The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 review embargo lifted yesterday, and the internet was flooded with mixed reviews from critics and Youtubers. The consensus? Vol. 2 is a sequel.
Thanks, Captain Obvious.
No, I mean Vol. 2 is a sequel in every way possible, failing like so many other sequels before it to fully recreate the magical experience of meeting these characters for the first time. With the exception of the Captain America movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is continually plagued by this same kind of second-movie sequelitis. Sorry, Iron Man 2, Thor: The Dark World, Avengers: Age of Ultron. You all have your moments, but you’re no Iron Man, Thor and Avengers. No siree.
Most seem to agree Guardians 2 is better than those sub-par sequels, but is still guilty of falling short of the high bar set by its predecessor, leaning too heavily on our collective good will toward these characters and giving us more of them being the same:
Drax laughs a lot and isn’t great with syntax. Gamora’s a badass with a tortured past. Groot’s adorable. Rocket continues to be Joe Pesci as a raccoon. Star-Lord’s a lovable, 80s-referrencing Han Solo wannabe with daddy issues. Add to that a couple of fun new additions and several returning villains (Yondu, Nebula) who are kinda, sorta, not really good now. Throw in a bunch of groovy old songs. Wrap it all up with a special effects extravaganza finale. Boom, you’ve got yourself a Guardians sequel.
But as I sorted through the reviews yesterday and stumbled upon YouTube video after YouTube video I kept seeing the same exact “it’s fun, but not as good as the first one” argument playing out. That’s a perfectly valid way to frame the discussion. After all, how, really, do you discuss something like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 without referencing the original? I get it. Check out my Ghost in the Shell review. I practically couldn’t stop comparing it to the anime original.
However, when every major new blockbuster movie we get is a remake or sequel of some kind (e.g., Beauty and the Beast, Ghost in the Shell, Power Rangers, The Lego Batman Movie, Logan, Kong: Skull Island, John Wick: Chapter Two) our conversations about them invariably takes on the same exact feel: is this new thing as good as that one thing which came before. Again, it makes sense. That is the logical way to talk about something which is new but based on something your audience already knows.
Frankly, though, I’m sick of it. We judge the new thing based on our frame of reference to the old thing, but what if the conversation could just be “Is this good?” instead of “Is it as good as that other thing?”
That’s partially why it felt so liberating when I recently went to Fate of the Furious despite having never really seen any of the prior films in the franchise. I wasn’t weighed down by the narrative weight and fan expectations build up from the prior 7 films. I’d seen trailers. I got the basic gist of it, and luckily Fate turned out to be astonishingly easy to follow despite me being a newbie to the franchise.
That ship has sailed with Guardians. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen the first one now, thank you very much Starz and your endless Guardians repeats. However, I now pledge to do my best to simply accept or reject thia sequel on its own terms, and fight back the understandable impulses to compare it to the first movie.
Look, James Gunn caught lightning in a bottle in 2014. Perfect cast. Perfect tone. Perfect balance of comedy and pathos. Exactly the change-of-pace blockbuster Hollywood and the MCU needed. But the list of Hollywood producers and directors who have succeeded in jamming lightning back into a bottle a second time around is understandably short. Sometimes they top themselves and we end up with Terminator 2, Spider-Man 2 or X2. Most of the time, though, eh, you’re looking at Jaws 2 at best, Weekend at Bernie’s 2 at worst. And at least I can confidently predict the following: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will be better than Weekend at Bernie’s 2. Low bar, though, right?
Do I sound completely out of my gourd here? Am I raging at nothing? Or do you kind of see where I’m coming from? Let me know in the comments.