the mixed bag, without any real standout performances and more than a few duds. Pratt is more than capable at the lower-key scenes, such as when bantering with Gamora (Zoe Saldana), his depressingly one-dimensional love interest, about Sam and Diane on Cheers, but when given more to do the seams begin to show. There is one particularly jarring moment when the script calls for what I can only imagine to be an anguished scream, but Pratt gives off a thin, comical wail that surely can’t fool even the most forgiving of viewers.
Bradley Cooper’s obnoxious CGI raccoon is, well, obnoxious: a one-joke character for whom someone forgot to devise a joke. Dave Bautista is similarly grating as the tough, gauche Drax, whose sinister persona from Guardians 1 has been sanded down (one suspects calculatedly, not that there was much interesting in Drax v.1) by near-constant use of a grimly unfunny staccato belly laugh. These are misfits, but largely charmless ones, just about saved by the tactful glossing-over effect of the catchy 80’s soundtrack and aggressively colourful visuals.
Dissecting Guardians, vol. 2 piece by piece would reveal a very hollow, only ever superficially satisfying experience. The scenes, never great, occasionally lapse into downright laughable; particular low-lights include Pratt playing a game of long-overdue catch with his God-planet dad, á la the all-American cliché, and a standoff between blue bandit Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) and a bafflingly cast Sylvester Stallone (!), which devolves into a gravel-voiced yelling match. The film’s female characters are loathsomely underwritten, the father-son narrative nudging Gamora’s character to the very outskirts of relevance. In short: Guardians is, on paper, a bad film.
But then, through sheer shamelessness, it somehow manages to coerce enjoyment. When the end wheels around, there is a space funeral, percussed with colourful fireworks, and underscored with Cat Steven’s ‘Father and Son’ (obscenely on-the-nose, but it’s a great song, damn it). In spite of the stupidity, bad jokes and general inadequacy that had characterised the last 2 hours, I couldn’t help feeling fondly for the unabashed crowd-pleasing. Guardians, vol. 2 has this curious effect; by asking so very little of the viewer by way of engagement, any enjoyment creamed from the medley of glitzy space effects and nostalgia-soaked rock tunes seems like a gift. I suppose that’s the idea.
Image: Walt Disney Studios