Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 takes everything that was disappointing about its 2014 predecessor and shamelessly does it all over again. Why this surprises me, I’m not sure; the original earned not only critical acclaim but also over $700 million worldwide, so of course writer/director James Gunn would want his sequel to give audiences more of the same. The thing is, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by sequels before. For example, I didn’t much care for the first or second Expendables movies, but I enjoyed the third – in great part, I believe, because its PG-13 rating, a step down from the previous two’s respective R’s, required character development and dialogue to compensate for the reduction of gratuitous violence.
No such luck with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Like its predecessor, it’s an ultra cheesy sci-fi/fantasy/action film made thirty years too late. If the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, and Chuck Norris are of any indication, the 1980s was a decade in which the standards for the action genre, whether or not sci-fi and fantasy were blended in, were very, very low. Both Guardians films – with their unrelenting cornball dialogue, immature sense of humor, minimalistic plots, and less-than-compelling character development – evoke that ‘80s level of filmmaking, as if the intention was to not try at all. Sometimes, that can be endearingly campy. Most of the time, it’s just plain annoying.
A basic scene in Vol. 2 involves several characters bickering like teenage siblings while effects-heavy action sequences unfold around them. Many times, the arguing culprits are Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and the talking raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), the latter doing everything he can to alienate his friends and piss people off in general. There are also numerous moments of the hulking Drax (Dave Bautista) breaking into hysterical laughter for no good reason, only to immediately go back to being brutally honest, his species apparently unfamiliar with the concept of a social filter. The jokiness is so pervasive that when the film veers into soap opera-level melodrama, such as the antagonistic relationship between the green-skinned Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and her multicolor-skinned sister (Karen Gillan), I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to take any of it seriously.
In addition to the title characters being pursued by a race of arrogant, easily offended gold-skinned aliens, Rocket having purposely stolen property from them simply because he could, the plot involves Quill learning the truth about his parentage. I honestly don’t know into what detail I can describe this. Let’s just say that a wandering space traveler named Ego (Kurt Russell) knows a thing or two about it. Let’s also say that his name is very apt, and that “messiah complex” is not a big enough phrase to describe his state of mind. There’s also a subplot involving a mutiny against Quill’s blue-skinned alien mentor Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker), who will eventually factor into the very message the film goes a long way to deliver. No, I can’t say what that message is, lest I spoil a major plot point.
I mentioned Sylvester Stallone before. He too has been cast in this film, although his character’s purpose was entirely lost on me. Perhaps it’s because, in a film that’s nearly two-and-a-half hours long, his total screen time couldn’t have amounted to more than seven minutes. Perhaps it’s because the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown into a vast and seemingly never-ending network of interconnected storylines, which is to say his character is possibly only being introduced in this film and his significance will be revealed in future releases. Whatever the situation, I’ve made it known several times now that I don’t regard Stallone that highly as an actor, as I believe a performance requires more than indecipherable mumbling. I suppose it’s only a matter of time before Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom I respect as an actor even less, finds himself in one of these films.
The first Guardians was an effects-lover’s wet dream. The second is no exception; the visuals, especially in an IMAX 3D presentation, are a bombardment of explosions, laser blasts, exotic alien worlds, and bright neon colors, the vast majority of which had to have been created on a computer. Unlike a fantasy world, in which I generally feel enveloped, I felt as if my eyes were being assaulted. And then there’s the soundtrack, which, like its predecessor, puts less emphasis on score and more on the retro hits on Quill’s mixtape. This would be fine, except it’s obvious that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 uses sound and spectacle to compensate for its lack of a decent plot and an engaging screenplay. Not even its obligatory mid- and post-credit sequences, of which there are no less than five, tried very hard to hint at what will transpire in future Marvel films. Most are just throwaway gags.