Guardians of the Galaxy found the right tone the first time around and they’re sticking to it. And that is a very good decision, my lovelies, because cartoonish comedy is the only real way to sell a crazy space tale like this. Consider for example Jupiter Ascending (2015), which will remain an educational thing to refer to for a long time to come. Visually, that one was just as jaw-dropping and inventive as Guardians, but the story was brought so seriously that nobody really could take it seriously. In contrast, The Fifth Element (1997) was wacky as hell but it worked because the irony was dripping from the screen.
I’ll call it Jeroen’s Law of Space Opera (I’m humble like Drax, wink wink). The law says: there must be correspondence between the wackiness of the plot and visuals on the one hand, and the intensity of the meta comedy on the other. So, if you put a humanoid dog named Chewbacca on a space ship, that is acceptable if the story is like a good old fairy tale. Go one step further and change the dog into a psychopathic raccoon, then the story has to take a corresponding step towards wackiness. Should you as a director take it seriously instead, then the audience will yell and mock you. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 descends far down this rabbit hole, where it enters territory where natural laws and other sensible ways of thinking take a backseat.
So, how to regard a film like GotG 2? It floats on two elements: special effects and comedy. And not on plot. With a little side note of Fast-and-the-Furious-like-talk about family. The effects are pretty to look at, but at times they overpowered the film so much that it became jarring. For instance, a lot of material was recycled in spirit from the first movie. There is a high-tech society that seems all elevated, named the Federation in part one, and here we have the Sovereign. They have lots of small space ships that work in swarms. There is also a giant floating space head.
One particular moment that took me out of the story was when the whole team was just standing in their ship and staring out the window into space. All I could think of was that the actors were just standing in a room and looking at a wall, going all “whoaaah”. So much of the environment is computer generated that this is like a slipstream-movie, crossing over into pure animation. In consequence, there is no sense of scale or feeling of weight to it. Another disappointment is that the main antagonist transforms into a giant roaring face and generally behaves stupidly for an almighty creature.
The comedy is a bit more pushy and in-your-face than in the first one. I did laugh often, but not all the jokes worked. The writers bank heavily on Groot as a tiny cute baby plant, which is low-hanging fruit to pick. He feels overused even in the first scene. The literal-mindedness of Drax is milked too, but to good effect and he is the funniest guy in the movie now. The dialogue was hit or miss. Drax has some great one-liners, but the banter between Star-Lord and the raccoon was clunky.
The best characters in the movie are actually not the Guardians themselves. Yondu sticks out as a great ambiguous character. He gets some more background, and Michael Rooker may be the best actor in this film. Together with Kurt Russell they give some acting weight to this fluffy candy movie. Nebula and her relationship with her sister Gamora deepens as well, as is in tune with the family theme and shows that the big baddy Thanos is in fact not a nice guy. The budding love story between Gamora and Star-Lord is restrained and that’s a good thing.
Whether you will like this movie depends on whether the comedy works for you, and whether you like pretty science fiction pictures. There are a bit too many explosions and too much yelling near the end and the story falls flat, but it makes for an entertaining evening.