I’ll start by saying that I won’t be including any story-related spoilers. If you want the film spoiled, just watch it. It does a perfect job of ruining itself without me telling you that Darth Vader was Starlord’s father, or that Drax was Kaser Söze all along. However, I’ll also state that this isn’t really a review, but a reflection on what this movie means in the world of film making, and as such, it may be a little conceptual if you haven’t already seen it (if you do want a review though, how about zero out of literally pick any number).
So, to put it bluntly: Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is what happens when a film maker listens too closely to their least analytical audience members. The writers popped over to a thirteen year old’s tumblr fan page, and built an entire movie out of the four or five recurring GIFs and memes that they found posted and reposted ad nauseam.
‘You thought Baby Groot was fun? Great. His cuteness can be the apparent lynchpin of the entire movie. You like how Drax doesn’t get metaphors? Awesome. He’ll just be an innapropriate prick the entire time. You like Rocket being rude and sassy? Fantastic. He will literally be an irredeemable prick to everyone around him the entire time, and then wonder why no one likes him, but surprise, they all still like him because hey man, we’re family. You like the spaceships and the guns and the boom, kkkrrrgh, pew pew pew? Wonderful. We’ll have a totally disposable, no-stakes army going to war in the centre of an exploding planet. You thought Yondu’s murder arrow was cool? Gotcha. That shit’ll be all over the place. You like Chris Pratt being Chris Pratt? Good news. He’s still Chris Pratt.’
Each popular aspect of the movie is taken out of its former subtlety, and hurled thoughtlessly onto its own pedestal, with no thought to the necessity of its context, and there was just a wealth of examples of how this was an issue. The shtick of Drax was his species is too literal to understand metaphors, so he gets confused by idioms and expressions; but this is totally misconstrued in this sequel, where, instead, he just takes every opportunity to just… be a prick. A running joke of his is to call a socially isolated orphan that they befriend hideously ugly over and over again, because it’s funny that Drax doesn’t understand metaphors. Does it matter that relentlessly insulting a traumatised young girl has nothing to do with metaphor? Nope. Because people loved the bits in the first movie where Drax said funny stuff. No further thought is given to it. The endearing nature of his literal constitution , as seen in the first film, has somehow devolved into a cross between the unfiltered mouthpiece Jim Carrey from Liar Liar, and the mean-spirited racist Jim Carrey from Dumb and Dumber 2.
The general morality of the entire film is so painfully ham-fisted that I thought I was going to start throwing up strips of bacon somewhere between the painfully transparent line set ups: (Peter: I finally found my family. Gamora: I thought we were your family.), to the unrepentantly inane character bonding of, say, Yondu and Rocket, when they basically try to recreate some Good Will Hunting nonsense with a (paraphrase) ‘You’re just being a dick to everyone all of the time because deep down you’re scared of being alone, and I know, because we’re the same, man. We’re the same.’ scene, and cue the tearful hugs and for the love of science, none of that drivel makes up for two characters who have consistently been mercilessly unkind for such vast periods of time, to a point where Rocket does a Tony-Stark-makes-Ultron and single handily drives all of the conflict in the movie, simply by being a selfish dick in the opening scene.
Finally, we have Baby Groot. Wow. His role in this film represented a staggering misunderstanding of how culturally significant Groot was in the first movie. He was the guardian who wasn’t a guardian. His presence was not as a dominating voice, but rather as the film’s only glimpse of something that was genuinely ‘alien’. He could show a beauty and a compassion that transcended his foreign nature. He was able to be such an adeptly created podium upon which to showcase the humanity that all Marvel Movies seek to capture. He could barely communicate, barely emote, he was hardly even humanoid, and we know next to nothing of his biology, but he displayed humanity in so many simple and perfect ways: from giving a little girl a flower, to lighting the guardians’ way with bioluminescent floating seeds (or whatever), to his final (and ultimately pointless – thanks a lot, Marvel’s inability to kill anyone) sacrifice to save his friends; and it was his role as this unrelatable force of nature that, I believe, is what made him so immediately welcomed by us all when the first film was released. His actions, from his position as an unrelatable entity, were a genuinely masterful exercise in imbuing love and heart into a truly alien character. His post-death reappearance in the first film was a bit of a red flag, but now they’ve fully embraced the whole ‘the bit where the tree dances is cute’ mentality, and, this time around, he is just brainless ‘awwwww’-generator, running around being a total contradiction, doing whatever it takes to illicit the most fawning from the audience at any one time, like he’s a modern-day ewok designed solely to get kids to ask their parents for a Baby Groot toy to shimmy around their bedrooms. He’s painted as being an infant, getting mixed up with simple commands, tripping, stumbling, being unaware of his surroundings; but in the next scene, he’ll be speaking to Rocket in full sentences (albeit obnoxiously translated by Rocket for an audience apparently unable to infer from context), and having thoughts and opinions that totally defy his inability to tell the difference between a mouse and an elephant three minutes earlier. He’ll be trying desperately to be understood in one scene like he’s playing a game of life-and/or-death charades, and then he’ll have a mini-conversation with Peter at the end, because the movie forgets that Peter doesn’t speak Groot for a second.
The treatment of Groot (and of Drax and Rocket and everyone else, really) highlights the one single pervasive trend of the entire film: all logic is cast aside for a series of ‘what we think the audience wants’ sketches. Each scene feels so disjointed that you may as well be scrolling through a meme generator. For the sake of set pieces, Rocket can suddenly single handededly kill or maim an entire kill squad of thirty people. Peter will zip around with his jet pack for the whole movie, until he’s suddenly in mortal danger because he apparently lost it at some point and now needs rescuing. Yondu can put on a hat and just slaughter honestly about two hundred relatively innocent (if compared to our ‘heroes’ to whom they’re mostly on an equal moral footing) people while a fun song plays and corpses litter the screen in slow-motion, because it’s a cool set piece and that’s all that matters.
So therein lies the problem with these made-to-please, studio-monitored movies. People create worlds and stories based around the niche culture popularity of key features and character tropes, without understanding that it’s their delicately balanced place amongst the context and surrounding that make these traits special. Drax was funny, because his laughable dialogue tendencies were undercut by knowing that he was grieving for his family. Rocket’s irritability was a consequence of the torturous experimentation he’d undergone, and the ostracising he was still going through. Gamora’s softer side was endearing to see when she had to so carefully hold up her fierce exterior. Groot’s compassion showcased an inherently human (for lack of a better world) side to something so otherwise un-human. But all of the flip sides of these traits were entirely excised from the sequel. Drax’ wife is mentioned once (and his daughter not at all) when he delivers an only-for-comedy monologue about meeting her, that Peter Quill impatiently yawns through. Rocket is a dick and is given not a single moment to recapture his sympathetic leanings. Gamora spends the whole movie being crabby and emotional and impotently bickering with her sister. Groot is now just a cuddly toy, being cute, and batting his eyelashes at the camera and honestly just fuck Groot. There I said it. The first movie was great, but fuck Groot. They ruined him. As well as everything else.
Also, Chris Pratt was being Chris Pratt throughout both movies, and there’s really no arc or consequence or further analysis to take place there. You guys, it’s goofy likeable Chris Pratt. He doesn’t need to learn anything or question any of his own actions or introspect in any way. He’s goofy likeable Chris Pratt. Also, he gets shirtless again in this one. Noice.