Lucky enough to attend the European première of the latest Marvel Studios offering, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 at London’s Hammersmith Apollo, Orbital’s Thomas and Adam go head-to-head here for a spoiler-free review.
Adam Karenina Sherif: So, Volume 2 of Marvel’s leftfield smash success, Guardians of the Galaxy. We’re so far in with the Marvel movies now that I honestly don’t see them all, but Guardians was always going to be unmissable. In the broader strokes, it’s more of what made the first film so wonderfully fun and accessible.
Thomas Gunning: And it really is a great deal of fun, moving at a brisk pace from sequence to sequence, this film’s two hours and sixteen minute run time is lost in the joyful exuberance of the cast and their characters who are all obviously having the time of their lives and so do we. So much so that you’re more than happy to ignore the fact that there is even less plot/story in this Marvel movie than usual with these films. Which I think is actually a testament to the talent of James Gunn.
There are more than just thrills to enjoy here, there is the expected comedy of course but the heartbreak that was so much a part of the first Guardians film is a big part of proceedings. Perhaps not quite as much of a gut punch, the emotional pain/turmoil shared out between a number of the main characters is actually quite heart-wrenching in places and made this moaning old misery guts sniffle a little.
AKS: Yeah, I do feel the character arcs were really strong this time around. Everyone moves forward, which is lovely. I was especially impressed with the space given over to Nebula and Yondu, and the performances by Karen Gillan and Michael Rooker respectively. Nebula’s so great that her performance actually lends depth of character to Gamora by proxy, and in such a way that creates a genuinely affecting moral grey tone.
The lack of a singular, main plot or mission does definitely feel a little odd though. The eventual story beats towards the end of the film are almost given away by the time they occur, just because there aren’t really any other narrative possibilities left by then. The film actually reminds me of the Image book Saga in that regard. Nothing really happens, but you get to check in and spend some time with characters you love and see how they’re doing, how they’re growing. I suppose the main result, without wanting to do details, is a new line-up for the team. Maybe that’s the main story in the end – a team in transition, setting them up for whatever the next installment holds.
TG: The Nebula/Gamora conflict feels like it was perhaps originally conceived to be a sub-plot that would cover three films, there was an awkward rush (or an entirely necessary one given the lack of plot) to cover a fair bit of ground regarding their relationship in such a short space of time and although it was one of the highlights of the film for me it still felt like it belonged in the next installment after a bit more conflict emotional or otherwise.
The moral grey area you mention is all over this movie especially when you consider just how many of the main characters are actually criminals and have done/or been party to truly terrible things. None of which is explored with too much depth lest we stop loving these people but what there is of this exploration leads to perhaps the most heroic and loving redemptive moment in the whole film, a film that is about morality and about fatherhood.
AKS: Actually, pulling back and looking at the film thematically, fatherhood may actually be the central motif of the film. Without being oppressive or overly belaboured, it really does govern all of the characters’s emotional arcs. For example, while the search for his father dominates Star-Lord’s story, it’s also a more subtle component in Rocket’s narrative. And despite the core cast all being a bunch of reprobates, as you say, what’s really lovely is that there’s variation and nuance in how these thematic explorations play out for each of them. To have a superhero team film meditate on something and not feel repetitive is a massive achievement.
The way it all plays out without becoming tired definitely owes to the consistent and irrepressible humour of the piece. We rarely dwell on any build-up moments too long before a comedic break cuts in. But it’s not just to please audiences, the jokes work brilliantly to move the viewer along without fixating too much on the heavier subtext at hand. When the emotional turns come later on then, they hit really, really hard. Dave Bautista’s performance as Drax probably exemplifies this best. He’s outlandishly funny throughout, by turns innocently alien and fiendishly crude, but when he speaks with gravitas, it connects with impact. Substantively.
TG: The Humour is fantastic but is also very, very misleading as you say. It hides what’s really going on and Drax is a good example of that; although he doesn’t really have an arc in this installment, it’s his arc from the last film that informs a very important moment in this one. His experience as a father is instrumental, without going too much into details, and where he is at that moment in his life. He is also the member of the team in whose arms a specific main character feels safe enough to fall asleep in despite their relationship throughout the majority of the film.
I feel I need to take back my assertion that this film has no story and, using your term from our on-going spoiler chat (which we’ll rehash passionately in a podcast very soon), that it is in fact a meditation. This film is fundamentally a meditation on fatherhood and to a lesser extent Parenthood in general; the humour is the magician’s glamour disguising and distracting attention away from the fact that the Father figure dominates the lives and relationships of almost every single character in one way or another. This is something that is very difficult to discuss in a non-spoiler fashion as beat after beat of this film moves as a result of the role, action and revelation/inspiration of a Father figure and there are far too many instances and occurrences relating to this idea for it not to be intentional and textual surely.
AKS: Yep, it’s definitely not incidental. Teasing this out, there’s so much more going on than I thought at first reaction, and it’s pretty great. Difficult to get inside of it all without spoilers though! I’m still not sure there’s all that much in the way of plot, but there is story. I want to see this film again and then get really spoiler-y on a podcast soon. Stay tuned, everyone.