CINEMA: A Cosmic Implosion

By on May 2, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t as uniquely edgy as it thinks it is.

Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista (with Groot and Rocket) in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Photo: Marvel Studios)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – “You were insufferable to start with,” groans Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the badass green chick who should be the hero of the Guardians of the Galaxy series. She says this, rolling her eyes, about “hero” “Star-Lord,” a.k.a. doofy Earther Peter Quill, after a revelation about his parentage that is at the center of the tedious, been-there-bought-the-T-shirt plot of Vol. 2.

See, Peter (Chris Pratt) had already been living the fulfillment of a fantasy that lots of kids have: that we don’t belong in whatever dull place we’re stuck in, that nobody understands us, and that clearly we are destined for greatness. Born on 1980s Earth, his father, a mysterious spaceman, Peter now lives and works out in the big wide galaxy, the vindication of that childhood escapism: “See? My dad was from another planet!”

But that’s never enough, is it? Luke Skywalker was never just a bored farmboy, Neo was never just an unappreciated hacker and Peter, it turns out, is not just any old ordinary doofus with a spaceman for a dad. I won’t spoil the big secret of Peter’s space dad (Kurt Russell), except to say that while it has nothing to do with Peter’s backstory in the GotG comics, it is something dragged in from elsewhere in the Marvel universe. Suffice it to say, it is a ridiculous ego boost for Peter, and an even more, well, yes, insufferable and—worse—very familiar male fantasy.

This is the overarching problem with Guardians of the Galaxy, which was somewhat true of the first movie but is really a problem with Vol. 2: This is a series that thinks it’s weird, edgy and transgressive, something like the punk little brother of all those other stodgy comic-book movies, but it isn’t. It may be slightly more candy-colored, but it’s just more of the same space battles, ravenous monsters, expolsions, ironic posturing and monologuing villains. It’s got poop jokes. It has sexy sexbots and sure, women (or women-coded androids) as commodities is so unexpected. As a flight of fancy, Vol. 2 is shockingly limited in its imagination.

Vol. 2 also thinks it’s a comedy. It wants Fleetwood Mac songs scoring space battles to be amusing, or a Cat Stevens song scoring a sentimental moment to be touching, but that just feels like a way to sell a compilation soundtrack. It’s got geeky cameos that are intended as surprising and clever, but they just feel like stunts. All the snarky references to cheesy 80s TV shows and retro technology feel like eating the pop-culture seed corn; if we don’t start telling some new stories that can become tomorrow’s nostalgia, what the hell are we going to make ironic snarky allusions come the 2040s?

But another major issue with Vol. 2 is how writer-director James Gunn has gone overboard in attempting to remedy the “it’s not about anything” problem of the first film. This one is all about family, and in case you missed the idea that Peter and his team—Gamora, Rocket the cyborg raccoon (CGI with the voice of Bradley Cooper), muscleman Drax (Dave Bautista), and tree-creature Groot (CGI with the voice of Vin Diesel)—are an ad hoc family, someone will be there to remind us. (Funny how Luke and Han and Leia and Chewie and the droids never felt the need to keep telling one another how they were just one big family.) It starts to sound a bit ominous and creepy, like when Don Corleone says “family.” Family? Except for Peter’s dead Earth mom. She’s still dead.

Of course mega-budget blockbuster movies like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 are carefully calculated and constructed, but they shouldn’t feel like they are. We shouldn’t see the puppet strings tugging on all the characters. We don’t need to have the themes explained to us. For all the monster ichor and alien gardens and quite a bit of human(oid) blood flying around, nothing here feels organic. PJH

Chris Pratt
Zoe Saldana
Kurt Russell
Rated PG-13

About MaryAnn Johanson

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