Comic Review Written and Drawn by David Yoder
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: From Summer Mixtape to Full LP
Written Review by David Carter
The first Guardians of the Galaxy came out in 2014 and scored a point in a category the Marvel Cinematic Universe desperately needed at the time. The MCU needed films that felt like they were of different visions of different people, and not movies made by committee. Now while I disagree with that assessment, (I don’t know how you could put Thor next to Captain America: The Winter Soldier and tell me they feel samey, but whatever) James Gunn and company turned out something that felt distinctly like it came from one vision from start to finish. Also, it was just a blast. However if you were to ask anyone about the plot of that movie (especially if they had seen it only once when it came out 3 years ago) they would probably struggle to recall anything past a few choice moments (it’s a movie that just hinges around a particularly uninteresting MacGuffin and even less interesting villain), but they would be able to tell you everything about the characters, the tone and soundtrack. Everything felt so distinct and fresh even as it dipped its toes into late 70’s and early 80’s iconography. The movie felt (and sounded) like a great mixtape an older sibling or parent would give you. Something to put on while you went cruisin’ around on a warm summer day with your friends.
If Guardians of the Galaxy was the mixtape you sometimes dig out of a box to put you in a good mood, then Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 is the album that sends you through a vortex of emotions and memories that you’re not always prepared for, but you spin the record anyway. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 is much more of a concept album than it’s predecessor’s pop single addled brain. It’s a record about family and all the good and heartbreaking bad that comes with that. These irreverent characters who would occasionally only flash you glimpses of their scar tissue from their troubled childhoods in the first film are now made to bare all the wounds of abuse, abandonment, and accommodation.
Vol. 2 picks up about right where you think it would, with our heroes fighting a tentacled inter-dimensional space beast while a tiny talking tree boy dances to ELO’s “Mister Blue Sky”. You know, a typical opening to a movie. The Guardians have been employed by a gold skinned, genetically superior and physically alluring race called “The Sovereign” to keep the beast away from draining their power generators, the batteries for which are worth buku bucks on the black market. After a rocky congratulations ceremony for stopping the monster, where Rocket (Bradley Cooper in debatably his only likable role) insults the leader of The Sovereign, Ayesha (a statuesque Elizabeth Debicki). The slight hangs over the proceedings even as Ayesha holds up her end of the bargain, and drags Gamora’s (a much better utilized Zoe Saldana) sister and minor antagonist of the last film, Nebula (an even better utilized Karen Gillan) out in bondage. The Guardians plan on taking her to prison for her crimes but, as they leave the planet they’re being pursued by a fleet of remote controlled Sovereign ships. Turns out Rocket stole a hand full of batteries to add further insult to injury. Justifiably angry, Peter (the ever affable Chris Pratt) tries to take control of the ship away from Rocket during a dogfight in a quantum asteroid field (science fiction is a very good) and in the process gets the ship torn in half and forced to crash land on a nearby planet. Right before this, however, Rocket spies a mysterious ship piloted (but in the same way you see someone pilot a horse drawn carriage) by a devilishly handsome man standing atop the vessel. He follows our heroes down to the planet to reveal himself. He’s the same man we see in a prologue romancing a woman he affectionately calls “River Lily”. He calls himself Ego (the universe’s most perfect being Kurt Russell) and drops the bomb that he’s Peter’s biological father.
Meanwhile Ayesha has contacted the Ravager group led by Yondu (MVP Michael Rooker) to hunt down The Guardians so that she may take her revenge on them. It’s clear Yondu doesn’t want to do it for various reasons (one of which has to do with his past infractions against the “Ravager Code” ) but his crew (except for his right hand man Kraglin played by “modern day Ted Raimi” Sean Gun) doesn’t take too kindly to this sign of weakness and mutinies. It’s with this we have the set-up for the film, a multi-front assault on The Guardians while they figure out who the enigmatic Ego character is on a planet seemingly only inhabited by him and an empath named Mantis (amazing newcomer Pom Klementieff). While that sounds like a formula for another ultra bombastic summerslam, the movie plays out closer to something like a bottle episode of a T.V. show. One where characters spend most of their time in small spaces talking about their internal turmoil so that audience can get a clearer sense of who these people are. It turns out that The Guardians are abused bastards adrift in a big galaxy with nothing but emotional barriers to protect them. Each character and their internal conflicts play like a song on a unified album.
Rocket pushes everyone but Groot away from him simply because it’s easier to be standoffish with people than to be vulnerable to anything they can throw at him. He’s incredibly thinned skin, but it makes sense since he was clearly abused as part of whatever process created him. He’s been mostly alone his whole life and it’s clear that only Groot has been a salve for him, the same way a dog can be when we feel the bottom approaching. He shares a kinship with Yondu who even points that they’re the same person, ornery suckers ready to lash out at the world for giving them a cross look because of the guilt they feel from past mistakes. It makes them skilled at survival but untouchable sympathetically.
Drax (played by Dave Bautista who has better comedy chops than some comedians) is special in his display of emotion. He’s not closed off emotionally. As a matter of fact he’s open and unfiltered to a fault, but his mannerisms feel unnatural and sometimes stunted to people. Except for when he expresses joy (usually from schadenfreude), which burst out of him like a geyser. However when it comes to other emotions they’re cloaked, it’s why James Gunn has the master stroke of pairing him with Mantis. Mantis being a character that can know how someone is feeling just by touch, but has a hard time reading social cues. The pairing is played for comedic effect but it also paints a portrait of two people coming to understand each other through touch, another avenue of emotional expression. It culminates in a scene where Drax reminisces about his family stoically leading Mantis to touch him and experience what he’s feeling and the results are overwhelming to say no more.
Gamora and Nebula’s antagonistic relationship isn’t just born out of the seemingly separate paths both of them chose to walk once they reached maturity, but out of an abuse of an adoptive father who never saw them as being worthy of his love but used that as a carrot to pit them against each other. This meant while Gamora was the more adept at combat and tactics of the two at a young age and received the proverbial carrot, Nebula constantly got the stick. Thanos would strip away parts of Nebula at every defeat until she felt she was something that was barely human. She felt that Gamora did nothing to make her feel safe or loved and so turned against her, but Gamora understandably did what any child would do to survive under the circumstances and adapted to the environment. Not out of hate or spite for Nebula but for survival and stability of her then immature ego.
Speaking of ego and fathers, this wouldn’t be a Marvel movie if we didn’t dig into some daddy issues. Vol. 2 decides to make it a focal point instead of flavor. Peter Quill is a character running around with a chip on his shoulder because of the mass of abandonment issues he has. So it comes as no surprise that when the picture of the perfect father comes into his life he’s apprehensive but open to accepting it. He recounts his childhood under Yondu as terrifying, but as the movie progresses and Yondu tells the story from his side, it is clear that Peter may have more fatherly baggage than he knew.
All of these meditations play out with only slightly more subtlety as the family business in a Fast and Furious movie, but subtlety isn’t what you’re always looking for in an album or a film or what have you. Sometimes you want something that gets right to the heart of how you feel with only minimal metaphor. Sometimes you just want to press play on something that’ll make you tap your foot while you get misty eyed.