Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – A Review

When the original Guardians of the Galaxy came out back in 2014, I was one of the few people that I knew that was eagerly anticipating the release. My enthusiasm had nothing to do with any great familiarity or affinity for the source material – I’d never read the obscure comics – but out of the sheer potential of what might be. I was a big fan of Chris Pratt’s from his time on Parks and Recreation and knew that if he found the right platform he could probably become a real star. I hoped that Guardians would provide that for him. But mostly I was excited for a movie that featured a talking tree and raccoon as two of its main characters. I figured this could play out one of two ways: either these characters would be wonderfully weird and be endlessly entraining or the execution would be so bad that the movie would be fun to make fun of. I was rooting for the former, but was prepared for the latter. Up to that point Marvel hadn’t really let their freak flag fly with their film adaptations, so it was possible that Guardians was going to be too corporate and over managed to be much of anything. Thankfully, they totally nailed Guardians of the Galaxy and the movie about superhero characters no one had ever heard of became a really big surprise hit. It was easily one of my cinematic highlights of the year and now that Guardians is on regular rotation on basic cable, I still find myself stopping to watch it – especially if it is the opening sequence with Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord boogieing down. I even have not one, but two, figures of Groot in my office. Obviously, I was buying what Guardians of the Galaxy was selling.

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I have been anxiously awaiting the sequel, but with a slight bit of trepidation. I loved Guardians of the Galaxy so much that I was skeptical if they could pull it off a second time. One of the things that made Guardians so fun was that it was such a surprise; it was an unexpected delight, unhindered by any expectations. While Guardians of the Galaxy was charming and fun, how much of its appeal was because it seemingly came out of nowhere? Would the sequel crumble under the weight of heightened expectations? While the bar was set pretty low for the success of the first film, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is being predicted to be one of the big runaway blockbusters of the summer. Could they recapture that lightening in a bottle and live up to the hype?

The good news is that if you liked the original Guardians of the Galaxy, you’ll have a very good time at Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. While a lot of the sequel is more of the same stuff that people loved in the original, for the most part it all still works. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is still charming, funny, and unexpectedly sad, all set to a soundtrack of hits from the 70s and 80s and shot in a visually interesting way. And frankly, in my humble opinion, the opening credit sequence with baby Groot is worth the price of admission alone. My baby nephew is still the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, but baby Groot gives him a run for his money.

Guardians Vol 2 picks up with our favorite band of misfits doing their thing – Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and the aforementioned baby Groot (still voiced by Vin Diesel) are guns for hire, blowing up bad guys and bickering the whole time. Along the way, they manage to pick up Gamora’s estranged sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) for bounty and piss off Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), leader of the Sovereigns. The latter sets off all the remaining action of the story as this puts Yondu (Michael Rooker) on their tail, but more importantly, Star-Lord’s absentee father Ego (Kurt Russell) finally reunites with abandoned son. While there is a lot of action in Guardians Vol. 2, this film is also focused on filling in a lot of the back story of many of these characters. In some ways, Guardians Vol. 2 borrows a page from the Fast and the Furious franchise and explores ideas of what it means to have a family – both biological and the one that you have chosen for yourself. If you cried a little during the “We are Groot” scene in the first movie, have some tissues ready for Vol. 2; I was wholly unprepared for some of the emotions that swept over me toward the end of the movie.

That is not to say that Vol. 2 is a sad movie; for the majority of the viewing experience, it was pretty joyful, even if some of what they are doing isn’t as fresh anymore. The jokes still work, even if it sometimes feels like everyone involved is straining a little too hard to hit a lot of the same beats of the first film. Occasionally you can almost feel them checking off the requisite boxes in scenes – use soft rock from the 70s as the soundtrack to a battle scene, Drax has no social skills, etc. – but it manages to not feel completely formulaic, in part because this stuff is still fun. One of the more interesting things that the film does is sideline Star-Lord from a lot of the comedy and leans more on Drax and Rocket to help fill the void. The daddy issues that Star-Lord is dealing with keeps him from interacting as much with the rest of the group as he did in the first film, but I thought that mostly worked.

The cinematography is also great in Vol 2 and I appreciate the creative way that they decided to shoot some of the scenes. If you see every Marvel movie like I do, the fight scenes often tend to blend together after a while, since they are all kind of organized chaos. Vol. 2 mixes things up a bit and finds fresh ways to frame the action and make it visually interesting. Director James Gunn is very creative and stylized in how he approaches these scenes and I think it greatly improves the Guardian movies. This is evident in not only the great opening credits, but scenes with Yondu and Rocket.

Some other random thoughts:

  • Stay comfy in your seats – there are five post-credit sequences.
  • As someone who has always had a weird fondness for the song “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl” by Looking Glass, Vol. 2 was definitely made for me.
  • I’m going to be very disappointed if “I’m Mary Poppins, y’all” doesn’t become a catchphrase.
  • I didn’t spring to see this in 3-D, but I heard it looked pretty great.
  • Be forewarned – between the bazillion trailers before the movie and the slightly long run-time of the actual film, I was in the theater nearly 3 hours. The film itself is slightly too long – if they could have carved about ten minutes off the run-time, I think it would have been a leaner and meaner film.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a fun movie that isn’t quite as good as the first movie, but dodges the curse of the sequel by providing a very fun movie. Watching Vol. 2 is mostly a delightful experience, even if some of the movie feels very familiar and covers all the things that you liked about the original. When Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 inevitably drops, I think that they are going to have to mix things up a little bit to avoid disappointment and diminishing returns. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was a thrilling ride that captures a lot of the spirit of the original. There’s a lot of big blockbusters coming down the pike this summer, but I’d be hard-pressed to think of any of them that are as much fun as Guardians Vol. 2. If you liked the first movie, you won’t be disappointed.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Going on Vacation Edition

I’m going on vacation tomorrow, which is a really big deal because I haven’t been on a proper vacation in well over a year. I manage to cram a lot into the occasional day off or long weekend, but being out of the office for 4 whole days is practically unheard of. Of course, because I am me, I actually have a lot of anxiety about this vacation as we have no set plans and I am going with some people that I’ve never met before (friends of friends). For an introverted type-A planner, this has been a real challenge. But after being sick for the last week, it will be nice to enjoy some warm weather and celebrate my friend’s birthday. Letting the chips fall where they may is not my ideal, but I’m working on being more go with the flow. We’ll see what happens.

This will likely be the only post until next Wednesday, as I’ve been going to bed ridiculously early to try and get as healthy as possible before this trip and my pop culture consumption has been limited to just trying to keep up to date on my DVR. But hopefully there is enough pop culture goodness in this week’s roundup to tide you over until I return.

 

 

Time for some trailers…..

  • The LEGO Batman Movie:

 

 

  • Game of Thrones, season 6:

 

  • War Dogs:

 

  • Me Before You:

 

  • Voltron: Legendary Defender:

 

  • The Conjuring 2:

 

  • Alice Through the Looking Glass:

 

 

 

 

 

One last game of basketball at Garry's house to say goodbye.

A post shared by Judd Apatow (@juddapatow) on

 

As always, we end with the mashups and supercuts….

  • Bruce Springsteen and Eddie Vedder performed “Bobby Jean” in Seattle:

 

  • Batman and Superman rap “Mama Said Knock You Out”:

 

  • A 1950s R&B cover of “Cry Me A River”:

 

  • Disturbed plays “Sound of Silence”:

 

  • Jurassic Park as a nature documentary:

 

  • And finally, Bert and Ernie do a little “Regulate”:

Sneak Peek – Jurassic World

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They really should consider putting the kibosh on these dinosaur-themed amusement parks. It always seems to end badly.

I saw the first Jurassic Park movie in the theaters when it came out back in 1993. I still have memories of sitting in the second-run cinema at the old Pyramid mall in Saratoga and being dazzled by what I was witnessing. Jurassic Park is one of the few Steven Spielberg films that I actually like and the technology for the special effects seemed pretty cutting edge at the time. While I enjoyed the movie a lot when I watched it, I don’t think that I’ve ever revisited the movie since that initial viewing; I like it and thought it was fun, but apparently not enough to ever watch it again. In some ways that isn’t super surprising – this was around the time that I started going to the movies a lot, emboldened by having my own car and license and plenty of pocket change thanks to my lucrative babysitting business. So I wasn’t particularly interested in watching movies over and over again, but in consuming as many movies as I could. And this was a pretty great time for movies so I wasn’t lacking for things to watch. I also was never particularly all that into dinosaurs. Some kids go through a phase where they are all about these extinct creatures, but I wasn’t one of them. Dinosaurs were cool and kind of interesting, but my interest in them was pretty cursory.

The fact that seeing a film once twenty-plus years ago doesn’t not make that lasting of an impression was drilled home for me when I went to see an advanced screening of Jurassic World. You could win free Jurassic World swag if you could answer trivia questions and it was then that it dawned on me that my memories of the original film were pretty sparse. My main memories from Jurassic Park were:

  • The film starred Jeff Goldblum and Wayne Knight (Newman from Seinfeld). I have zero ideas as to their character names. (I totally forgot about Laura Dern and Sam Neill).
  • This scene:

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  • You cannot trust Velociraptors.
  • Nothing good can happen in a kitchen (which is why I try to spend as little time there as possible):

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And that’s about it. I didn’t even know that they made two sequels to Jurassic Park until the news of Jurassic World was announced. Without Chris Pratt in the lead, I don’t even know if I would have gone to see the new film in the theater. I was pretty ambivalent about the existence of Jurassic World, despite my fond memories (vague as they were) of Jurassic Park; what impressed me at 16 wasn’t necessarily going to impress me in my thirties.

This preamble is to provide context so when I say that I enjoyed Jurassic World it is not coming from a fangirl or anyone who was remotely invested in the ongoing success of the franchise. Jurassic World is a flawed film – there isn’t a lot of character development or depth and its gender politics are troublesome – but it does what a summer blockbuster needs to do, and that is entertain. I don’t think that this film will have the lasting effect that its origin story did, but it serves its purpose as an action popcorn movie.

Jurassic World take place approximately twenty years after the events of Jurassic Park and doesn’t seem to pay any heed to whatever happened in the two sequels that came in between. You could easily walk into Jurassic World with absolutely no knowledge of Jurassic Park and do just fine; while there a few nods to the original film, Jurassic World is really its own self-contained story. A new park has been rebuilt – the eponymous Jurassic World – because people never learn. While the park is doing well, a generation of children raised with the existence of dinosaurs are no longer so easy to impress and the park must continually unveil new and exciting creatures to prevent attendance from plateauing or diminishing. To do this, scientists have started engineering genetic hybrid dinosaurs; their latest creation is the terrifying Indominus Rex, a genetic cocktail of various other dinosaurs and modern animals with some top secret DNA spliced in there as well. Raised in captivity and in isolation after eating its sibling, they are preparing the Indominus Rex for its debut in the park. I think you see where this is going.

Jurassic World is overseen by Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park’s operations manager and resident uptight woman. She is asked to bring in Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to inspect the Idominus Rex’s enclosure. Grady is an ex-member of the Navy who is now working at the park training Velociraptors for some reason (that part of the study is a little muddied). He and Claire have history and he’s here to be the hero, increase the conflict (because dinosaurs aren’t enough), and occasionally man-splain stuff to Claire and prove a counterpoint to her “all work, no fun” demeanor. He’s also pretty hunky in this movie, which is a definite plus. There are also some moppets – there are always some moppets – in the form of Claire’s two estranged nephews Gray and Zach (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson, respectively). They’ve been shipped off to spend time with their aunt, who delegates the responsibility for child care to her assistant. Vincent D’Onofrio is the human bad guy, which is not a spoiler since he practically turns up on screen twirling him imaginary mustache. None of these characters are written with any sense of depth, but the actors do their best with what they’ve been given and try to give some layers to what on paper are probably some pretty stock caricatures. Pratt is playing slightly against type here as he’s not the lovable goofball that he plays so well, but he does a fine job with the more serious Owen. He does get a few one-liners and Pratt in general is just so darn likeable that he makes Owen a more than serviceable hero.

I’m not necessarily in love with how they wrote Bryce Dallas Howard’s character of Claire; to me this was pretty lazy writing that relies on tired tropes of women in these kinds of movies. They work very hard to make Claire unlikeable and cold in the early scenes of the movie and of course she is running through the entire film in heels (I personally wear flats every day just in case of dinosaur attack). I was a little concerned that Joss Whedon’s early criticism of Jurassic World as sexist was pretty spot on. However, through some sheer force of will on Howard’s part and a few moments later on in the film, my critique of gender roles in the film has softened, though not disappeared. Look, I get that people don’t go to summer blockbusters for a lesson in feminism, but I also don’t think that in 2015 writers can be ignorant of how they are depicting characters or just be lazy. This stuff didn’t ruin Jurassic World for me, but it also didn’t go unnoticed. Get it together, Hollywood. *end rant*

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I realize that most people don’t go to Jurassic World for the humans and on that front they will not be disappointed. Jurassic World is a visually beautiful movie; the special effects are mostly spectacular and the landscape is absolutely gorgeous. We saw the film in 3-D and it felt totally immersive; I was actually startled a few times to look down and realize that there were people sitting below us. The dinosaurs are totally captivating and spectacular to watch. The Indominus Rex is legitimately scary and the other dinosaur species, including the Velociraptors are pretty cool to watch in action. I got that same feeling I did back when I saw Jurassic Park for the first time. You just can’t take your eyes off the screen. I can’t imagine what this film would look like in IMAX.

The tone of Jurassic World is a somewhat a departure from Jurassic Park; while the first movie took its time to build tension and suspense, Jurassic World is more of an out and out action movie. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but just is a different experience. Once the onslaught begins in Jurassic World, it doesn’t really let up. There aren’t any cat and mouse style moments with the dinosaurs; moments don’t linger as much and aren’t given the time to build. I kind of liked the constant barrage and peril – it may not be a slow burn, but it was still pretty darn exciting and nerve wracking. There is absolutely something to be said for the Jaws method of movie making where the idea of the monster is used to be as scary as the actual reveal of the monster, but I thought they executed this model of action pretty well.

Some other thoughts:

  • There are some definite plot holes in this movie. For instance, there is absolutely no logical explanation for why a ten year old kid would be carrying around matches (except that they came in handy in one scene). Jurassic World works best when you don’t think about anything too hard and just enjoy the ride.
  • It was bugging me throughout the film where I knew Ty Simpkins from, but he was the kid from Iron Man 3. He also looks a lot like a young Sean Astin.
  • Jurassic World is more violent than I remember Jurassic Park being and it features a lot of dinosaur on dinosaur fighting, as well as plenty of humans in peril and graphically dispensed with. Depending on your child, this might be too much or upsetting to them. Take the PG-13 rating seriously. Even I got a little sad when an injured innocent dinosaur was featured. Pet ownership has ruined me.
  • Did I mention that Chris Pratt is dreamy? It bears repeating.
  • Unless they add it in for the theatrical release, there were no post-credit scenes.
  • **Mild spoilers** – Jimmy Fallon has a small cameo in the film, but sadly the reported cameo by Jeff Goldblum did not happen.

Jurassic World has its issues, but as a pure adrenaline-driven summertime blockbuster it definitely delivers. By doubling down on the action, it doesn’t give you much time to dwell on some of the film’s plot holes or poor characterizations. Instead it’s just a fun ride that certainly packs in plenty of jolts of excitement along the way. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the film, given my ambivalence about it and the issues I had with some of its execution. But I can’t deny that I did have a good time and was on the proverbial edge of my seat several times during the movie. Jurassic World is an imperfect two hours of escapism, but is definitely worth your time. The visual landscape, the action and the overall likability of the cast pushes Jurassic World into the win column for me.

Jurassic World opens nationwide tomorrow (Friday June 12th).