Although I like watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies as they were made, not in “story order,” I made an exception for the two Guardians of the Galaxy films since the second takes place soon after the first. Also I’m already way out of synch on this, trying to finish before Thursday when I see Infinity War. And viewing them as a pair brings a lot more insight on how they hold up.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 1 (2014)
DID I FALL ASLEEP? Nope. My step-dad did fall asleep five minutes in when he tried to watch it on DVD, though.
DID I LIKE THE MUSIC? The best. 70s/80s pop that’s burned into our collective unconscious, and an excellent score by Tyler Bates, also known as the lead guitarist for Marilyn Manson.
DID I CRY? I always get a little damp in the eyes when Groot saves everyone.
Kind of like Exactly like the end of Toy Story 3.
WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE: In 2014 Marvel delivered both Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, making it peak time in the MCU. This is my favorite Marvel movie, and I’ve loved it ever since the first trailers. For the first time, the series really busts out of its formula, and, given the gift of characters we don’t really know from the comics, brings them to life with unexpected humor and emotion.
What else is there to say really: this was a huge hit from the moment it came out, and all of the characters become household names immediately. Even your auntie has heard of Rocket Raccoon. And director James Gunn became the friendly face of Marvel Studios on social media, helping us get through the Edgar Wright Disaster and more.
Without knowing the true backstory of this film, it’s also pretty obvious that Disney knew what they were getting into with the merchandise possibilities of Starlord, Groot and Rocket, and the tone is certainly a more YA Disney with a jism joke here and there.
I almost didn’t rewatch this since I’ve seen it so many times, but I wanted to see how it flows into Vol. 2. And to be honest, I never get tired of that first credits scene with Starlord dancing and the Raiders of the Lost Ark homage. We know immediately we’re in for something different that will have heart and laughter.
There are so many things that work in this movie: the script is wonderful, with never a moment where there isn’t motivation, tension and excitement. The callbacks are great: Starlord’s two “hold my hand” moments, once failing to holding his dying mother’s hand and later taking Gamora’s hand. Yondu calling Peter “Boy” all the time and later Thanos calling Ronan boy: all the father issues of Vol. 2 are well set up here.
The first time I saw it, though, I thought the big “saves the universe” ending was the usual bombast but on repeated viewings, it’s the proper arc for a bunch of people who are losers and a-holes, at least within the MCU view of the universe. Also, it’s obvious that Starlord’s cosmic powers will come back as the war against Thanos intensifies.
This movie is fundamentally about fallible beings who become better beings by connecting with other beings. We’re shown their pain and loss along the way and it makes the ultimate triumph of family and teamwork a great payoff. “We are Groot” – corny but so, so effective.
Not to say this is a PERFECT movie. Ronan The Accuser is yet another “They Made Oscar Isaac Ugly!!!” villain – in this case Lee Pace, who was a piece of hot Elvish ass in three Hobbit movies, but labors under a fussy headdress here. Luckily, his stilted performance works for the character. And really, this is a “man against himself” story – will the protagonists discover their innate heroism in time?
Also Gamora and Nebula’s relationship is sketchier than the rest. Yet is really time to admit that Zoe Saldana is the MVP of nerd movies, from Avatar to Star Trek to GotG. Her character is another Strong Female without the quirks and humor of the other cast members, but the more I watch this, the more I appreciate her solid work. That said, the pain of her relationship with Thanos is more exposition than drama.
Ultimately, for me, it’s the imagination in this movie that makes it so memorable. The richness of the background makes all the other Marvel movies look barren in their paucity of detail until Black Panther, at least.
WOULD I REWATCH: Yes.
Which leads us to…
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017)
DID I FALL ASLEEP? I did in the theater, for sure. I was in one of those comfy recliners, though. Surprisingly, for my rewatch I was completely alert.
DID I LIKE THE MUSIC? The soundtrack is a lot more uneven here, with the thematic importance of “Brandy” and “The Chain” outweighing the musical value of some other pieces. Another solid outing by Bates, but Gunn is not quite up to the level of Quentin Tarantino for finding unknown, cheesy old tunes that hold up to contemporary listening. Some of the songs here are not “good” awful, they are just awful.
WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE: Oh how excited I was for this movie. The trailers looked great, and it seemed like you were getting a second helping of the most delicious cake you’d ever had.
And OH how I hated it when I saw it the first time. The opening scene, with Groot dancing to ELO in one big take was great and I felt like everything was going to be wonderful. but then….it was not wonderful.
This was like when you have TOO MUCH CAKE, and you start to feel sick. And get a toothache. Or when you meet someone at a party and the sparks fly and then you go out on an actual date and they’re just boring or self centered. This movie fell in love with the characters in Vol. 1 and in Vol. 2 that love became sloppy and co-dependent.
I don’t know what went wrong with this, but for me, it all went wrong. Instead of SHOWING you things, it tells tells tells. And then TELLS you more. In long, tensionless scenes. In Vol. 1 when Rocket turns around and we see his ugly cybernetic implants we imagine the pain he’s been through and it’s powerful. He has to get drunk to lash out about the pain he’s feeling, in a scene that actually makes us feel uncomfortable for a CGI raccoon. In Vol. 2 he and Yondu spell out exactly what we’ve been watching for two hours: that they both mask pain with a veneer of cynicism. Gee, I would never have figured that out for myself!
I know all movies reveal the truth we feel but usually they are masked or symbolized with a line or a story a bit more. In Vol. 1 we’re not told that Peter misses his mother every minute. His devotion to his Walkman and the still wrapped package in a drawer on the Milano are all we need to show us that.
The entire movie spells out the obvious character beats over and over. And the jokes are much cruder. With five minutes we’re talking about Drax’s turds. In the first movie, the squabbling worked because, as mentioned, there was outside tension in every scene. In this one, they just squabble to squabble and that date starts to go sour.
I could just go on and on about things that annoy me…and since this is my review, I will!
• FIRST OFF, the whole “Who is Peter’s Dad?” storyline. This is essentially an episode of the original Star Trek where they go to some planet and find out an ex is now a god. Except in Star Trek, there would be some kind of ticking time bomb. In GotG2, they go to find Peter’s dad and as soon as Snake Plisskin reveals that he’s a lonely, godlike old planet who is going to give Peter godlike planet powers, Peter’s eye light up and he’s all in on it. There’s no tension or conflict. No “We’ve got to get back to save Rocket from Taser Face!” No “We can’t keep farting around here, Peter!” Gamora has figured out something is amiss on Planet Ego – JUST LIKE WE ALL DID, DUH – but everyone spends about half an hour walking around in front of very nice CGI backgrounds wondering what is happening. So bad.
• PLUS, WTF is Ego’s actual plan? He’s going to stop being lonely by destroying the entire universe? this could have been a powerful metaphor but the bad writing buried it.
• AND ALSO, I just didn’t buy that Meredith Quill was Ego’s one true love. That’s awfully Terra-normative. Are you saying Earth really is the BEST thing in the universe? While playing a song by a band called Looking Glass that looked like this??? Come on now.
• Yondu’s storyline was the best thing in the movie, but it was undermined by the slack storytelling and interruptions for long, supposedly humorous takes that went nowhere.
• The Ravagers are badass space pirates but they “don’t trade in kids” and that’s the line they can’t cross? That’s awesome but if you care about kids I’m sure there are lot of lines you won’t cross.
• The acting in this movie is maybe the worst in any MCU movie I’ve rewatched. Everyone is incredibly shouty and on the nose.
• WHY did they have to destroy the Milano AGAIN??? There must be a larger MCU reason for this, because why go to all the trouble of giving it to them again just to blow it up again? Wouldn’t getting back to the ship have been actual MOTIVATION for the characters?
• In Vol. 1 we learned Peter Quill was a player who didn’t even remember the names of the women he slept with. With him and Gamora, as in most recent Marvel movies, the romance is straight out of the fourth grade. “I don’t like you!” means “I REALLY LIKE YOU” – a method that Drax uses explicitly after explaining what he’s doing several times. Peter references Sam and Diane on Cheers as a touchpoint, but if only it were that nuanced.
• HOW DARE YOU WASTE MICHELE YEOH. THAT IS TREASON.
• And on and on. This movie is so on the nose and so predictable. It has some defenders on the Beat staff, however, who said they loved it as a “bottle episode,” TV trope parlance for a one off episode that’s made on the cheap with existing sets. Allowing for the fact that the whole movies takes place on expensive new CGI planets, I can see where this comes from. My initial thought was that the second episode was awfully soon for a bottle episode, but come to think of it, after the first Guardians movie, the characters became so ubiquitous and popular that after three years, maybe it was time to bring things down a notch.
But not like this. Not like this.
Anyway, there is a variety of opinion about GotG Vol. 2. Some people think it’s one of the best MCU movies. But many people agree that something went wrong. One of the benefits of doing this rewatch is that I can go back and read interviews and think pieces, and see how those reflect on the movie with hindsight. Reading interviews with James Gunn, it becomes clear that things were spinning out of control a bit, personally and on the set. For instance, Gunn’s brother Seth plays Kraglin, a fairly major player, and also was physically Rocket on the set. Unfortunately, Kraglin and Rocket have many scenes together. This was a problem as Gunn told Slashfilm:
It was terrible. It works terribly. It was terrible. I don’t know what I’m thinking putting Kraglin and Rocket in so many scenes together. But normally, when Sean is Rocket, he wears this little gray suit and he’s crawling around so you know who he is. But now he’s Kraglin all the time so in like the big scene when they’re surrounding Kraglin in the forest with all these Ravagers, I have Sean standing in the circle and he’s gotta be himself and then run over and do the Rocket stuff in his Kraglin outfit. And so the first cut of the movie is ridiculous because it has like a big, dramatic scene between Yondu and Rocket and in some shots Kraglin’s in the background and some shots Kraglin is looking at them. And then I cut over to the shots of Rocket getting all teary eye and it’s Sean Gunn also dressed as Kraglin. And it’s a very odd and off-putting thing. And you really don’t know if you’re walking down the right path when you’re editing those scenes.
(Also, I’m all for family, and James Gunn’s loyalty to Seth Gunn is….admirable, if not understandable.)
In an interview with Vulture, Gunn says that the instant pop culture icon status of the first movie may have taken an emotional toll on him:
And the downsides?
The amount of attention that comes with it can be difficult.
How do you mean?
[Long pause.] Getting so much attention all at once, with so many people who want something from you or want to talk to you … for someone who is overly sensitive to other people’s needs, that can be difficult. I don’t discount people or things they say. Anybody who’s online who asks me to retweet something that will help their parents with cancer, or something like that, I’ll do it.
You’ve always been very available online.
For me, that aspect of it is difficult. I love the attention and I hate the attention, you know? It’s not always good for your soul. Especially after the first film, I was caught up in the adrenalized excitement of it all and I just kept going: I kept traveling, and the movie kept going, and I kept talking about it and doing everything … and I crashed at a certain point. I really came down to earth and had to be like, “Where am I as a human being? What do I want to be doing and what’s truly important to me in all of this?” And I’m still there, trying to figure that out.
As with Joss Whedon (see my next post) the juggernaut status of the MCU had taken as toll and made Volume 2 a much inferior product.
WOULD I REWATCH: It took me nearly a year to rewatch this although it’s been on Netflix for 9 months. So……..maybe someday? This movie gives me no pleasure.
POSTSCRIPT: What happened to Yondu’s makeup between 1 & 2? IN the first one it’s more modelled in the second (at least watching on streaming) it’s as if it were cgi’d on, a flat splah of pure cyan ink. Weird.
Next time: ULTRON THE HUNTED!
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.