I never planned on getting into Guardians of the Galaxy. I know essentially nothing about this thing called the “Marvel Universe.” (Are there stars in it? Planets?) I’m not sure I’m really into any of it now, honestly, even after seeing the second film in James Gunn’s blockbuster franchise, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. But I sure am enjoying the hell out of dipping my toe in the comic waters.
I saw the first installation in the middle of the day in July, 2014. I’d stayed home from work (it was a Wednesday, I believe) because I’d just received news that my grandfather had passed away early that morning, and I was in no shape to go into the office. Far from home and far from family, after the initial shock wore off, I didn’t really know what to do with myself.
So I took myself to the movies. I took myself to see the only thing I knew I couldn’t care less about: a big, blustery summer superhero flick. It was one in the afternoon and there were maybe three other people in the theater. And it did exactly what I needed it to do: it completely transported me away from the world outside that cinema.
Just shy of three years later, the motley crew of aliens (and one Star Lord) charged with saving the galaxy returns to theaters in Gunn’s sequel. This time, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) knows exactly who he is. Well, mostly. He’s still not sure who his father is, but there’s too much intergalactic ass to kick to worry too much about it.
Set to another rocking soundtrack of 70s and 80s hits, Vol. 2 has us ready for fun from the very beginning, as we zip back to 1980 Earth and see a very creep-ily (and hilariously) de-aged Kurt Russell falling for Meredith (Laura Haddock), Peter’s mother. Fast forward back to outer space and grown up Peter, who’s thick as thieves with Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and the most adorable alien since E.T., Baby Groot (Vin Diesel).
Getting too far into the plot would not only be too complicated (Nebula (Karen Gillan) is back but still dastardly; Yondu (Michael Rooker) is being shunned by Sylvester Stallone and the other Ravagers…), but it would also spoil the fun of going along for the ride (assuming, like me, you don’t already know where that ride is going). Turns out, that inappropriately young Kurt Russell (who, for the rest of the film is normal, dashing Kurt Russell) is Ego, a planet, a life-force, a god. And Peter Quill’s father.
But that’s all you get. What’s more important to know is that from the Guardians’ first battle as guns for hire to the epic, bittersweet end, the whole film is the kind of joyful, rollicking fun that comes of a true labor of love (and a couple hundred million dollars). It’s big and bold, witty and raunchy, full of heart and just plain fun. Buy the large popcorn and spring for 3D. It’s gorgeous in 3D.
That’s not too say it’s a perfect film. The writing, though overall strong, can slip into dangerously lame territory. (“Someone destroyed all our ships!” after we literally just saw all the ships getting destroyed.) One person’s witty repartee is another’s eye-roll-enducing drivel. As I tell my kid siblings still getting their sarcasm legs, you can let some of ’em slide; at some point, it gets exhausting.
Also exhausting? The inescapable presence of the penis. Though Gamora and Nebula have one of the best hand-to-hand combat scenes in the film and, to a lesser degree, a secondary plot line, the rest of the movie is, to a certain degree, a bunch of dick jokes. I imagine the male film critics in the screening I attended (of about 40 in the press section, I counted 8 women) either didn’t notice or laughed along with them all. But to me, and probably to every date who’s going to go see it with their boyfriend, the many, many references to penises – does he have one, how big is his, what does he do with his – got pretty old pretty fast.
So my ringing endorsement is not without a sour note or two. Do I wish even Gunn, who with this sequel success wields the kind of influence of an Abrams or Whedon, could’ve crafted a bit more well-rounded script? Sure I do. What he has delivered is, if crude and mildly sexist, certainly well thought out, rich with layers and symbolism. At one point Ego takes Quill through his own history, from glowing orb to galactic life force. The story is presented as a not-so-subtle Marvel Stations of the Cross, a smart nod to faith as a god explains his journey. Secondary characters see their stories come full circle, where a lesser filmmaker might’ve left them to loose ends. Oh, and that soundtrack. It’s a doozie in this one, too.
Whether you’re a die-hard Marvelite (that’s what they’re called, right?) or just along for the ride, I dare you not to be smiling at the sheer fun of it as the final credits roll. (And definitely stay through the credits.)
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 – dir James Gunn. Written by James Gunn (and like 8 other people). Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Kurt Russell. Opens in Chicago Friday, May 5. Official Site
Passes the Bechdel Test: Barely
Passes the DuVernay Test: Yes, if we’re talking about diversity of aliens…