Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 doubles down on every irritating element of the first film, while offering none of that film’s modest charm or innovative surface pleasures. It’s the most mean-spirited picture Marvel has yet produced, one that celebrates death and belittlement in ways I find baffling for a light comic book picture. Even Deadpool had more heart, and at least it didn’t have the gall to try to make audiences cry after two hours of derisive mockery. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is as shamelessly manipulative and formulaic as a Hallmark picture, but at least those films are self-consistent. This one is glib and faux-weird, but at its core, it’s nothing but a manipulative engine for self-satisfaction.

This time around, the so-called Guardians (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel voicing a computer-generated space raccoon and tree man, respectively) must deal with both of Peter Quill’s (Pratt) father figures: his adoptive father, the smuggler Yondu (Michael Rooker reprising his role from the first film), and his birth father, Ego (Kurt Russell), a godlike alien who’s actually a living planet. The plot is meant to flesh-out and explore Peter’s daddy issues, while fostering bonds between disparate members of the cast—Rocket and Yondu, for instance, spend a great deal of time bonding with each other and recognizing their similarities—but in actuality, it’s a vehicle for carnage and nasty humour.

Most of the film’s action scenes are excuses for director James Gunn to cycle through his mixtape of classic pop and rock tunes and showcase grisly deaths with an ironic detachment. The film’s opening scene delivers precisely that: we get Baby Groot shamelessly dancing around as his fellow Guardians do battle with a giant tentacle monster. It’s supposed to be, as Gunn described to the press, the “greatest opening scene of all time” and the ultimate in fan service.

Thus, the scene features a fan favourite character in his cutest form acting disinterested from the action and grooving to a curated hit from the past—in this case, ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky”—all the while characters strike cool poses in the background fighting a silly-looking monster. It’s supposed to signal that Gunn and company don’t take the enterprise seriously, that the film’s action and the Guardians’ duty as intergalactic peacekeepers are nothing more than means to have fun, kill things, and joke about how little they care about everything.

Thing is, the film and the characters care so very much. Every line is calibrated to be as clever and dismissive of attachment as possible. It’s hard to think of a film that is more passionately dedicated to appearing aloof. And even if we’re to trust the film’s ironic detachment and put aside the nastiness of the humour—how many times can Rocket basically spit on the other characters without being kicked in the face?—it’s hard to swallow the film’s glee in its violence. (Even Tarantino, who is often cited in discussing the film, portrays violence as banal, not ironic or detached.) One scene has Yondu dispatch his entire Ravager crew with a remote-controlled arrow after they have betrayed him. Gunn shoots the entire scene in slow motion to another old hit (“Come a Little Bit Closer” by Jay and the Americans), with Yondu and Rocket walking like they’re in Reservoir Dogs as Yondu’s arrow flies around the screen committing mass murder. It’s repulsive.

To be fair, the target audience of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will eat this up and find nothing wrong with the film’s approach to humour or violence. Gunn and Marvel give them exactly what they want: bright visuals, witty putdowns, ironic violence, classic tunes, and a cuddly ending. But I cannot stomach the film’s hypocrisy.

By the end, when characters are declaring that this group of violent misfits is actually a family like they’re a Fast & Furious film—despite all the demonstrated indications that they hate each other—and the film pulls out literal fireworks to try to make us cry over the death of a mass murderer and child trafficker, I was left with nothing but disdain for the whole enterprise.

I want irony and bloodshed out of my comic book movies. I want to cheer for some goddamn heroes again.

3 out of 10

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017, USA)

Written and directed by James Gunn; starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, with Sylvester Stallone, and Kurt Russell.