Rating: 3 Stars
The following review contains spoilers.
The Guardians of the Galaxy, high off their victory against Ronan the Accuser, have taken a job helping the Sovereign fend off an attack from an interdimensional monster that wants to eat their incredibly valuable Harbulary batteries. They succeed in fending off the beast, but Rocket, in a fit of greed, steals some of the batteries for himself, causing the Sovereign to send the full force of their fleet after the Guardians. Our “heroes” manage to escape with the help of a tiny one-inch man (or possibly he’s just far away?), who soon reveals himself to be Star-Lord’s biological dad, Ego.
While Rocket, Groot, and prisoner Nebula stay behind to fix their damaged ship, the rest of the Guardians go with Ego back to his home planet, also called Ego. There Ego explains that he’s a celestial, who has spent the last few decades of his life in a mortal body, exploring the universe and, in doing so, fell in love with Star-Lord’s mother. He hired Yondu and the Ravagers to bring Star-Lord to him when his mother died, but for some reason they ended up keeping him for themselves.
The Sovereign have also hired Yondu to capture and/or kill the Guardians because of the battery theft, and Yondu uses the tracking device he left on the Guardians’ ship to quickly locate Rocket and company. However, when Yondu reveals he has no intention of actually turning them over, instead planning to take the batteries himself, his crew mutinies, locking up all of the named characters and ejecting all of the unnamed ones out the airlock. Meanwhile, back on Ego’s planet, Gamora and Drax, with the help of Ego’s pet empath Mantis, come to realize that Ego may not be as benevolent a “small-g” god as he claims.
This movie looks incredible. The CG is basically flawless, with characters like Rocket and Groot looking as real as any of the actual human actors. The production design is jaw-droppingly beautiful, from the spectacular not-quite-natural vistas of Ego to the grimy neon-lit red light district where Yondu’s crew is hanging out when the Sovereign finds them. Every character and every location is absolute visual treat.
The new characters are uniformly great. I’m fascinated by the Sovereign, and especially Elizabeth Debicki’s so-refined-she’s-unhinged performance. Kurt Russell’s ravenous Ego is believable both as a god and as a man that could effortlessly seduce his way across the universe. Pom Klementieff turns Mantis, potentially a one-note joke character, into someone both incredibly sympathetic and very funny, and I loved the way she would pronounce some words as if it were the first time she’d ever spoken them.
Some elements of the overall story work. The idea to use the song “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” as the basis for Ego’s entire character is inspired. As is having the ultimate egoist drag around empathy as a pet, to be employed when useful and ignored when not.
I liked the inclusion of the Watchers with Stan Lee. If you’re someone who cares about forcing everything in the MCU to fit into continuity, this scene is both a blessing and a curse (as his reference to being a “FedEx Driver” technically takes places after this film).
The music continues to be excellent, and used to great effect. I especially loved the inclusion of “Mr. Blue Sky” and “Father and Son”.
“I’m gonna make some weird shit.”
The emotional core of the movie is that Star-Lord realizes that Yondu is more of a “daddy” to him than Ego, and that he loves him. I’ve seen many reports of people crying at this scene and mourning Yondu’s death. For me, this is completely crazy. The morality of this movie and of this response to it makes no sense to me.
Yondu is someone who was kicked out of a criminal organization for being too evil. This is someone who dealt in human trafficking of children for, what, years? We’re supposed to be horrified at Ego when we find his cave of skeletons, but Yondu helped put those skeletons there. And you can say, “Oh he didn’t know Ego was killing them,” but I think the families of those children would take cold-comfort in that. Oh you mean he was only kidnapping our children and selling them all to the same weird guy, assuming I guess they were all really happy once they got there? And eventually he felt kind of bad about it? He’s a hero!
Also, we have a term for what Star-Lord feels for Yondu, it’s called “Stockholm syndrome”. Forget that he’s been kidnapped, which again is evil, but he tells us explicitly in both films that he was beaten, threatened, and forced to help them commit crimes.
By any measure, Yondu has done more evil than a lot of Marvel’s actual main villains. Yellowjacket has nothing on this guy. He killed like one dude, threatened a kid, and wanted to sell weapons to terrorists. Yondu has killed at least dozens, maybe hundreds, including many, many children, and has almost certainly trafficked weapons as well.
But he said he’s Mary Poppins! He’s adorable! No, according to the actual text of this movie, he’s a monster, and the dissonance here is insane. Personally I believe more than most that family are the people you care about, and not the people you happen to share blood with, and so I’m incredibly susceptible to the message here, but that doesn’t apply when you’re talking about the person who kidnapped and regularly beat you.
Also, Yondu’s big action scene where he kills all the Ravagers is boring. It’s boring when a character is basically invincible and defeats all his enemies without breaking a sweat. This is basically a “cool guys don’t look at explosions” scene and those are uniformly boring.
The first Guardians is one of Marvel’s funniest films, and Vol. 2 is, for me, one of their least funny. And I don’t need every superhero movie to be funny, but this one is trying so very hard, and the jokes just flop and flop and flop. It’s not 100% flops but the number is quite high.
The “It’s not ripe” runner is bad. The “David Hasselhoff” runner is bad. The “Mantis is ugly” runner is bad. The “Taserface” runner is bad.
Drax went from being a breakout star of the first film to one of the worst parts of this one. Instead of being a basically serious-minded warrior who takes everything literally, he’s been reduced to a constantly guffawing buffoon who has sensitive nipples and huge turds.
Some more bad jokes:
“Yeah, I was talking about, like, a pretty necklace. Or a nice hat. You know, something to make the other girls go, ‘Ooh, that’s nice.’” Kraglin overall just sucks in this movie, and it’s painfully obvious that he has a much bigger part only because he’s the director’s brother (and I like Sean Gunn in other things, like Gilmore Girls, so I’m not blaming him for this).
“He says, ‘Welcome to the frickin’ Guardians of the Galaxy,’ only he didn’t use ‘frickin’’.” This is maybe the worst line of dialogue in any Marvel Studios film? How the hell did this survive even the first edit?