Tuesday, May 16, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 was written and directed by James Gunn.

Gunn previously wrote Tromeo And Juliet, The Specials, Scooby-Doo, Dawn Of The Dead (2014), Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed, Lollipop Chainsaw and The Belko Experiment. He wrote and directed The Tromaville Cafe, Slither, Super and Guardians Of The Galaxy.

Let's all pause for a moment to consider the fact that the man who brought us hyper-violent films like Dawn Of The Dead and The Belko Experiment also wrote the fun, light-hearted Guardians Of The Galaxy space adventures.

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is of course a sequel to 2014's Guardians Of The Galaxy. It's also one of the most flat-out entertaining movies I've seen since the original Star Wars back in 1977. I spent the entire run time with a big, stupid grin on my face, as every frame of this film is an absolute joy to watch. It's been a long time since I've felt ANY emotion in the cineplex (other than disappointment and rage), so it was a wonderful change of pace.


Imagine, a movie that's actually fun to watch! What a concept! Are you listening to this, Warner Bros./DC?


It's hard to believe now, but back in 2014, many critics predicted that Guardians Of The Galaxy would be Marvel Studios' first big flop. They had a whole laundry list of reasons why— the source material was too obscure, the characters were all unknowns and the concept was just too weird for mainstream audiences. Industry insiders were convinced the film would spell certain doom for the studio. 


That didn't happen of course, as the first film went on to gross a whopping $773 million worldwide against its $170 million budget. So suck on that, movie critics!


It's no big secret why this film franchise is so successful
— it's all about the characters. Somehow James Gunn took these incredibly ridiculous and silly characters and turned them into living, breathing "people," He imbued them with real emotion, creating an oddly moving film. If you don't tear up a little at the end of Guardians 2, then you're already dead. It's an impressive feat, and I'm still trying to figure out how the hell he pulled it off!

Seriously, during the film I suddenly realized I was caught up in the emotional interplay between a blue man with a red fin on his head and a talking raccoon! Amazing!

Another big plus: EVERY character in the film gets their own little story arc. Even minor characters like Kraglin and Ayesha change over the course of the film, and actually affect the plot, rather than being crammed in as fan service. That couldn't have been an easy thing to accomplish, but somehow Gunn makes it look effortless.

A major plot point in the film involves Ego The Living Planet, a character from the comics that James Gunn had planned to use back in the first film. As Gunn was writing the script for Guardians 2, Marvel suddenly informed him that they didn't own the rights to Ego. He fell firmly under the Fantastic Four franchise, which is (unfortunately) owned by Fox.

Gunn was now stuck, as he couldn't think of an appropriate substitute for Ego. He then approached Fox and asked for permission to use the character. Thankfully they said yes, in exchange for being allowed to alter the powers of Negasonic Teenage Warhead's superpowers in Deadpool.


As you can tell by now, I enjoyed this movie quite a bit, but I have one small concern. As good as it is, Guardians 2 feels very much like the third leg of a trilogy, rather than the second. Gunn wraps up the major mystery of Peter's parentage, Gamora and Nebula kiss and make up and a popular character meets his doom. So what the heck is left for the third movie? Gunn seems to know what he's doing here, so I have faith he'll be able to deliver a compelling wrap-up to the series.

A study in contrasts: A couple months ago when I saw the Power Rangers movie (don't judge me!), I noted that it clocked in at a way too long one hundred and twenty four minutes, but felt like it lasted four hours. I honestly wanted to get up and leave during the many hour-long lulls in its run time. 


Meanwhile, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is one hundred thirty six minutes long, and it absolutely breezed by. I was honestly shocked when I looked up its run time, as I thought it was well under two hours. Imagine that! A sci-fi action film that's fun and fast-paced, and not bogged down by unnecessary exposition.

One major complaint: I would like to find the person or persons who made the trailers for Guardians 2 and punch them in the dick. There were three main trailers for the film, plus numerous "sneak peeks" and "exclusive looks." These previews revealed virtually EVERY joke, revelation and plot point in the entire goddamned film.


For example, the trailers featured the ENTIRE lengthy sequence in which Rocket explains to Baby Groot how to operate a doomsday device. Same with the part in which Mantis demonstrates her empathic powers on Star-Lord. These scenes were very funny, but think how much more humorous they'd have been in context if we hadn't seen them both IN THEIR ENTIRETY every week for six months before the film premiered!


Seriously, the ONLY plot points the trailers didn't reveal was Ego's true agenda and the major death at the end.


I get that trailers are meant to entice the public into seeing the movie. But they don't have to be a two minute version of the entire goddamned film to accomplish that. Plus was there really any doubt the public would show up for this sequel?


I knew Guardians 2 was going to be YUGE when I had trouble actually buying a ticket to see it. The day I went, EVERY showing was sold out at my local cineplexery (unless I wanted to sit in the front row and stare straight up at a fifty foot tall screen). That's something that hasn't happened around here since... ever?


I finally managed to squeak into a 3D showing of the film. I'm not a fan of 3D, as I generally hate it with a white hot passion. But the extra three bucks per ticket apparently scared off most theatergoers, so there were a few unsold seats left. Whew!


That said, I DO NOT recommend seeing this film in 3D. I don't know if it was a problem with the equipment at my cineplex or if the depth perception center of my brain is seriously screwed up or what, but there was definitely something wrong with the picture.


Closeups were OK, but any time there was a long shot or a landscape scene, the 3D made the characters look like toys. They looked tiny, like HO scale railroad figures— almost like those tilt-shift photos that were so popular a few years back. Surely it wasn't supposed to look like that?

A word or two about Disney. I saw four trailers before Guardians 2 started: Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It occurred to me that without fail, EVERY one of these trailers was for an upcoming Disney film. Every single one! They've become the Borg, snapping up various properties from wildly different sources and assimilating them into their own brand. It won't be long before EVERY film is from the House Of Mouse!


As I mentioned earlier, the first Guardians grossed an impressive $773 million worldwide. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is on track to surpass that, as it's raked in $630 million in its first ten days, against its $200 million budget! Can it pass the billion dollar mark?

BIG, HONKIN' SPOILERS AHEAD, INCLUDING THE DEATH OF A MAJOR CHARACTER! PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!

The Plot:
We begin with a flashback to Missouri, Planet Earth, in 1980. Meredith Quill and her boyfriend, who looks amazingly like an Escape From New York-era Kurt Russell, enter the woods behind the local Dairy Queen. "Kurt" shows Meredith a weird alien plant in the woods. He says he was worried it wouldn't take root, and tells her that soon the plant will be "cover this whole place." Foreshadowing! He kisses Meredith, and she calls him her "space man."

Thirty four years later, we see the Guardians Of The Galaxy— Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (played by Chris Pratt), Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana), Drax (played by Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) standing on a platform on the planet of the Sovereign.

The gold-skinned Sovereign are a "perfect" society, as each citizen is genetically engineered to perform a specific function. As a result, they're reluctant to risk their own peoples' lives. They hire the Guardians to eliminate an interdimensional monster known as an Abilisk that feeds off their energy source.


The Guardians ready themselves, and the Abilisk appears. It plops down onto the elevated platform, and the Guardians begin fighting it, while Baby Groot dances to ELO's Mr. Blue Sky (!). After they all blast away at the Abilisk for a while, Drax notes that they can't harm it from the outside, so he leaps into its mouth to kill it from the inside. Star-Lord notices the creature has a cut on its neck, and orders Rocket to get it to look up. When it does, Gamora leaps onto the Abilisk and slices it open with her sword. It collapses and dies, and Drax spills out of the slit, thinking he killed it singlehandedly.

The Guardians enter the Sovereign throne room to collect payment. Star-Lord warns them to be careful, as the Sovereign have very strict laws, and the penalty for any infraction is death. They appear before Ayesha, High Priestess of the Sovereign. She thanks them for eliminating the Abilisk, and gives them their payment: Gamora's sister Nebula, who's to be turned over to Xandarian authorities.

Before they leave, Ayesha asks Peter where he's from. He says his mother was from Earth, but he doesn't know who his father was. She says she senses something reckless in him. As the Guardians leave, Rocket nudges Drax and shows him that he stole a bag full of the Sovereign's priceless Anulax batteries. Drax roars with laughter.

The Guardians take off and head for Xandar. Suddenly a huge fleet of Sovereign drones appears and begins firing on them. Peter wonders why, and Drax blurts out that Rocket stole the batteries. Gamora notes there's a jump point to the planet Berhert ahead, but it'll take several minutes to get there. Peter goes all Empire Strikes Back and tries losing the drones in a "quantum asteroid field," but Rocket wrestles control from him, saying he's the better pilot. Their bickering gets the ship pounded by asteroids, severely damaging it. They exit the field and are immediately surrounded by more drones.

Suddenly the drones are all wiped out by a man riding on top of a large, egg-shaped ship (!). The Guardians are then able to make the jump. They appear over Berhert, but the ship is so damaged it crash lands on the planet.

They survey the damage and argue amongst themselves. Suddenly the egg-shaped ship appears and lands. A man who looks amazingly like Django-era Kurt Russell exits, along with Mantis, his alien assistant. Peter asks who the hell the man is, and he says his name is Ego, and he's been searching for them for a long time. Ego says, "I'm your dad, Peter."

On Contraxia, Yondu and his Ravager clan visit a brothel (in a Disney movie, yet!). Yondu spots his mentor, Stakar Ogord (played by Sylvester Stallone!!!) and calls to him. Stakar isn't happy to see Yondu, and exiles him from the Ravagers for breaking their code and dealing in children (referring to the time Yondu abducted young Peter Quill in the first film). A Ravager named Taserface (!) says Yondu's going soft, and thinks they need new leadership. Yondu's right hand man Kraglin (played by Sean Gunn) agrees. Suddenly Alesha arrives on Contraxia with her entourage, and offers Yondu a job...

Back on Berhert, Ego explains to Peter that after he found out Meredith Quill died, he sent Yondu to Earth to pick him up. Peter says he doesn't understand why Ego left his mother in the first place. Ego invites Peter and his friends to his planet, saying all his questions will be answered there. Peter's suspicious, but Gamora says he's been looking for his father for years, and convinces him to go. Peter, Gamora and Drax enter Ego's ship, while Rocket and Baby Groot stay behind to repair the ship and keep an eye on the captive Nebula.

Ego's ship takes off. Inside, Peter sees Mantis touch Ego's forehead and put him to sleep. She explains to the Guardians that she has empathic powers. If she touches someone she can sense their feelings, and can also alter a person's emotions. She says Ego keeps her around to help him sleep.

Back on Berhert, a huge army of Ravagers sneak up on the Guardians' crashed ship. Most of them are taken out by Rocket's elaborate booby traps. Finally Yondu shows up with his whistle-controlled flying Yaka arrow, pointing it right at Rocket's head. They capture Rocket and Groot, but when Taserface asks where Peter is, Yondu tells him they're not turning him over to the Sovereign. Taserface says Yondu's not fit to lead and challenges him. Kraglin speaks up as well, noting that Yondu always backs down where Peter's concerned. Suddenly Nebula appears and shoots the arrow control crest on top of Yondu's head, effectively neutering him. She then aligns herself with the Ravagers, as the now powerless Yondu's taken captive as well.

Ego's ship arrives at an amazingly beautiful planet. As they sail over the surface, he explains to his guests that he actually IS the planet. He's a Celestial, an incredibly old and powerful being, who started life as disembodied brain that floated through space for millions of years. Over time he learned to control molecules, and built a protective shell around himself. Eventually he constructed an entire planet, with his brain as its central core.

Ego became lonely, and created a humanoid form to travel the galaxy and interact with various races. He met Peter's mother Meredith, fell in love and fathered a child with her. He says he's been searching for Peter ever since. Peter asks Ego why he left Meredith if he loved her, and he explains that his human form has to return to the "light" periodically, or it will wither and die. Peter asks what he means by the "light." Ego says, “It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” Er, strike that. He says it's an energy source, 
and shows Peter how to access it. Peter holds out his hands and a ball of pure energy appears. He and Ego then literally play "catch" with the ball, just as a normal father and son would do.

On the Ravager ship, Taserface rounds up everyone who was loyal to Yondu and tosses them out the airlock. This causes Kraglin much consternation, as he regrets his decision. Taserface starts to throw Rocket and Yondu into space, but Nebula reminds him that the Kree will pay a handsome bounty for the two. Taserface throws them into a cell instead. Nebula demands a new cybernetic hand and a ship. Kraglin gives her both, and she blasts off to hunt down and kill Gamora.

On Ego's planet, Drax and Mantis bond, even though he thinks her cute and perky looks are hideous. She looks worried, and says she has something important to tell him. She clams up when Gamora interrupts, and shows them to their quarters instead.

Meanwhile the Ravagers abuse Baby Groot, kicking him around and pouring beer on his head. In their cell, a despondent Yondu tells Rocket he was a Kree slave, until Stakar rescued him and made him a Ravager. Rocket asks Yondu why he kept Peter around. He hesitates for a second, then says it's because Peter was good for thieving, as he could fit into spaces others couldn't. 

Suddenly Baby Groot shuffles by, and Yondu tells him to go to his quarters (which are now occupied by Taserface) and bring back his prototype head fin. Baby Groot sneaks into the quarters and brings back a series of increasingly ridiculous items, none of which are a fin.

Finally Kraglin returns to the cell with Baby Groot. He tosses the fin to Yondu and begs for mercy, saying he didn't know Taserface would take things this far. Yondu considers him for a moment, then tells him to ready his ship. Kraglin opens the cell door as Rocket attaches the new control fin to Yondu's head. He whistles and his arrow flies through the ship, killing every mutinous Ravager in a spectacular orgy of violence.

Yondu saves Taserface for last. Instead of piercing him with the arrow, he sends it into the engines, causing them to explode. Taserface manages to send Yondu's location to Ayesha seconds before he dies. As the rest of the ship explodes, the back third of it detaches and Yondu, Rocket, Baby Groot and Kraglin escape. Rocket sets a course for Ego's planet, which will require seven hundred hyperspace jumps (a procedure that's not recommended.

On Ego's planet, Peter puts the moves on Gamora, but she's not having it, saying there's no unspoken "thing" between them. She tells Peter something's not right with Ego, and he explodes, angrily saying she's just jealous because she's not a half-god like him, and upset that he's finally found a family. She says she thought he already had one and storms out.

Gamora sits brooding in an empty field, and sees a ship in the distance. It's Nebula, who begins diving and firing at her sister, North By Northwest-style. Gamora runs into a cave, but Nebula flies her ship right into it, crashing on a ledge far below. Gamora pulls her out of the wreckage, and Nebula immediately starts fighting her. 


After a lengthy battle, Nebula declares herself the winner. She says when they were children, their father Thanos would always praise Gamora when she won a contest of strength. Unfortunately he'd mutilate Nebula when she lost, replacing her body parts with cybernetics. This led to her resentment of Gamora, when all she wanted was a sister. Gamora says she had no idea, and the two come to an understanding. 

As the two look for the exit, they discover a huge cavern filled with thousands of skeletons. Gamora tells Nebula they need to get off the planet immediately. Meanwhile, Yondu, Rocket and the others land on Ego's planet. Rocket says he wants to rescue Peter so he can lord it over him. Yondu calls out Rocket, saying he knows he puts on a tough-guy facade because he's scared.

Ego tells Peter that as long as the Force, er, light exists within the planet, they'll both be immortal and have near unlimited power. He touches Peter's forehead, causing him to perceive the eternity of the entire universe. Ego reveals his plan to Peter, which he calls "The Expansion." For millennia Ego's been placing "seed pods" (extensions of himself) on thousands of different worlds. When activated, he'll cover entire planets and literally become the entire galaxy! He says one Celestial doesn't have the power to do this, but two just might. Mantis overhears this, and wakes up Drax to tell him what's going on.

Ego says that out of all the thousands of children he fathered in the galaxy  Peter's the only one who has Celestial powers. He admits that he eliminated all his previous "normal" children (which were the skeletons Gamora and Nebula found), and says he regrets having to kill Peter's mother by placing a tumor in her head.

This enrages Peter, snapping him out of his cosmic acid trip. He shoots at Ego, blowing huge holes in him. Ego simply reconstitutes his body and begins drawing power from Peter. On Earth, we see the seed pod that Ego planted behind the Dairy Queen grow and start consuming the entire town.

Rocket, Baby Groot and Yondu take a shuttle to the surface and meet up with Gamora, Drax and Nebula. Everyone's filled in on what's going on, and they decide to stop Ego and rescue Peter. Just then another Sovereign drone fleet arrives and attacks, destroying Yondu's shuttle. Rocket cobbles together a laser device that takes out the Sovereign fleet, much to the dismay of Ayesha (who of course is back on her planet). Ego attacks the Guardians, but Mantis touches the planet and is able to make him sleep temporarily. She says the only way to kill Ego is to destroy his brain at the center of the planet.

Rocket builds a makeshift bomb with his remaining Anulax batteries. Unfortunately he and Peter are too large to fit into the cavern leading to the planetary brain. Rocket gives the bomb to Baby Groot, with instructions on which button to push. Mantis is hit by debris and knocked out, releasing her hold on Ego. He wakes and begins attacking the Guardians, encasing them all in rock. Just before Yondu's encased, he tells Peter that he didn't turn him over to Ego because he was like a son to him.

This gives Peter the strength to fight back, using his Celestial powers against Ego. His hold on the Guardians weakens, and they're able to get free. Baby Groot places the bomb on Ego's brain and miraculously pushes the right button, activating the five minute countdown.

Kraglin lands the ship on the surface, as Drax, carrying Mantis, jumps in. Gamora and Nebula make it to the ship as well. Rocket tries to save Yondu, but he refuses to go, saying he wants to atone for his life of crime. Rocket understands and gives him a spacesuit button and rocket pack, knowing Yondu will only be able to use one of them himself. He returns to the ship. Gamora wants to go back for Peter, but Rocket stuns her, saying he's lost too many friends already.

Ego senses the bomb and pleads with Peter to help him diffuse it. He says if the light is destroyed, Peter will no longer be a god, but just an ordinary person. Peter says that sounds pretty good to him, and blocks Ego. The bomb goes off, and Ego's human form dissolves. The planet then begins breaking up with Peter deep inside it.

Suddenly Yondu, wearing the jetpack, grabs Peter and flies him into space. He slaps the spacesuit button on Peter, and it envelops him in a protective shell. Peter realizes what Yondu's doing and yells for him to stop. Yondu says that Ego may have been Peter's father, but he was never his daddy. The two exit the atmosphere and Yondu freezes and dies.

Later on the Guardians prepare to cremate Yondu. Peter delivers a eulogy, which somehow involves family and David Hasselhoff. Gamora sees Nebula lurking in the shadows and asks her to stay. She refuses, saying she's going to hunt down Thanos and make him pay for what he did to them both. Gamora awkwardly hugs her. Gamora puts her arm around Peter, saying maybe there's something between them after all. Peter gives Kraglin Yondu's arrow. He gives Peter a Zune he found in a junk shop, bragging that it holds a whopping three hundred songs (!). As Yondu's ashes float into space, Stakar and hundreds of other Ravagers show up in their ships to give him a proper sendoff.

During the end credits, Kraglin practices controlling the arrow. It inadvertently flies into Drax's chest, and Kraglin flees in terror.

Stakar reunites with his old team (the original Guardians Of The Galaxy), including Martinex (played by Michael Rosenbaum), Charlie-27 (played by Ving Rhames), Aleta (played by Michelle Yeoh) and Mainframe (played by Miley Cirus, if you can believe that).

Back on the Sovereign Homeworld, Ayesha stares at a large birthing pod, saying she's created an even more perfect being to destroy the Guardians. She says she'll call the being Adam (as in Adam Warlock, a character from the comics).

Peter enters the now teenaged Groot's room, telling him it's disgusting and to clean it up. Groot mocks him as he constantly plays a videogame.

Stan Lee sits on a distant moon, telling stories to a group of Watchers. They become bored and wander off.

Thoughts: 
• The movie begins with Meredith Quill enjoying a date with Ego, who looks just like a young Kurt Russell. The de-aging of Russell here is some of the best I've ever seen, and nothing short of amazing! 


Marvel Studios did the same trick with Robert Downey Jr. in Captain America: Civil War, de-aging him back to his early twenties. He looked very good, but there were a couple of scenes in which the effect didn't quite work. They were about 98% there.


Not so here in Guardians 2. Russell looked like he just stepped off the set of Escape From New York or The Thing to film these scenes. 


Of course it didn't hurt that even at sixty six years of age, Kurt Russell is still amazingly youthful looking. Russell insists that they achieved the de-aging effect with "90% practical makeup," and just a little bit of touching up from a computer. Eh, I don't believe that. No amount of makeup on Earth is gonna make a sixty six year old look like he's in his twenties. 


James Gunn confirmed my suspicions, saying there was some practical makeup involved, but the majority of the effect was achieved with a LOT of painstaking and time-consuming CGI work.


By the way, Kurt Russell was the absolute perfect choice to play Ego. He's charming and charismatic, with just a slight undercurrent of menace that the role needs. I honestly can't think of a better actor to play the part.


The Marvel Cinematic Universe has always had a problem with its villains, as with the possible exception of Loki, they've all been sadly lacking. Russell's Ego is most definitely the best villain in the MCU (which I will admit is damning him with faint praise).


Kurt Russell actually got his start by appearing in Disney films in the late 1960s through the early 1970s. And now he's come full circle, making movies for them again in 2017!


• In the prologue, Laura Haddock reprises her role as Peter's mom, Meredith Quill. She played Meredith briefly in the first film's prologue as well, as we saw her on her death bed.


Haddock also had a very brief appearance in 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger, playing a fan of Steve Rogers.

• Ego and Meredith have a romantic interlude in the woods behind the local Dairy Queen. Later on when Ego's "Expansion" begins, we see a giant blue blob engulf the exact same DQ, thirty four years later.


If you look closely, you'll note that the 1980 Dairy Queen looks suitably retro, with an ad for banana splits on the marquee. It's been updated to a modern DQ in the 2014 scenes, with an ad for Blizzards. Nice attention to detail!


By the way, THIS is how you do product placement in a movie— unobtrusively and in the background. You don't make Dairy Queen part of the plot and stop the movie cold for a goddamned commercial (I'm lookin' at you, Power Rangers and Krispy Kreme!).


• According to James Gunn, this film takes place just four months after the first one, in 2014. So why isn't it taking place now, in 2017? I dunno. Maybe because Marvel Studios wants Peter Quill to be thirty four and not thirty seven, which is dangerously close to forty?

• At the end of the first movie, Groot sacrificed himself to save his teammates. Luckily Rocket was able to salvage a cutting from him, which grew into Baby Groot. Obviously he's a physical clone of the original Groot, but the question is, does he have his memories as well?


According to Gunn, no he does not. Groot's memories died with him, and Baby Groot is an entirely new "person."


• Speaking of Baby Groot— before the movie came out, I was a little worried that he'd turn out to be an obnoxious and annoying "cutesy" character, one designed to elicit squeals of "Awwwww!" from the audience and sell millions of toys.


I needed have worried. As usual, Gunn knows exactly what he's doing, and uses Baby Groot sparingly and effectively. He's in the movie jussssst the right amount, and his appearances are integral to the plot and never feel gratuitous. 


I think part of the character's success lies in the fact that Baby Groot acts like an actual toddler and not some wisecracking monstrosity designed by a marketing team.

Take note, filmmakers! Wanna make a "cute" character that doesn't fill the audience with rage and revulsion? Do it like this (Yeah, I'm lookin' at you, George Lucas, and Jar Jar Binks)!


• Right after I watched Guardians 2, I immediately sat down and rewatched the first movie. In it, I noticed that Drax spoke very formally, in an almost archaic manner. He said things like, "This vermin speaks of affairs he knows nothing about," "Spare me your foul gaze woman!" and "This one shows spirit. He shall make a keen ally in the battle against Ronan!"
Suddenly in the new film Drax speaks like a standard 21st Century human. I'm assuming this happened after hanging around with the other Guardians for a few months.

I'm not complaining here, mind you, it's just an observation. Drax is also much funnier in this film as well.



• Gamora asks Nebula why she hates her so much and is trying to kill her. Nebula says that when the two of them were kids, their father Thanos would make them compete with one another. Every time Gamora won, Thanos would punish Nebula by removing a part of her body and install a cybernetic replacement. Ouch!

Gamora must have lost a few times as well! When she's arrested by the Nova Corps in the first film, we see a computer readout during her "mug shot." It's hard to see here, but the readout says:

Last survivor of the Zehoberei race
Enhancements: 

Cybernetic skeleton
Ocular & respiratory implants, enhanced
Neurological system, enhanced
Regeneration implant

Kind of sounds like Thanos replaced a lot of her body parts too. Is Nebula not aware of that? Or were Gamora's enhancements considered "rewards," to make her a better assassin?


I guess Gamora's cyborg parts are what allows her to do things like this.

By the way, during that mug shot scene, Star-Lord's readout says he has a "translator implant in neck." I guess that's to explain how he can speak to and understand different alien races?

 One of the few complaints I had about the first film was that Yondu was missing his trademark head fin, and instead had what appeared to be a pale red soap dish glued to the top of his noggin.

He finally gets his proper head fin about halfway through Guardians 2. Huzzah! Annnnnnd then he's killed off a few minutes later. Sigh...

By the way, in the film;s his fin is some kind of cybernetic control mechanism that he uses to control his flying Yaka arrow. In the comics his fin was just a natural feature of his particular race.

And speaking of Yondu's race... after his crew mutinies and he's locked up, he tells Rocket that he was a Kree slave who was freed by Stakar. That's a major change from the comics, where Yondu is a member of the Zatoan Tribe of Centauri IV.


But you know what? I'm OK with this change! It would no doubt confuse the audience if there was more than one race of blue skinned aliens in the films, so it makes sense to simplify things a bit and make Yondu a Kree.


This is the fifth collaboration between writer/director James Gunn and actor Michael Rooker, who plays Yondu. Rooker appeared in Slither, Super, Guardians Of The Galaxy and The Belko Experiment (which Gunn wrote but did not direct).


 In the comics Mantis has a very convoluted backstory that would take several hours to explain. She started out as a half German, half Vietnamese human who learned advanced martial arts skills from living with the alien Kree. Recently the character was overhauled and is now a green-skinned alien.

Gunn decided to alter the character again for the film, giving her pink skin, as he didn't want two green females on the team. He kept her alien origin as well, as he wanted Peter Quill to be the only Guardian from Earth.


• Back when Guardians Of The Galaxy came out, I said I loved the film, but even I had to admit it was pretty much just a big-budget version of Farscape.
Every main character in the film had a analogue on the show. There's the wisecracking human who's transported to the other side of the galaxy, the beautiful and deadly female assassin, the stoic, hulking strongman, the wisecracking diminutive alien, and the serene plant-like being.

Welp, that trend continues in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2In Guardians 2, an exotic-looking alien girl named Mantis joins the crew. She has psychic powers that allow her to feel and affect other people's emotions.

In Farscape, an exotic-looking alien girl named Chiana joined the crew halfway through the first season. After a while she developed psychic powers that allowed her to see the future.


In Guardians 2, Yondu vowed revenge on Peter Quill and pursued him across the galaxy. Eventually he abandoned his quest for revenge and became a member of the crew.

In Farscape, an evil Peacekeeper named Crais vowed revenge on main character John Crichton and pursued the crew across the galaxy. Eventually Crais abandoned his quest for revenge and became an ally and sometime member of the crew.


• In my review of Guardians Of The Galaxy, I said since it was so similar to Farscape, it would be a nice touch if actor Ben Browder, aka John Crichton, played Peter Quill's father.

That didn't come to pass of course, as Kurt Russell ended up playing Ego, and I have to admit he was the best possible choice.


That said, somebody at Marvel Studios must have been listening to me, because Ben Browder actually has a small part in Guardians 2! He plays the gold-skinned Sovereign Admiral, Ayesha's right hand man.


I like Browder, but unfortunately he affects the absolute worst British accent here that I've heard since Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves!


• Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 also has a number of obvious parallels with The Empire Strikes Back. The characters and their world are expanded, the team is split up, they've got an evil space empire chasing after them, there's a chase through a bigger, more dangerous asteroid field, a character betrays the team and then redeems himself and there's even a huge father figure reveal.

• If I had to come up with one complaint about the film, it would be that James Gunn has a slightly annoying tendency to punctuate his dramatic moments with a joke. This often has the unfortunate effect of completely undercutting the movie's more powerful moments.

Case in point: Late in the film, Ego lets it slip that he killed Meredith Quill, which enrages Peter. He roars, "You shouldn't have killed my mom and squished my Walkman!" Cue slide whistle sound effect! Any tension or drama Peter was feeling was immediately deflated by that stupid Walkman aside, and was completely out of place here. Think how much more powerful that moment would have been without the quip!

Undercutting with a joke might be OK if he did it once, maybe twice, but he does it over and over. It's OK to have a heavy, serious line of dialogue once in a while.

• In the film, the Sovereign pilot their attack ships by remote control (using pods that look very much like video game consoles, complete with Galaga sound effects). Ayesha, the Sovereign leader, explains that they do this so as not to endanger the invaluable members of their society.

Although that works fine within the confines of the story, I wonder if there wasn't a real world reason for this. By having the Sovereign pilot their ships remotely, the Guardians could destroy as many of them as they wanted, without actually killing anyone. This prevented out heroes from becoming mass murderers!
 


• Kudos to James Gunn for sneaking an alien brothel, complete with hooker-bots, into a Disney movie. And in case there was any doubt as to what was happening, when we first see Yondu he's putting his pants back on as a sex-bot stands nearby.


• In the film, a Ravager named Taserface leads a mutiny against Yondu, claiming he's become too soft.

Believe it or not, Taserface is actually a character from the comics. He's a warrior from a cybernetically enhanced people called The Stark. This race got ahold of Iron Man technology that somehow ended up on their planet, and they worship Tony Stark as a god (!).

• Since the film premiered, fans have been trying to figure out just what Star-Lord's new t-shirt (that he apparently picked up in an alien boutique) is supposed to say. At first glance I thought it just said "Yeah Baby" in some weird font, but quickly realized that didn't make any sense.

Fortunately the internet sprang into action and solved the riddle. Supposedly the shirt reads "Gears Shift," which actor Chris Pratt says is the name of some kind of space candy (?).

This is allegedly the alien alphabet, which is called "Klyn." It's from Territory Studios, who did the graphics for the first film. I dunno... if this is supposed to be a simple "substitution alphabet," then something's off somewhere. According to this, the letter "G" looks like "Phi" in the Greek alphabet, but the "Gears Shift" shirt doesn't start with this symbol. Either this chart is seriously messed up or whoever made the shirt couldn't spell very well!

• James Gunn has become a master of knowing when to shut up and SHOW us what his characters are thinking, rather than have them needlessly explain their thoughts to the audience.


Case in point: Drax and Mantis sit on the steps of Ego's castle. She places her hand on Drax's arm, using her empathic powers to sense what he's feeling. She immediately starts weeping openly, as she experiences the overwhelming sadness Drax still feels over the death of his wife Hovat and daughter Kamaria. And yet Drax sits quietly as he stoically stares into the distance.

A lesser filmmaker would have written a five minute speech for Drax here, but it wasn't necessary. Mantis' reaction told us everything we needed to know.


• Even though I love this movie quite a bit, I have to admit it has its share of plot holes:

After Ego fathers Peter on Earth, he has to leave the planet to recharge his human body. He then hires Yondu to abduct Peter and bring him back to his own planet, to see if he carries the Celestial gene.


Yondu realizes what Ego's planning, and refuses to hand Peter over to him. Ego spends the next thirty years or so searching for Peter.


Why was it so hard for Ego to find him? Think of it this way: You hire a guy to abduct your son from his caretakers and bring him to you. Unfortunately he's never delivered to you. Don't you think the first thing you might do is knock on the door of the man you hired to abduct him in the first place? That seems like a good place to start! Plus... he even says he's a god ("Small 'g,' son"). A god can't find one guy?


The Sovereign use remotely-piloted drones to attack the Guardians, so as not to endanger their own people. Yet Alesha willingly travels to a dangerous frontier planet in person to offer Yondu a job. Couldn't she have just sent him a space text?

Where'd the Ravagers find a Baby Groot-sized jumpsuit? Do they have Star Trek-style replicators?


Yondu's wearing his signature red fin on his head when he's cremated at the end of the film. A few minutes later in the end credits, we see Kraglin wearing it as he practices using Yondu's arrow. Whoops!

I guess it's possible Yondu had a spare fin lying around in the ship.

There were probably other glitches, but those are the ones I remember off the top of my head. Honestly, they didn't bother me or dampen my enjoyment of the film any. 


Now I know what you're thinking— that I'm a huge hypocrite, as I routinely write fifty thousand word reviews that tear down films and list their dozens of plot holes in minute detail, but then I give this movie's mistakes a free pass.

See, it's all about the overall tone, and how a movie makes you feel while watching it. Guardians 2 is a well-written and well-directed movie, but it's also a hell of a lot of fun to watch. That goes a lonnnnng way toward forgiving the occasional flub.

• Ego claims he's an ancient being called a Celestial. He says that eons ago, he sprang into being as a big space brain and gradually built a planet around himself.

Both Ego and Celestials appear in Marvel comics, but there they're completely different things. In the comics, Ego is a Cosmic Entity, and takes the form of a sentient planet whose geographic features form a gigantic face.

Celestials are a race of gigantic and powerful beings who wear elaborate armor, and meddle with the development of life in the universe. We briefly saw a Celestial in the original Guardians Of The Galaxy.

Once again, I think Gunn is probably changing things for the sake of simplicity. It's much easier for general audiences to understand if Ego just says he's a Celestial, rather than going into a long, drawn out dissertation on the cosmic races of the Marvel Universe.

By the way, there's a shot in the film where Kraglin arrives at Ego's planet to save the Guardians. As his ship flies across the screen, we see the planet in the background, and it has a giant craggy face, exactly like in the comics. Awesome!

• So Ego is a giant space brain that just popped into existence out in space one day. This is called a "Boltzmann Brain," and it's supposedly a real theory. According to physicist Ludwig Boltzmann (1844-1906), a Boltzmann Brain is a hypothesized self-aware entity that arises due to random fluctuations out of a state of chaos. The theory has something to do with why there's such a degree of order in our universe, instead of just a state of nothingness.

I'm not even gonna pretend to understand any of that, and I don't know if James Gunn based Ego on it, but I just thought I'd throw it out there.

• Ego explains his master plan to Peter, saying he traveled the galaxy and sired thousands of children on many different planets. He illustrates this with a series of dioramas, which show Ego (who looks like Young Kurt Russell) hooking up with a variety of alien women with radically different body types. 

Did Ego really appear to these aliens as a human male? That seems unlikely, as a tentacled alien or a gelatinous blob would likely find him repulsive— not to mention their genitals would likely be incompatible.


I'm betting Ego probably altered his body to look like whatever race he was trying to get busy with, and his dioramas just showed him as a human for the sake of simplicity.


• Yondu's spaceship is controlled by a goddamned steering wheel, which is something only James Gunn could get away with in a movie.

• When Yondu's ship is destroyed, he and Peter somehow escape just in the nick of time. Peter uses his jetpack to land, while Yondu holds onto his Yaka arrow, which gently lowers him to the ground. Peter looks up at Yondu and laughs, and the two have the following conversation:


Peter: "You look like Mary Poppins!"

Yondu: "Is he cool?"
Peter: "Hell yeah, he's cool."
Yondu: "I'm Mary Poppins, y'all!"

I laughed harder at that line than I have at anything in a long, long time. And it made perfect sense! Of course an alien on the other side of the galaxy wouldn't know the character, or that Mary's a girl's name.

I know Disney's planning a Mary Poppins remake starring Emily Blunt. Forget her! I want a movie with Michael Rooker as Mary!


• There are quite a few cast reunions in Guardians 2, many of them involving Kurt Russell. Russell starred with Sylvester Stallone in Tango & Cash, and with Michael Rooker in Tombstone. Russell also appeared with Vin Diesel in Furious 7 and The Fate Of The Furious. And Michael Rooker and Sylvester Stallone worked together in Cliffhanger.


• Gregg Henry played Peter's grandpa very briefly in the first film.

Grandpa Quill actually makes an even briefer appearance in Guardians 2. When Ego's Expansion Project begins, a large blue blob blossoms on Earth. It threatens to engulf a blue SUV...

Fortunately Peter's able to defeat Ego, and the blob stops growing just in time. We then see a very quick cut of Grandpa Quill (and lady friend!) inside the SUV. Note that Gregg Henry's wearing old age makeup here, since he's twenty six years older than the last time we saw him!

Supposedly the Guardians will be in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War films. Now that we know Grandpa Quill is alive and well, maybe we'll get a reunion between him and Peter. After all, the last time Grandpa saw him he was eight years old. He doesn't even know if he's alive or not.

• 
As the Ravager ships light up the sky with fireworks at Yondu's funeral, his burning ashes float out of the ship and form a crude arrow shape.


• During his battle with Ego, Peter's beloved Walkman (a gift from his mother?) was destroyed. At the end of the movie, Kraglin gives Peter a replacement he found in a junker shop: A Zune! Awesome! And it holds and amazing three hundred songs! Incredible!

The joke here of course is that the Zune was Microsoft's answer to the iPod, but ended up being an epic flop. Supposedly it was a decent device (other than a slight tendency to freeze up for no reason), but it didn't offer anything that the iPod didn't, making it pretty much obsolete the moment it was released. It premiered in 2006, and was finally discontinued in 2011. 

Peter wouldn't know any of that though, hence his wide-eyed wonder at the fact that this amazing device can hold three hundred songs.

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is the rare sequel that actually surpasses the original film. It's one of the most entertaining movies I've seen in god knows how long, and is incredibly fun to watch. It's also oddly emotional and moving, as writer/director James Gunn somehow takes these incredibly silly characters and turns them into real, flesh and blood people that the audience cares about. I'm give it an unapologetic A. Not because it's from Marvel Studios, but because it's a good movie. Get a good look at this grade, because I don't hand these out very often.

2 comments:

  1. They don't "find" a baby groot sized jumpsuit; the dude says "take him to the tailor" or something: they make the suit.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Cool review! I thin, regarding the fin, the one Rocket put on Yondu was a prototype. I'm sure Rocket could've studied it or found schematics and either finished an incomplete fin or put together a whole new one for Kraglin.

    But Yondu also states that he doesn't control the arrow with his fin, he controls it with his heart. :)

    ReplyDelete

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