I don’t usually write film reviews. Let me prove this by giving my verdict on Guardians of The Galaxy: Vol 2 immediately, rather than keeping you on tenterhooks until the final paragraph: it’s not as good as the first one (which is excellent). You probably knew that already. However… there is a ‘but’.
Vol. 2 doesn’t feel as fresh as the original, for the simple fact that the first film now exists — it’s impossible to surprise an audience with the same trick twice. Vol. 2 is still a fantastically quirky, self-deprecating, and at times, hilarious film, which borders on Spaceballs-esque sci-fi spoof. However, there were periods when the film faltered and I became restless for more gags, which, when they came, didn’t always hit the mark. I found it impossible to care about the story of the sisters and their scenes were undoubtedly the weakest in the film, often weighed down by the green one’s reluctance to display emotion and the robot one’s choice of just two: icy menace or theatrical anger.
The centrepiece of the movie is an ambitious, Freudian story, pitting step-dad against real-dad on a hyperbolic scale. This is delicate material, which has genuine sentiment for millions who are anchored by the ‘step’ prefix. This theme may have been suffocated by the CGI E-numbers and one-liners had the writers not provided some pantomime clues that this is supposed to be a more meaningful blockbuster. There is a moment when, unrelated to the patriarchal plot, a goon screams “It’s a metaphor!” in a tongue-in-cheek wink to the audience: this film has metaphors, and we’re not afraid to use them. And if that wasn’t clear enough, they went and named Quinn’s father ‘Ego’.
Where the first film poked fun at the absurdity of saving the Universe — and in doing so, inadvertently exposed just how one-dimensional The Avengers films are — the second film has a more serious undercurrent: it deals with real-life shit; the overlapping, crisscrossing family dynamics of modern life. The portrait of a ‘normal’ family is now so rare, the very idea seems fantastical or even obsolete – especially on screen.
Vol. 2 is a story about (spoiler alert?) a son putting their absent biological father on a pedestal so high, that no paternal stand-in could ever hope to compete. This familiar dynamic is taken to the ultimate extreme: Quinn’s long-lost Dad is a planet-building god (with a small ‘g’). How can Quinn’s surrogate father, an aging, blue-man-group outcast, compete with an intergalactic deity? Especially when it appears that he kidnapped the ‘Star Lord’ as a young boy for his own Fagan-esque gain.
This is affecting material, which feels heavy and important against a here-we-go-again, end-of-the-universe backdrop. And it’s the weight of these familial themes which highlight the film’s major flaw. I just didn’t care that the universe might end – do we ever in these Marvel films? We know it’s never going to end. The main characters are never going to die. It all feels so predictable… until, a surprise which shows real bravery from the writers. And by the end, after the emotive jostling and blurry CGI punch-ups (an abhorrent problem across all these superhero films), the film climaxes with a genuine tug at the throat: as souped-up fireworks flower across the screen, it’s the iconic words of Cat Stevens’ Father and Son that yield the most powerful special-effect. The heart of this film was there all along. “It’s a metaphor!”
Vol. 2 is not as well-rounded a film as the first, but I have to admire its ambition – flawed ambition, yes – but I’d take flawed ambition over a safe bet every time. Take note, The Last Jedi.