James Gunn presents a requiem to the oddballs within and the discovery we all seek
With the toe tapping chorus of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” playing (part of the in story / in mind Awesome Mix Vol 2 soundtrack), our own Star Lord, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), goes into full on save the Universe mode. Quill, of course, has his personal and even grand feelings for battling villains across time and space, but this fight in particular highlights his affinity and need for something almost indescribable. He’s a child forced to grow up among intergalactic pirates, so an inflated ego is merely a phase of his evolution into manhood and heroism. This love of music — his attachment to his long since passed on Mother (and to an extent Earth) — is so ingrained, it’s as if he can’t do his self appointed duty without it. He’s living in his own movie, where he thinks he’s the director.
And why wouldn’t he?
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 kicks off with a slightly similar musical sequence, where “Mr. Blue Sky” is literally blasting from stereos, as Quill and team do battle with a giant monster. Baby Groot, adorable to the last, dances sweetly and carefree to the tunes, as his friends get knocked about all around him. It’s all Groot’s perspective, as the camera swirls and hovers in his vicinity, capturing groove after groove, while unimaginable action occurs nearby. Alls well that ends well, as the point is not the battle we’re “missing” but the attitude we’re getting and understanding. This crew, a few months after their previous and introductory adventure, are coming out of respective shells, opening up in more ways than one. From the start, Quill was “Hooked on a Feeling”. Now, they all are.
This is where we’re at before things turn emotional. Near Empire Strikes Back emotional. And I make that reference with hesitance, as it’s been thrown into reviews with reckless abandon. The movie isn’t “dark”, neither simplistically nor overtly, but rather highly expressive in wearing on its sleeve the plights of everyone involved, and making sure we connect or empathize with them. All of them. From the Solo’s to the Vader’s, top to bottom, we end up caring. And at the end, are given quite the affirmation and celebration for our heartfelt relationship with the series.
Where the first Guardians film was great almost by default of being different and irreverent, Vol. 2 is equally great, but for maintaining and progressing those qualities and values, into territory few other genre / franchise tales will bother with. Everything from plot to action is at the altar of character here, putting the feelings of and relatability to those on screen head and shoulders above. Not too much of a stretch from the first, actually, but where they do differ is how far this one goes in stepping forward. The first established, the second solidified and continued.
Vol. 2 is an overload of designs — visual, audible and scripted — all working together out of chaos and into bliss. It is also a side trip digression that ends up taking on near epic scale, also in terms of the design and the characters. In the last outing, the individual arcs collided into the team up we now have. Here, conflicts are doubled up on, by which I mean each teammate has another different person to share and bounce internal issues off of. In turn, this presents a wonderfully rhythmic evolution and expansion of self and team, making for a most introspective piece of comic book cinema.
Definitely and defiantly, this is a James Gunn movie through and through. From his work on Tromeo & Juliet to Super, the writer / director has always been able to turn perceived oddity and grotesqueness into something that rings true in all of us. It’s not a stretch to suggest that Gunn himself identifies with almost every character he commits to paper and (digital) film, which would kind of make his catalogue an acid autobiography. He’s not alone in this, but certainly the style injected, the feelings pulled and the themes ultimately grafted specify and single him out as a soul bearing filmmaker, warts and all.
While Vol. 2’s momentum could be considered all due to Quill, I’d like to suggest that, if any other character shares focus, even if guarded, it’s Rocket. Throughout, he’s an unbelievable prick of a rodent, living under a defense mechanism that harms more than it helps. Before he comes to a revelation, he too is stuck on background music and life soundtracks, even requesting this at one point. He too thinks he’s the director of his own movie, and, like Quill, shows his cards in this manner as being a most caring and loving entity, despite and inspite of himself. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is about this to the core; more than family bonds, it's a journey deep into space, and deeper into our own personal walls, which must be broken down if we want what is most important: connections.
What’s so wrong with that?
5 / 5
Bill Arceneaux is an independent film critic from New Orleans and a member of SEFCA, with contributions to Film Threat, Occupy and Movieboozer.