#15 in my Ranking of The MCU Phases 1-3.
James Gunn loved his characters too much. That’s the only way I can process this movie’s failures. He loves them so much he’s going to give them great big emotional moments whether the movie needs them or not. Mostly not.
As with several of Marvel’s less successful movies, I have to ask, what’s the story? Is it Peter reuniting with his dad? Is it Rocket coming to terms with his unpleasant nature? Is it Gamora and Nebula accepting their shared horrible past and becoming real sisters? Is it Yondu examining his past and confronting his failures in life?
All of these happen, take up significant screen time, and most of them don’t mesh particularly well together. And, on top of that, the structure throws some of these moments side by side so we’re getting unrelated moments of high emotion that have never been significantly established or built up to.
I know that a lot of people love Yondu in this movie, but I think his story is a complete mess. When we first see him, it’s about twenty minutes into the movie, and he looks out the window of a robot brothel to see someone he recognizes. He gets dressed, runs down outside, and we learn several things in quick succession. The first is that there are more Ravagers than just Yondu’s group, totaling one hundred in all. The second is that Yondu had been expelled from the Ravagers as a whole some years ago for breaking a code. Oh, and they have a code, that’s new too. The fourth is that Yondu stole kids (so, more than just Peter at the beginning of the first film). The fifth is that the Ravagers have funeral ceremonies and that Yondu isn’t ever going to get one. The sixth is that Yondu is really broken up about this. That amount of information is relayed in about ten seconds, and at the end of that exposition dump, we’ve got Yondu, accompanied by mournful music, yelling that he is sad about the situation. It’s such a clunky dump of information followed very swiftly by an emotional moment that gets only that exposition dump as support, I cannot imagine how anyone in the audience can feel anything in that moment.
Yondu, essentially, spends this movie sad. His crew mutinies, and he sits in a chair as they toss out his loyal crew into the iciness of space. He tells a sad story about his growing up in a Kree slave camp. Most importantly, the most intimate relationship he has with any other character in the film is with Peter, and the two don’t share a scene until about one hundred minutes into the film, and their relationship is supposed to act as the counterbalance to Peter’s relationship with his real father, Ego.
Ego, on the other hand, is almost nothing but exposition. Twice, he walks through the same room with dioramas depicting his life, and he just recites what went on, the first time in as happy terms as possible, the second in terms more conforming to what he actually did. Kurt Russell is game as Ego, explaining things for minutes on end, but it doesn’t get past the fact that twice, Ego stops the movie to simply explain stuff. It’s dramatically inert and akin to reading a Wikipedia article instead of watching a movie.
Gosh, I haven’t even gotten to the plot of the thing, yet. And yet, the plot is of little importance. Peter and the Guardians save some expensive batteries for a planet of gold people. Rocket steals some batteries because it’s what he does and the gold people chase after them. Ego, Peter’s previously unknown father, rescues them and brings some of them back to his planet. The rest stay behind and get captured by the Ravagers, who go through the aforementioned mutiny which ends with Yondu killing literally everyone on the ship save one crewmember. They then go to Ego’s planet where Peter has learned that he’s immortal and that his father gave his human mother brain cancer. That information set him off and he fights his father, who is the planet itself. The gold people, Yondu, and all of the Guardians converge on Ego’s planet to fight Ego, Peter turns himself into Pacman, and the good guys win. Yondu dies saving Peter from the final explosion.
Now, Yondu’s death is another moment that I read people getting all teary-eyed up about, but I just feel like it falls flat. Take that scene in isolation and it feels like the kind of moment that will tug at heart strings, but Yondu’s story has been so poorly handled and his time with Peter so limited that it feels like much ado about nothing. His high emotional moments have come out of nowhere and been unconnected to anything else in the narrative. His sacrifice for Peter is undermined by the fact that they barely share any screen time throughout the entire film.
I’ve spent over 800 words complaining, and yet I don’t dislike this movie. My problem is that I loved the first Guardians of the Galaxy, and I wanted to love this one. The problems I have with the movie wouldn’t have been too terribly difficult to fix at the script stage, and so I see wasted opportunities everywhere. However, I actually find the movie okay overall. I moderately enjoy the experience. Just like the first film, the movie is beautiful to look at. There’s such an embrace of color and design that just makes every image pop off the screen. Character interactions are generally quite fun (save when people just explain things). Dialogue is light and witty, and the tone (aside from some moments here and there) is one of an enjoyable romp through the stars. The use of music meshes well with the action on screen, often producing entertaining juxtapositions between sound and visual that brings a smile to my face.
I just wish the script had gone through another draft. Someone needed to look at this and ask, “Why don’t Yondu and Peter have a scene until page 100?”
Netflix Rating: 3/5
Quality Rating: 2/4
Originally published here.