Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The summer season begins with this first round of reviews.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 begins its epic rollout into theaters around the world tomorrow, but won't open stateside until May 5. The first reviews are out, though, and we begin with the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, noting that the franchise's "beefy-yet-quirky space hero and team leader Peter Quill, played by Chris Pratt, duly has a second volume of that Awesome Mixtape on the Sony Walkman he has on him at all times. It’s the same combination of cartoony action and intergalactic screwball with some ambient production design recalling the photorealist sci-fi imagery of Roger Dean or Chris Foss in a bygone age, creating a visual sense of earnestness to offset the archly retro pop culture gags." On that note, the Telegraph's Robbie Collin finds that "the new one—and this is meant as a heartfelt compliment—looks like an explosion in a nursery school craft cupboard. Every scene comes caked in rainbows, glitter, gunge and bubble mixture: if there had been a cost-effective way to stick dried pasta shapes and pipe cleaners to every cinema screen showing the thing, director James Gunn would have probably reached for his glue spreader." "The first film was all about how the Guardians met and teamed up," writes Variety's Owen Gleiberman, "and part of the beauty of it was that you could feel just how much Chris Pratt’s trouble-shooting, ’70s-dancing thief Peter, Zoe Saldana’s green-faced alien princess Gamora, Dave Bautista’s splendidly dour tell-it-like-it-is tattoo-carved muscleman Drax, and Bradley Cooper’s Brooklynese raccoon scavenger Rocket really disliked each other. The quips and the acid retorts were the opposite of forced; they were part of the enthrallment of seeing this team come together out of brutal (and plausible) necessity. All of which made Guardians feel like something more than an origin story. Vol. 2, on the other hand, is an origin story. The Guardians are now a seasoned team, but the movie is all about how Peter got to be who he is."
"As the film begins," writes Screen's Tim Grierson, the Guardians "quickly get themselves into a jam after Rocket steals crucial batteries from a superior alien race called the Sovereign. On the run from the Sovereign’s lethal armada, the team… is rescued by a mysterious man named Ego [Kurt Russell], who has a shocking announcement: he is Peter’s long-lost father." And "underneath Vol. 2’s sarcastic exterior, Gunn’s script has a big, bleeding heart, pinpointing the characters’ insecurities and emotional scars." "Alas," sighs the Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy, "most of these maverick mercenaries prove rather less charming the second time around; they're like bickering family now and not in an amusing way. For starters, some of the characters who, at first exposure, were ingratiating in part because of their rough edges have now turned downright ornery and not much fun to be around." Still, Gunn "excels at turning cheesy, technologically overwrought material into next-level spectacle," writes IndieWire's Eric Kohn. "The ex-Troma director is ideally suited to transform what should be a hokey B-movie into one of Marvel’s most audacious ongoing storylines…. Fleeting scenes with Sylvester Stallone as classic Guardians comic book character Stakar suggests a welcome addition to the universe, but also the sense that this familiar playground could get a whole lot more crowded." For TheWrap's Alonso Duralde, "the testy romantic chemistry between Peter and Gamora and the utterly irresistible adorability of baby Groot go a long way toward keeping the film from feeling like merely a cynical cash-grab. There is wit and there are explosions, and while none of them represent a step above Guardians of the Galaxy, neither do they impugn the memory of one of the freshest and most fun of the Marvel movies. If they’re just vamping until Volume Three, or the inevitable Avengers crossover, at least they’re doing it with some panache."
"In the final reel, when all the main protagonists are being selfless and heroic, the film risks turning into a full-blown weepie," writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. Matt Singer at ScreenCrush: "Where the original Guardians felt fresh, Guardians Vol. 2 now feels familiar—sometimes pleasantly so and sometimes not." More from Mike Ryan (Uproxx) and Dino-Ray Ramos (Tracking Board). And Glenn Whipp talks with Russell for the Los Angeles Times: "A lot of the movies I did, that were misunderstood at the time, live in that world of ‘Brandy.’ That level of humor. ‘Is this cruel but funny? Or not cruel at all but kind of cool?' … And I’ve spent my whole career making movies that run that fine line." Update, 4/25: "In the context of modern garden-variety escapist cinema, there’s nothing inherently wrong with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," writes Time's Stephanie Zacharek. "But this gag- and plot-stuffed follow-up is also emblematic of all we’ve come to settle for in movie entertainment: It feels not so much crafted as squirted from a tube." Updates, 4/28: For New York's David Edelstein, "it’s not the weighty emotions that drag Vol. 2 down. It’s the plot that chases its own tail and the cluttered visual palette." "Why," wonders April Wolfe in the LA Weekly, "in these blockbuster adventures—outside of the new Star Wars—does the woman character always have to be the mother hen: the most talented, the smartest on the team, the one who sacrifices intimacy for her career; the killjoy sold as 'strong' but curiously lacking in dimensionality and humor, even as she runs in heels and is treated as 'the girl.' With Baby Groot around, the nuclear family structure is further honored: Here's harpy mom and fun dad. That grates more as the film goes on." "There’s no rhythm to the story," adds Little White Lies' David Jenkins. "It’s a bunch of short episodes—sketches—which culminate in the galaxy being placed in peril, and a bunch of slick-ass bickering guardians swooping in to save the day once more." The New York Times' Dave Itzkoff calls up James Gunn: "To his mind, the Guardians of the Galaxy movies are still fulfilling his urge to tell stories about characters with complex, interconnected needs—even if one of those characters happens to be a talking raccoon—and to maintain the innovative traditions of his moviemaking forebears, at price tags upward of $170 million." Mike Ryan talks with Gunn, too, for Uproxx. And Little White Lies has launched a podcast. On the first episode of Truth & Movies (53'00"), "editors David Jenkins and Adam Woodward chat Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, debate the merits of movie soundtracks, and give a shout out to Lady Macbeth."
Update, 5/1: Buzzfeed's Alison Willmore: "The Guardians movies have an effervescent sense of freedom and a personal stamp like none of the other MCU installments to date—they’re distinctive and largely self-contained, unfolding far away from the crisscrossing dramas of the series’ other characters. But Gunn’s decision to further break from expectation and have Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 be as much an intergalactic hangout dramedy as a rollicking space adventure, while surprising, doesn’t end up doing justice to the characters." Update, 5/2: "Vol. 2 is a better, more satisfying movie, and despite its supposed sequelitis stands alone better than almost any other recent entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe," finds Jesse Hassenger in Brooklyn Magazine. Update, 5/4: "I’m no big fan of the first Guardians of the Galaxy," writes Michael Sragow for Film Comment. "It was a vain attempt to make a comic epic out of a gargantuan collection of doodles. I could see, though, why audiences went for its array of impudent cosmic graffiti and offhand gimmicks, notably its use of feel-good 1970s rock as the counterpoint to apocalyptic action. It had the virtue of being frivolous in an increasingly self-serious universe of comic-book movies and had the piquancy of a slate of novelty acts. Unfortunately, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 illustrates the futility of visiting novelty acts a second time and hoping for the same zing." Updates, 5/5: "At times, Mr. Gunn’s ambitions badly backfire," finds the New York Times' Manohla Dargis. "Like the first movie, this one is jammed with action-driven sequences, some wildly bloated and most of them cartoonish. For one fight, though, he cranks the music and lets the screen bleed as the ostensible good guys kill one villain after another, the casualties falling to the sound of a head-bobbing song. Tonally, the episode feels unpleasantly sour and wrong for this young series, which is best when it goes light; it’s a bummer watching another director attempt the kind of smiling sadism that not even Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino can always pull off." "I guess the closest thing I can compare it to is how, in that first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, it really felt like Johnny Depp was getting away with something," writes Sean Burns, "whereas by the time the elephantine sequel came lumbering around all the delightful, surprising weirdness of Captain Jack Sparrow had calcified into just another blockbuster component. With a fifth Pirates on the way in a few weeks it’s now nearly impossible to imagine a time when anybody ever enjoyed this tiresome character in the first place, and while the Guardians of the Galaxy are certainly not there yet, this sequel shows warning signs of their welcome soon being overstayed."