By Jeanne Tan (17A01B)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (dir. James Gunn): the fifteenth movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the second movie in the well-received Guardians of the Galaxy series, and possibly one of the best so far. The promotion for this movie might leave some sceptical – the poster looks like a poorly-coloured amateur Photoshop job with the saturation turned on high, while the trailers featured some of the more uncomfortable jokes to come out of Marvel.
Lately, movies from the Marvel franchise seem to have embraced the so-called Marvel ‘formula’ tenfold: the colours are bright and saturated, the jokes in-your-face, and the plot increasingly carried by the dialogue. The lighthearted, action-packed, and colourful movies have painted a specific aesthetic, making any Marvel movie instantly identifiable. This particular ‘recipe’ has given every movie in this ‘universe’ a consistent character, and helped develop the strong reputation these movies now possess.
However, this style has not been without its share of blacklash. The bright and colourful style has been criticised for the quality of colour grading and lack of contrasts; the insertion of self-deprecating humour has disrupted audience appreciation for serious, emotionally-heavy moments. There have been several controversies of directors leaving movies over artistic differences, due to the firm hold over individual style that the studio maintains in order to keep the movies similar.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 falls prey to the same flaws: every feature that makes this movie fall short from perfect stems from the adherence to the prescribed ‘style’; from the exposition-heavy script to the forgettable villain to the excessively lewd jokes, the features that made this movie a part of Marvel’s uniformity were its biggest weakness. Admittedly, the first Guardians movie set a precedent for witty jokes and corny 80s’ style, but the excessive need for branding atop the movie’s individual flavour disrupted the flow and made the movie feel less than enjoyable at times.
However, despite this, the movie’s personality shone through strongly. It maintained the strengths of the first movie, namely the entertaining and plot-relevant soundtrack of 80s music, the cast’s hilarious dynamic , and the out-of-this-world (literally) visual effects. While some might find the vibrant colours overwhelming, the different settings this movie explored showcased such a variety of palettes and brightness that it added to the fun of exploring a galaxy.
One of the opening scenes of the movie showed us right away that the filmmakers knew what their audience wanted: a closeup of the baby Groot (a fan favourite tear-jerker from the first movie) having a solo dance party while his team members battle a monster around him. Besides this, the dialogue is still packed full with Chris Pratt’s epic humour, pop culture references and overall cheesiness which made the first movie stand out amongst similar films.
The movie also moves beyond surface quirks in terms of artistic choices – it featured several visual references to movies the director was inspired by (notably the ending scene, which visually parallels the ending to Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, making this reporter squeal in her seat). It also showcased a surprising amount of subtlety; some almost undetectable visual cues hinted at the villain throughout the movie until the big reveal. Overall, this movie knew its audience well and gave them what they asked for and more.
But what was more surprising was that the movie, instead of somewhat ignoring the character development established in the first movie, as commonly seen in ensemble films, built on pre-existing stories and developed them further, elevating this movie above and beyond that of its prequel.
Storylines such as that of Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), adoptive sisters who were bitter enemies in the first movie under the rule of their father Thanos, blossomed beyond the established positions. What was originally a one-sided tale of enmity driven by fear and hate was given another voice in this movie as a simultaneous story of misunderstanding and human connection, of love and family.
Other subplots included Rocket (Bradley Cooper) struggling with his identity and sense of belonging, and, of course, the main storyline revolving around Peter Quil’s (Chris Pratt) relationship with his father.
Family played a central role in this movie, tying all the different subplots together to tell the story of a team, working together through their individual struggles, and growing stronger as a family through it. It was a genuinely emotional journey, and felt true to both the characters, and to real life, despite the distant setting.
This movie was, on the whole, incredibly enjoyable. Even this sceptic was won over by its unique charm, its understanding of its audience, and the strength of its story. The question now is whether the movie would have fared better without its adherence to the prescribed style. Its flaws arose in the areas where it mimicked the Marvel ‘formula’; perhaps if the director had been given total creative freedom, the movie could have soared above and beyond its already considerable accomplishments.
Nevertheless, this movie was a creative triumph; we can celebrate this victory with a dance-off to some awesome music.