GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 makes me think of the old Smiths song, That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore. It also reminds me of people who tell the same 'funny story' over and over and once more, then end by asking me if I got it. What was fun and zippy the first time round turns to diminishing returns the second time round.
Our title characters: half-human Star-Lord aka Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), his green-skinned love interest Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the literal-minded behemoth Drax (Dave Bautista), and the duo of Rocket Raccoon and Baby Groot (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel respectively) are up to more hijinks. This time, after killing a monster for the ethereal and excessively pompous Sovereign people in exchange for them handing over Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora's wicked sister who is still hell-bent on revenge.
As it so happens, Rocket decides to help himself to batteries that the Sovereign hold of great importance. The Sovereign are incensed, or as incensed as these rather cold golden beings can get, so they go after the Guardians.
At this point, rather than just hand the damn batteries over (or to my memory never really explaining what Rocket would do with them or why the Sovereign were so passionate about them), the Guardians make a run for it. Fortunately, they are aided by a mysterious figure and they jump to a new planet where they literally crash.
Here, the mysterious figure reveals himself as Ego (Kurt Russell), Peter's long-lost father. He has been searching the galaxies since the being hired to bring Peter to Ego as a child, Yondu (Michael Rooker) never delivered him after Peter's mother died. Now it's father-son bonding time, as Ego spirits some to his own world of pure imagination.
I say some because while Peter, Gamora and Drax, along with Ego's companion Mantis (Pom Klementieff) are with Ego, Rocket and Groot have been working to both repair the ship and keep Nebula imprisoned. The Sovereigns, having hired Yondu and his crew to bring in the Guardians, have taken Rocket and Groot. Yondu's excessively gentle manner when it comes to the Guardians, especially Star-Lord, causes his crew to mutiny, locking the three of them up and killing off those loyal to him except for Kraglin (Sean Gunn, director James Gunn's brother), who accidentally started the mutiny. Kraglin, however, helps the others escape.
Back on Ego's world, Ego informs Peter that Ego is a Celestial, a godlike being who genuinely loved Peter's mother and now wants him to be on this new world. Gamora, for her part, is still highly suspicious, but she has Nebula to worry about. She's managed to make it to Ego's world in an effort to kill her, but they end up calling a truce when they find multiple bones in this paradise. It seems that Ego, rather than being benevolent, is actually malevolent, looking for one of his many spawn to help him harness the power. When they don't, he kills them (hence all those bones).
The Guardians, who do manage to reunite in time (Rocket, Groot, Yondu and Kraglin all managing wild leaps from one point to another) do battle with Ego, defeat him, and then set up for the next series of films in this never-ending saga known as The Marvel Cinematic Universe.
There is much wrong with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 buried under the bright colors, cool retro soundtrack and fanboy cheering can't cover. The film is an unspeakably long two hours and sixteen minutes (including post-credit scenes, some of which I admit I didn't see because I'm frankly beginning to tire of them).
You can see Gunn (who wrote the film also) working overtime to make things longer and to force a lot of the humor. I look as an example when Rocket laughs at the name "Taserface" (Chris Sullivan) when said character has announced both his name and his intentions. All right, you can have a laugh about it, but that bit gets stretched out and out and out to where it's being grinded out. Then you have to see the severe Sovereigns get in on the act and burst out laughing when they too hear the name "Taserface".
This happens a great deal in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: jokes and bits that might have worked if they were mentioned once and only once and/or 'comic' bits and scenes stretched out ridiculously long. Baby Groot trying to find the device that will allow Yondu to control an arrow, Drax asking if Ego had a penis for when he impregnated Peter's mother, the long killing of Yondu's men by Rocket, the Sovereign's fighting the Guardians via remote control video game-like consoles, the wild distortions Rocket & Company endure as they speed to rescue Star-Lord.
I get that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 wanted to keep to the fun, lighthearted manner of the original, but so much of the film genuinely calls attention to itself in a 'look, here we are being clever bit. It's a bit like a stand-up comic who has talent but is trying too hard with endless variations of 'Take my wife...please!" At one point, the mutineers ask whether they should kill Baby Groot. Taserface replies in a gruff, sharp manner, "NO, he's too adorable to kill," which I'm sure had the fanboys in stitches, maybe even applauding, but which in retrospect just sounds too obvious that they are playing to the audience.
I think the lowest when it comes to fan-service in place of an actual story comes in what is supposed to be the climatic battle between Star-Lord and Ego (showing the Marvel still struggles with its villains and their motivations save Loki from the Thor films). While Fleetwood Mac's The Chain plays (and to its credit, the film did use the soundtrack well) and we've got all this world-destroying mayhem, and Peter has to battle the man who both begat him and killed his beloved mother, for reasons known only to Gunn and Marvel Studios, Peter takes the form of an animated Pac-Man (complete with sound).
Why Peter Quill opted to do this, why James Gunn decided this would be clever or necessary at this point, well, why ask why when there's so much fun to be had?
I can't find fault with the performances on the whole. We had good standouts: Elizabeth Debecki as Ayesha, Queen of the Sovereigns kept things serious while knowing when to play things for laughs (the audiences, not hers). Rooker too did well as Yondu, the father figure to the future Star-Lord.
However, while it's nice that Pratt is attempting to stretch as an actor (and give us the Obligatory Shirtless Scene to show off his great body), I don't think he got the 'I miss having a Dad' scenes as well as he did the 'I am showing how goofy/action-oriented Star-Lord is' scenes. Everyone else did well, but there was nothing new to the table.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a terrible disappointment because it thinks it's funnier than it actually is, when in reality the joke they started only left me crying.
Next Marvel Cinematic Universe Film: Spider-Man: Homecoming