Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ★★★★★

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (2017) – James Gunn (obviously)

*NO SPOILERS AT ALL*

In case anyone doesn’t want to read this 1600 word review that’s basically an essay, I’ll just say I loved the movie and to go see it. If you are interested in why I gave the movie a high A grade, then read on.

So, it has come to my attention that a significant portion of my peers are claiming that Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is a disappointment and are overall having a negative reaction to the film. In some ways this doesn’t surprise me, since Guardians 2 is a very unique movie in the Marvel cannon in many ways. After watching the film twice now with a very keen critical eye, this is one of the best blockbuster films I've ever seen, and I’m here to explain to you why.

First I’ll start off by explaining how it’s so much different from normal Marvel movies. Well, put simply, it completely avoids many typical conventions of classical Hollywood filmmaking. Classical filmmaking is based on the concept that the film’s main priority is to tell a story. This story tends to have a goal/obstacle that our hero has to overcome, by some sort of deadline. Everything occurring within the time and space of the movie should also contribute to the viewers overall understanding of the story. I’ve heard complaints from people who didn’t like the movie because there’s no main goal for the characters until the third act of the movie, so they dismiss the first 2 acts as meaningless comedy. But just because a film isn’t ‘conventional’, that doesn’t make it bad. The movie is instead focused on exploring why characters are the way they are. The story isn’t driven by the plot, but instead goes in whichever directions are needed in order to better explore the psyches of the characters. Splitting up the team and having them go on separate adventures might not contribute to an overall story, but what it does do is peel back the layers on them, mature them, and get audiences to care about the characters even more. So when we finally do get to the third act, the stakes are higher, and we want a sequel even more. Don’t think this makes the movie boring either, because there is still constant humor and action.

I’d like to compare Guardians 2 to another space opera that has recently come out, which is Rouge One: A Star Wars Story. That movie had a very plot driven story: find the plans to the death star before the Empire uses it to blow up planets. Each character was given whatever traits they needed and did whatever the plot dictated, all for the ultimate purpose of stealing the plans to the death star. Guardians 2 isn’t like that. The scenes of character development don’t contribute to an overall story, instead it just makes the characters more psychologically realistic, and contributes to the films themes, which I’ll get to later.

What ultimately makes this film great though, is James Gunn’s style and the amount of creative freedom he had to create this film. Unlike most Hollywood films, this movie is James Gunn through-and-through. He wrote it, cast it, worked on concept art, filmed it, supervised the editing, scoring, etc, with Marvel Studios and Disney giving him zero creative restrictions and even approved his final cut of the film. Therefore, instead of getting something formulaic and crowd-pleasing (in the vein of Doctor Strange), we get the movie that appeals to James Gunn. The soundtrack is songs HE likes, the jokes are jokes HE finds funny, and action scenes is what HE wants to bring to life. As someone who loves James Gunn, I was so on board with his choices as an artist, whereas other people are not. In fact, psychological realism and authorial expressivity are 2 of the common conventions of art and independent cinema, so it’s interesting to see them in such high doses in a $200 million Hollywood picture.

Gunn can also direct THE HELL out of movies. The action scenes are the best in the MCU, with incredible tracking shots, smooth camera work, and longer takes. These choices make the film feel so much more epic and fun, as you can actually see and follow everything that’s happening in this beautifully realized film. He’s also great at directing comedy, making his actors deliver lines perfectly, and knows exactly how the comedy should be edited too (as many editors know, comedic effect all depends on timing). He even knows exactly when and how to use the soundtrack to manipulate audiences (I'm gonna even say that Awesome Mix 2 is better than Awesome Mix 1). He knows how to avoid the pitfalls of the typical Marvel formula, he knows how to create an intricately plotted story, he knows how to balance character arcs, and he knows to build on what people liked from the first guardians, and get rid of what people didn't like. This man is a genius of big budget spectacle filmmaking.

As someone who already loves these characters, making them even more interesting and likeable seemed impossible. But somehow, James Gunn expands every character with a new dimension, and matures them from the first movie, while keeping them as the same characters we already love. This isn't just Peter Quill's story this time around, as Rocket, Yondu, Nebula, and Gamora have awesome character arcs, while we also get to see Drax and Mantis (Dranits as James Gunn likes to say) form a beautiful and hilarious friendship. It all works well in the final film.

And now onto the incredible acting. Somehow, every actor is better than they were in the first movie. All the characters now feel lived in, and the actors give more confidant performances. Even Elizabeth Dibecki who plays Ayesha (who seems to be one of peoples least favorite characters) is literally perfect in every scene she’s in. Stallone is a wonderful addition to the cast, Kurt Russel is just a damn legend, Rocket is less annoying, Drax is funnier, Mantis is quirky, Nebula is less awkward, Gamora feels more down-to-Earth, Quill and Yondu show way more range, and even Kraglin gave me the feels. So much excellence all around throughout the entire damn film.

Moving on to the cinematography and special effects give me even more of a reason to praise this film. Not only is this the first MCU movie with great cinematography, but the special effects look gorgeously detailed, and the sets are beautiful, and even the damn color pallet is spot on. This is mainly because of Gunn’s choice to use the Red Weapon 8K camera, which allows for more detailed special effect work to be done. And that’s important as this is one of the most effects heavy films ever made. I’m always a sucker for beautiful looking movies, and Guardains 2 is the best looking so far of 2017.

I’ve also heard complaints that this movie has poor pacing, and is disjointed, overstuffed, and fails at its attempt to balance multiple subplots as opposed to having a streamlined story. This baffles me, since it is simply not true at all. All the subplots are woven together perfectly. Every scene starts off with a clear purpose, and builds to a major reveal before cutting away to something else, which then builds to another major reveal or outcome. This is screenwriting and editing 101 people, and it’s done perfectly. Some movies that feel disjointed are because of the editor not editing through space or time with any rhyme or reason, but the editing in Guardians 2 has structure and flow. It’s honestly quite impressive, and could teach people how to edit movies where they want multiple things to be happening at the same time in different places.

This movie is also more than just great action and great humor with great characters, as it explores the themes of family and redemption. It explores how our family isn’t necessarily those who we are related to by blood, but instead are the people we truly connect with, and truly care about. It’s about how everyone, even a god, strives to find personal connection and meaning with others. It also explores how it’s never too late to make amends with someone, never too late to change who you are, and never too late to choose your own path in life.

Finally, emotion is something that really stands out in Guardians 2. It was also a big part in Guardians 1, with Groot sacrifice, Rocket’s insecurities, Drax’s loss of his family, etc, but it’s amped up to some very tragic extremes in Guardians 2. I was worried the film would be overwhelmed with humor, and be a comedy instead of a drama, but luckily, it’s a perfect balance of both.

I’m finally going to wrap this essay up, and say that this movie is everything I wanted it to be. It’s more concerned with telling a story about family than it is about telling a story about superheroes trying to stop a supervillain from destroying the world. It’s constantly hilarious, entertaining, impactful, well made, and unique. I doubt any other blockbuster this year will be able to top it. It has tons of great Easter eggs for fans, it’s very comic-booky, I like all the characters, and I thought that every single scene was great (not good, GREAT). I’ve read hundreds of other reviews and do think it’s fair to dislike the film for whatever reasons you want, but for what James Gunn was trying to accomplish with this film, it is a home-run in every respect.

Grade: A

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