Spoiler Alert Saturday :: our thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

6 May

So, here’s the thing about James Gunn as a filmmaker. James Gunn really likes several things: music, explosions, sexy women, over-the-top violence and/or gore, and jokes. I like all of those things, sometimes, in some contexts. The problem is that James Gunn likes them all the time, even when the plot would perhaps be better served by focusing on something else. And that’s kind of my problem with both Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

This one is…about what I expected. It’s about Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) coming to terms with his long-buried daddy issues, but it’s also trying to be a story about found family, but it’s also trying to be a story about assholes who turn out to be jerks with hearts of gold, but it’s also trying to be a story about forgiveness and redemption, but it’s also a story about shitty people who kind of dislike each other coming together and admitting they all love each other anyway because they’re a family. Oh and it’s also a comedy, and it’s also a movie where hundreds of people die horrifically onscreen. Yeah.

And there are parts of it that are great! There are. Mantis (Pom Klementieff) is absolutely wonderful and the bits with Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) are heartwrenching; the soundtrack is a lot of fun and space sure is pretty. There are some funny jokes. Ego (Kurt Russell) was a well-acted, if terrifying, villain and also at one point a glowy octopus. It’s… fine. It’s what it is. But it’s also got the aforementioned horrific deaths, a narratively underutilized planet of gold and crazy eugenicist people, a damn raccoon who needed to not, way too many moments devoted to relishing the surprise manpain of men whose pain probably wasn’t actually necessary to the story and usually involved daddies, and the actual canonical use of the word “daddy.” So it’s a mixed bag.

Mantis is Ego’s adopted indentured servant (it makes sense in context), having been found in infancy and raised by him. (This continues the theme of this subfranchise’s women being unnervingly characterized by the men who controlled and abused them. This is true of Nebula and Gamora, of course, and this is true of my poor beloved pink rageball Carina [Ophelia Lovibond], whose rebellion against her – let’s not mince words – captor killed her spectacularly. It’s an uncomfortable trend, although Carina is its only complete casualty so far.) She is charmingly ignorant in regards to social interactions (similarly to Drax [Dave Bautista]) and wants very badly to make friends and please people. She is an empath, who can pick up on others’ emotions by touch and share emotions with them, as well as ease the pain of others and send them to sleep. Because she’s been so isolated, she believes everything she’s told without question. This could easily have gone several horrifying directions, but fortunately the movie didn’t do that. Her arc in this movie is about learning what love and friendship are, and how to stand up to her master and help her new friends defeat him. She even gets a heroic moment at the end where she has to use her powers against her master for the first time ever. She and Drax bond and by the end have become close friends – luckily the film heads off any romantic subplot with them right away. He finds her physically repulsive, and she agrees – “I don’t even like the type of thing that you are!” (We, naturally, took this to mean she’s gay.)

Gamora, in the film’s opening scene, has clearly become comfortable with both her role as a Guardian and her teammates. She’s sarcastic but she clearly gives a shit, and indeed she’s still (surprise) the more capable fighter in many regards. She’s practical. She’s kickass. She gets straight to the point in dealing with the High Priestess of the Sovereign (Elizabeth Debicki), who are those creepy gold people we’re going to talk about in a minute. She’s honestly the only thing that’s keeping these idiots together, which would be – not charming, exactly, but fine, if it wasn’t so clearly just the woman carrying the emotional burden of everyone. She rolls her eyes so much that someone’s mother from the 1960s probably shouted, spiritually, about them getting stuck that way. And she’s back in the company of her adopted sister Nebula, looking to collect a bounty on her head (allegedly – I don’t know what they actually intended to imply but in my emotionally optimistic read there is at least a part of Gamora that had no such intention, having never given up on Nebula). Nebula in this movie is maybe even more angry than she was in the first movie, if that’s possible. They did give her slightly more motivation and a better arc this time, though, as it explains that as children Thanos used to make them fight each other, and every time Gamora beat her Thanos would remove a part of Nebula’s body and replace it with robotics to “make her better.” At one point she screams at Gamora “I just wanted a sister!” The scene where they talk about this is really lovely, tragic and full of pathos. (Unfortunately it’s spoiled by a quick cut to another fight scene.) I wanted more scenes with the two of them, but I’m happy with what we got. I hope my suspicion about Nebula’s fate in future movies isn’t correct, because I want them to be able to be happy and safe together.

Kurt Russell’s Ego is equal parts ridiculously cheesy and horrifying. He gives the character a nice air of menace that manages to carry it through the silliest moments (including one where his planet-self grows a face and begins to talk). Some of the effects were really iffy, especially once where he rebuilds his human body and we see each layer of muscle, bone, and so forth growing. I think this was supposed to be scary, and it is unnerving, but the CGI looks like mid-2000s SyFy Channel Movie nonsense, and also he is a walking talking skeleton at one point and that is just absurd. Or, in its glowing blue space light form, his body resembles our old friend the Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy, only blue instead of red, which means that I was incapable of taking it seriously. But the character… well, when he’s not working that charismatic asshole vibe of his (I’m biased; my first real exposure to the man was Death Proof and I can never unsee that) he manages to hit a lot of really awful buttons. A thesis of the MCU seems to be, by and large, that dads are bad. This is not to say that daddy issues are something I want to watch a movie about ever again, because they’re not, but daddy issues are only a part of the problem. Daddy issues are on the part of the child relating to the dad; most MCU dads (with the notable exceptions of Mike Peterson [J. August Richards] and Framework!Mack [Henry Simmons] in Agents of SHIELD) are bad at relating not only to their child(ren) but to the other people around them, as well as their environments. Ego takes that to the next level, and let me just say that his name is not a coincidence (of course it’s not, because there is no subtlety in these names).

The Sovereign is a planet and also a race of people. They are, as I mentioned, gold. Their hair is gold, their skin is gold, their eyes are gold, their clothing is at least somewhat gold, a lot of their surroundings are gold. They are also, by the admission of their High Priestess, carefully engineered for perfection and specific purposes from their conceptions, which are artificial and seem absolutely terrifying. Hence, eugenics. They’re frightful snobs and much is made of this; they don’t take well to loss or slights. Why? Because they’re frightful snobs, I guess. My disappointment here is that I could very easily see how Elizabeth Debicki could be an absolute delight as a shiny space villainess, because there were moments of very good crazy in her eyes, but her function in the plot was weirdly tertiary; my horror here is, well, eugenics.

Rocket continues to be irritating. I do not understand why he is the mascot of this franchise.

Also, Gunn has a weird relationship with death, which is to say that he seems to think gratuitous, horrifying death is funny? Like, there’s an extended sequence of Ravagers putting one of their own out an airlock and then the camera pans out and you see a trail of bodies behind that one, maybe thirty or forty people, and you definitely watch that one guy as he freezes to death in space, and it’s just really unpleasant. Then immediately after this Rocket starts making fun of a guy called Taserface. There is also a scene where Yondu (Michael Rooker) uses his arrow that responds to whistling to murder everyone who mutinied against him, which I think was meant to be funny? The song playing is certainly upbeat. But I did not enjoy it at all. This movie probably has the highest onscreen body count in the MCU and most of it was just played like a joke, and that made me uneasy.

–your fangirl heroines.

yes20i20am20right

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