Sleeper hits are interesting animals. Let's face it; very few foresaw Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy becoming such a big hit when it released in 2014. But with the quirky direction from James Gunn and the stellar cast assembled, it was one of audiences' favorites of the year -- and many consider it to be their favorite of the Marvel movie franchise. Guardians of the Galaxy was the first Marvel film to take the central story entirely off-world, and it continued to move forward the plot that paved the way to next year's Avengers: Infinity War, and their inevitable battle with Thanos. So, now three quick years later, we're presented with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the next entry into the Guardians' saga.
Right off the bat, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2--which takes place roughly 3 months after the first film (and not these 3 years later)--has a different feel than the first film (That's due, in part, to some crew changes, since some were tied to last year's Doctor Strange and weren't available for this film). While aspects of the movie are still covered, undeniably, with the fingerprints of director James Gunn, there's overall a much different tone this time around. The first film had a pretty distinct narrative that continued to propel the story forward. The film's McGuffin (the object that the plot and characters revolved around) was introduced in the title sequence as Star-Lord (wonderfully played by Chris Pratt) retrieves an orb that the entire galaxy will be chasing after in the scenes that follow. In Vol. 2, there's this unfortunate sense that the story is a bit aimless and doesn't know where to go next. The opening sequence shows the Guardians on a job, fighting a gigantic beast as a team, while baby Groot dances along to the opening credits (piggybacking on Star-Lord's title dance sequence in the first film -- which just can't be matched. When the first film burst into Redbone's "Come and Get Your Love," and the true quirky humor of the film was revealed, it was a truly delightful surprise). As adorable as baby Groot is, however, this "sequel" to the first film's opening just doesn't measure up (even though it goes for "bigger" and, well, "cuter"), and sadly, I think that about sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Ronin was established right away as the "big bad" for the first film, but there's a lot of ambiguity shrouding what Vol. 2 is about. In the midst of that, we're taken on a journey of character development for the Guardians. They bicker and fight with each other, but we all know there's a deeper love and appreciation for each other there - even if they're not fully aware of it yet themselves. Gunn makes this journey entertaining, no doubt, but there's also a push-and-pull happening tonally here, because (while I enjoy meaty, weighty emotional storylines) there's that whimsical mayhem of the first film that feels different here. Vol. 2 tries to capture those moments, but overall, the movie just isn't quite as fun as the first one (it even ends on a somber note). Still, it's not necessarily bad to offer us something different in a sequel, and Gunn seems to have made sure to check-off everything fans would be hoping for and looking for in a second film while doing his best to make a different movie altogether. There aren't any huge moments that feel like retreads from the first film, which is ideal for a sequel to avoid, and any callbacks to it just feel (mostly) like natural progressions of the characters and events in a continuation style.
Honestly, not knowing exactly what to expect from Vol. 2 made for some unmet "expectations" from me--which is, in part, my fault (but I also didn't want to spoil anything going into it). The first film heavily centered around Thanos and one of the infinity stones, so I assumed this movie would continue to pave the road to that big showdown with Thanos (and maybe the Guardians joining the Avengers, since they're reportedly involved in that film to some degree). This assumption, again, is my own fault, but I think many casual moviegoers will be assuming something similar (And it isn't super clear that this movie takes place 3 months after the first one, although doing the math with the "34 Years Later" following an opening scene set in 1980 proves that the movie is still set in 2014). At the risk of spoiling things, I have to say none of my expectations came true. You can almost simply tack this film onto the first one and ignore the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) entries that have come since the first film. And honestly, that's okay; there's nothing wrong with that. But while everything seems to be coming to a boiling point in the MCU, its seems rather odd that Guardians 2 is more of a side-note than a catalyst for what's to come.
There were also a couple story traits and editing choices that felt sloppy this time around. Aside from the story involving almost every single main character having some kind of grand, near-life-changing epiphany (which felt a bit too forced--or convenient--to pack into one story in a natural way), Gunn chooses to cut a few scenes at rather odd moments. Two times that come to mind are more serious moments where either the scene feels as though it should continue (at least for a brief character response), or it feels like a disservice to the moment to cut it where it is. It's kind of a minor gripe, but it did stand out enough to seem worth mentioning.
The content for Vol. 2 is surprisingly a bit edgier for its second outing (And I say "surprising" since the merchandising and marketing has been amped up and is still being directed toward kids). The profanity usage is roughly the same, but the sexual humor has been upped significantly. There's even a scene where we see Yondu standing shirtless looking out a window of a brothel (or strip club), buckling his pants after the obvious has taken place. A couple of what are clearly some kind of alien, robotic prostitutes stand behind him. We're also given a brief pan over the brothel/club that shows two men cuddling, other women similar to the ones with Yondu, and neon silhouetted signs of buxom women (like you might see in a strip club). One "F" word is implied, for laughs, as Rocket translates Baby Groot's "I am Groot" as "He said 'Welcome to the Guardians of the frickin' Galaxy,' only he didn't use 'frickin''." Otherwise, there are a handful of other cuss words, including a few of the "S" word, a couple unfinished "son of a--", one complete "S.O.B," and a bunch of uses of "h*ll," "d*mn," and the "a" word. There's also a ton of action violence. One scene shows Yondu's arrow impaling dozens of guys on a ship. They're all bad guys, but it's also a mass murder in a vengeful manner. While there isn't a lot of graphic violence (although the arrow impaling lots of people isn't the gentlest of images either), we see a couple of people freeze to death in space (with others already dead just floating out there), and one sequence shows a living skeleton walking and talking as muscle slowly forms on its frame and then builds in organs and skin to form a man. It's definitely an image that will unsettle some viewers. There are also some other plot developments that are surprisingly dark (which carry some emotional weight), and all of this adds up to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 NOT being a movie for the kids. And although the theme of family is the central theme of the movie, ironically, it's not a film for the whole family.
Critiques and nitpicks aside, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is still a fun ride. I think, due to 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy being SUCH a delight, it had simply set the bar too high for a sequel. I do think Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will improve with repeat viewings (as the first one holds up nicely with repeat viewings), but these are just my thoughts after the first, initial viewing.
Kurt Russell is a wonderful addition to the Guardians' galaxy, and I was thrilled to find that his role was much bigger than just a little cameo. In fact, in the film's prologue, Russell is shown de-aged in a flashback and it looks incredible. It's one of the best uses of de-aging technology I've seen hit the screen yet (Robert Downey Jr. in Civil War was pretty impressive, though, too). Pom Klementieff as Mantis is also a fun and charming character, too, while it's nice to see some of the antagonists from the first film return in different kinds of roles this time around. Finally, there's a really strong theme about family, what family means and looks like, as well as making sacrifices for those you love. It's one of the most redeeming qualities about the film.
If you loved the first entry, you're likely to really enjoy, if not love, the second volume. With any drawbacks to the film, there are plenty of pluses - not the least of which involves getting to see these characters on screen together once again -- and I'm greatly looking forward to the next time they unite to save the galaxy once more.
Also, do note that there are 5 mid-credits or post-credits scenes, including one at the end of the film's credits (although that one, in my opinion, is the least interesting of all of them.)
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 5/5/17)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Vol. 2 of the Guardians of the Galaxy saga comes home for personal viewing in various forms and mediums. The Blu-Ray combo pack includes some great extras on the disc while also offering bonus features exclusive to iTunes that aren't on the disc.
I'll start with the extras that are on both mediums. In addition to a director's commentary from Jame Gunn are the following extras:
Deleted Scenes (5:11) - There are four deleted scenes, accessible with a "Play All" option. Most of the new footage features no or mostly unfinished effects. The first is a humorous extended scene with adolescent Groot in his room playing video games while Quill scolds him for having a really messy room. After Groot calls him boring, Quill lists multiple (often silly) reasons as to why he isn't. The next scene is after the team arrives on Ego's planet and he unveils a statue in honor of Peter defeating Ronan, with the rest of the Guardians being represented in small and offensive ways. The third scene is a brief moment where Kraglin gives Peter the Zune and and they talk about music they like. (What's funny is the scene actually ends with the actors breaking out in laughter.) Finally, we have an extension of the scene where Mantis and Drax sit and talk outside Ego's palace which has a little more dialog (and some of the footage is unfinished and we actually see them sitting on a sound stage with a boom mike hanging over their heads).
"Guardians Inferno" Music Video (3:35) - This is a super cheesy music video done in the style of 70s and 80s dance videos -- and it's meant to be as painfully cheesy as it is. It's worth a watch though, because it's loaded with cast cameos, particularly OUT of their Guardians make-up, including Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan and Dave Bautista. There's even a signature Stan Lee cameo! (1 "d*mmit" in the song, by David Hasselhoff)
Bonus Round: The Making of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (37:24) is a four-part making-of featurette that offers a "Play All" option or can be viewed in four separate chapters. "In the Director's Chair with James Gunn" leads the documentary off to focus on Gunn as a person, as a director, and his return to the franchise. This segment also largely talks about Gunn's relationships with the actors. "Reunion Tour" features Gunn talking about the music from the first film and how it was a means of connecting Peter with his mom through the music of the tape she gave him, and also connecting the audience with these characters. Gunn goes through each song and talks about how it fits into the movie. We also find out here that composer Tyler Bates wrote the music for the film's score after reading the script, and then Gunn would play it on set while filming to it! (I've never heard of that technique before.) We even get to see some on-set footage of Peter and Yondu being filmed in a scene while the music is playing. "Living Planets and Talking Trees" is all about the design and special effects in the film. Gunn talks about how he tried to make the movie look distinctly different from the first one, and much of the design team chips in their two cents on the design process (there are several "a" words in this one). Finally, we have "Showtime: The Cast," in which Gunn talks fondly about the cast members and writing the film this time for a cast he has gotten to know. This section also talks about Kurt Russell joining the team, and we get some great interview footage and behind-the-scenes footage as well (There are 2 uses of the "S" word here while filming a scene).
Gag Reel (3:21) - This is a really funny collection of goofing off and joking around on set. There's a fair amount of bleeped-out profanity, but it's clear this team had fun making this movie. One of the best line mess-ups is Kurt saying "Star Wars" - more than once, mind you - when trying to say "Star Lord!"
iTunes Only Extras
Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: Breakout! (5:30) - I'm puzzled as to why this is only on iTunes, but this cool little featurette talks about the brand new ride at Disney Land in California. There was word, a while ago, that a Guardians ride would replace the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and sure enough, this is exactly the case. Although they never say it outright here, you can tell by the elevators on the ride and the shape of it that it used to be the Tower of Terror. The featurette goes on to talk about designing the ride, building it, using sets to film footage for it, etc. We're also given a partial walk-thru and treated to some behind-the-scenes filming of the cast on set as they film their parts for the ride. Apparently, there are 6 different possible stories you can see while riding the ride!
Scene Breakdowns - On iTunes, there are three "Scene Breakdowns," with all three offering "Combination Layer with Commentary," "James Gunn's Storyboards," "Previsualization," "Dailies," and "VFX Animation." The three segments featured are "Rocket and Ravagers" (19:14), "Eclector Escape" (19:22) and "Gamora & Nebula" (15:29). I found the "Dailies" especially interesting because we get to see just how they filmed certain spectacle-heavy sequences. Watching Zoe Saldana run around a blue-screen-clad studio, leaping off of ledges while on a wire, and interacting with pockets of actual sand-covered stage setups was really neat to see. Gunn's commentary also gives some interesting insight into how these scenes translate from concept to final presentation.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 8/17/17)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: Gamorra angrily tells Rocket and Peter they should have been flying with their heads, not what's "between your legs." Peter then says "if what's between my legs had a hand on it"; Drax talks about how his wife was so lifeless that it was if she were dead. Peter humors him and jokingly says "Sounds hot." and Drax comments that thinking about it makes his "nether region engorged;" The Soverign people say they were genetically designed. Peter flirts with Ayesha saying his kind like to reproduce the old fashioned way. They then flirt a little where she says that maybe sometime he can show her how it's done; Drax asks Ego if he has a penis. Star-Lord reprimands him for asking, but Ego says he does. Ego talks about impregnating Peter's mom and Peter freaks out, saying he doesn't want to hear about it. Drax finds this odd and says his family always openly talked about how he was conceived; There's a scene where we see Yondu standing shirtless looking out a window of a brothel (or strip club), buckling his pants after the obvious has taken place. A couple of what are clearly some kind of alien, robotic prostitutes stand behind him. We're also given a brief pan over the brothel/club that shows two men cuddling, other women similar to the ones with Yondu, and neon silhouetted signs of buxom women (like you might see in a strip club); Howard the Duck makes some kind of comment about a woman having "duck" (meaning relations with him); Mantis touches Star-Lord's hand and tells him he feels "love," and then says he feels "sexual love" and points at Gamorra; At one point, Drax thinks Mantis is coming on to him (she's not) and he gags, saying he just imagined what it'd be like to lay with her; We see statues and images of Ego making out with many women of many different races; and other sexual references or innuendo.
Vulgarity/Language: Rocket translates Groot's "I am Groot" as saying "frickin'" but then implying the "F" word by saying "Only he didn't use "'frickin'"; Roughly: 4 "S" words, 6 "a" words, 1 "*ssh*le," 1 "a-holes" (said like that), 6 "h*ll," 1 "S.O.B," 8 "d*mn" (1 used in the end credits song); 1 "G-d," 3 "Oh my G-d," 2 "d*ck," 1 "cr*p," 1 "b*stard"
Alcohol/Drugs: We see Howard The Duck with a martini; The Ravagers laugh as they pour what is probably alcohol on baby Groot
Blood/Gore: While Groot is looking for something, he brings to Rocket a severed human toe, and we see a close-up of it; During the climax of the film, Peter has blood on the side of his head and face; one sequence shows a living skeleton walking and talking as muscle slowly forms on its frame and then builds in organs and skin to form a man; A person is shot repeatedly with blasters and we see his humanoid form getting shot away to reveal a glowing center. We then see human skin slowly regenerate there; A large monster is cut open and yellow blood oozes out. We see Drax covered in this yellow blood; Laserface has an ugly, scarred face. At one point, it looks burned after a fire; We see a huge pile of bones from previously murdered victims (murders of which we do not see that happened long ago); We see a man's face slowly distort as they freeze to death in space; We see Nebula twist herself back into shape after having been deformed in a wreckage; Neither bloody or gory, we see three character's faces balloon and distort as they jump through space. It's played for laughs, but it could be unsettling to younger viewers; Yondu has blood on his mouth after being hit repeatedly in the face.
Violence: The team collectively fights a gigantic space monster. It throws them around as they shoot and stab it. It ends when Gamorra slices it open. Drax, who had gone inside of it to try to kill it from the inside out, spills out of the opening with yellow blood all over him; One sequence shows a living skeleton walking and talking as muscle slowly forms on its frame and then builds in organs and skin to form a man; A person is shot repeatedly with blasters and we see his humanoid form getting shot away to reveal a glowing center. We then see human skin slowly regenerate there; A long sequence shows Yondu's arrow zipping around, impaling man after man, leaving a burned hole in the place where they were hit. Rocket also shoots through walls, killing bad guys; Rocket uses a device that shocks oncoming attackers. As such, we see them flying into the air slowly and falling back to the ground. There's one shot where we see batches flying into the air above the trees, illuminated by the night sky; Rocket repeatedly beats and punches guys as he jumps from one to the next; A man is engulfed in flames; A man is impaled by a glowing tentacle of energy a couple times but still lives; We see a huge pile of bones from previously murdered victims (murders of which we do not see that happened long ago); A blast from a rifle destroys the red plate on Yondu's head (it sparks and he falls over); We see Yondu tied to a chair and is punched in the face a few times; We see a man's face slowly distort as they freeze to death in space. We then see a lot of other men around him who have died the same way floating in space; Later, a man freezes to death in space and we see them slowly freeze; There's a huge battle between two characters where they punch each other and throw each other around; Gamorra runs away from being shot at. A ship crashes and she picks up a gigantic gun and fires on the ship that attacked; At a funeral, a body is burned and we see the glowing embers drift out into space; Several times, a large number of ships being controlled remotely attack our heroes and are eventually destroyed; and lots of other sci-fi action violence.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.