Haydn’s review published on Letterboxd:
Note: This was written for my final paper for my Intro to Film class last semester and I got an A for it. So yeah, I hope you guys really enjoy the hard work I put into this essay.
Why I love Guardians of the Galaxy 2 So Much: Final Film Analysis
Talking about a film that means so much to you isn’t an easy thing to do. There are so much love and passion you may have towards a film that you just want to talk about to every person you come across to, in every conversation about what are people’s favorite films, and you will defend it to the till the day you die, especially when it’s unpopular to love a film like that. But the problem is that you don’t know where and how to discuss a film that means so much to you and why you want to share that love with those who may not view a film in the same way as you. Well, that’s me and my love for James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. I know it’s sort of the unpopular thing to praise a Marvel film in a more analytical leans (especially when the term, “Theme Park films” has been toss around in recent memory), and while I do agree to a certain degree that most of them are enjoyable popcorn flicks, there’s something special that Guardians of the Galaxy 2 did that made it stand out from the rest of the crowd. It was a film that not only took everything that made the first Guardians of the Galaxy such an instant classic and expanding upon it like a lot of the best sequels out there, but also giving a new, fresh, unique, and surprisingly dark and mature approach to both it’s filmmaking and to its story, characters, and themes that affect me in a very personal level, while also keeping the insanity and fun that made that first film so great in the first place. Talking about this film will be hard because I have a lot to talk about and I don’t want to waste too much of your time, so let’s get right to it.
Right off the bat, James Gunn wanted this sequel to have a different structure than in the first one, as he states, “since of the reasons like Guardians is because it’s fresh and different, so the second will be fresh and different from the first one.”. Well, James kept that promise with the end result product and a film that’s truly his own both in his direction and especially with his writing. Which is something you don’t often find in most blockbusters these days, in which a director has complete creative control over his project and ends up having amazing results like in the case of Guardians of the Galaxy 2.
The filmmaking presented in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is unmatched and making one of the best-looking films my eyes have been beheld with. What James Gunn, cinematographer Henry Braham, and the entire visual effects department were able to capture every sense visual style, vibrant camera work, fluent editing, and such attention to detail into every frame and shot is incredible. In fact, James Gunn noted that despite there being huge sets and being filled with CGI, he wanted as many practical effects as possible, to make sure the environments are as real as possible with the CGI elements. So they had to make sets and scenery around the blue screen they were filming within the Pinewood Atlanta Studios down in Fayette County, Georgia and the results that came from those experiences turned out to be incredible. Like Guardians 2 is shot less like a standard superhero film, and more like a classic space opera mixed with a more modern aesthetic to it all.
There’s a lot of unique uses of wide shots to get the full point of view of how the characters and places they’re inhabiting create some affective visual storytelling in the process. Some of my favorite shots in the film include a closeup of Peter’s walkman with Peter listening to it, then cuts to a wide shot of the inside of Ego’s ship with him towards the bottom left side of the frame, visually communicating that he likes being alone and entertaining himself with the music he likes. Another great shot that I love is when Gamora is out in the field after having her blow out with Peter, and the way the camera is shot and framed gives a sense of distance between her and the field based on how she’s placed with the use of its vibrant colors that create a shadow around her. Not to mention the wide shot gives a visual cue of Gamora blocking everyone who’s trying to help her to become better, but she wouldn’t let them in due to her abuse and trauma she faced in her life.
But even with the strong use of wide shots in the quieter and slow pacing scenes, the film still creates a unique sense of energy and delight when it comes to the action sequences and the more energetic scenes where the camera movements and different visual tricks can be highly effective during those moments, and having them being an aid to how smooth and weird the editing can be at times, yet works so well that it adds the enjoyment you have with the film (like when the scene where Rocket, Yondu, and Karglen goes hyperjump to Ego’s planet and the effects and use of color are so crazy and hilariously over the top with tons of great close-ups to their expressions, that then cuts to a simple calm shot of Peter and Gamora chilling at Ego’s Planet dancing to “Bring it on Home to Me” by Sam Cooke). Not to mention that the visual effects and use of the green screen in the film create a combination of realism and anti-realism to capture the space opera like feel in terms of its tone by having everything not been taken too seriously so it’s allowed to go all out with it’s weird and outlandish worlds like Ego having a whole planet to himself, yet keeping a realistic approach to its story, characters, and themes it wants to explore.
This leads to what I think is the film’s strongest aspect and where the personal connection I had with the film. The screenplay, and how it takes a deep look into its story, character, and thematic depth to make it a truly memorable experience.
Rather making this sequel about the characters finding another device to stop an evil overlord from taking over the world like in most superhero films these days and simply being a rehash of the first Guardians film, Guardians 2 takes these beloved characters and puts them in the forefront of the film by examining their inner flaws, the central ideas behind these characters, and making them go through personal journeys that will help them define who they are as individuals and as a family. Whatever it’s Peter discovering his father for the first time and building a relationship with him, or Gamora and Nebula facing a sister rivalry both physically and mentally, or Drax expressing more of his sensitive side to others, or Rocket and Yondu building a bond around their flaws and how their friends abandon them due to their selfish actions, each of the characters and plotlines works so perfectly because of each of their arcs and growth are connected to the film’s core themes of family, abuse, abandonment, relationships, toxic masculinity, and destroying the ego (both literally and figuratively) within you to become a true hero.
We have scenes where we see our characters arguing and bickering with each other, showcasing the fact that, despite them working better as a team, the individual flaws each member has are still intact. Which causes the dynamic between the team to fall quite a bit, like when their ship got destroyed and everyone is blaming on Peter and Rocket for them being egoistic about they can fly their ship very well, thus leading the team to split up for a good portion of the film with Peter, Gamora, and Drax heading to Ego’s Planet, while Rocket, Groot, and Nebula stay behind, while the song The Chain by Fleetwood Mac plays.
I guess this is a good time to discuss the music in this film and how it connects well to the story and character arcs. As well as being awesome music choices on their own right.
While we’re on the subject on The Chain, it was used very effectively in two scenes. The first scene is when the Guardians split up and Peter is going out to find that family he was searching for with Ego, and getting that love and confront he always wanted (even having a closeup shot of Peter looking at a picture of David Hasselhoff, symbolizing that he might have found his Hasselhoff with Ego) The second scene is towards the end of the film where Peter realized that he needed to break that cycle of abuse and control of power by Ego, and realized that he has already got a family who loved him for who he is, who he is as a person, and what he stands for, no matter the cost. He’s ready to finally break that chain of abuse and manipulation he was repressed by Ego.
The rest of the song’s choices are used as a way to connect to the story, it’s themes, and the overall emotion of a scene. Like the use of Mr. Blue Sky by ELO, the scene showcases Baby Groot dancing in very cute ways (fun fact, James Gunn himself did the motion capture dance for the VFX department to use for Baby Groot), but the scene also shows the rest of the Guardians all taken apart of trying to keep Groot out of trouble with fun little interactions between them and establishes the themes of the importance of family and how to bond with one despite their flaws. Songs like Southern Nights and Come a little bit Closer adds a lot to the devious nature to characters like Rocket and Yondu, but also shows parallels between them and how they’re actually like each other (in one of the films most emotionally powerful scenes that gets me every time I watch it), Brandy and My sweet Lord are great uses to introduce and further explore plot points and critical character development (whatever it’s establishing Ego as a character, or Peter trying to find that hope in his planet), Bring it on home to me showcases how Peter’s immaturity and flirtation with Gamora by trying to dance with his won’t exactly having him win over Gamora, and show they’re still flawed individuals who Peter tries to ignore but Gamora brings up in one of my favorite exchanges of dialogue in the film.
“I have finally found my family, don’t you understand that?
“I thought you already have.”
This is one of the many exchanges of dialogue and subtle character moments that really helped make the film as raw and personal as it is, despite the classic, crazy, and over top space opera-like feel it wants to present itself with. Every character grows into the heroes and people they are inspired to be by having them confront what they’re facing that will shape the views on those around them differently than what they originally thought of. Like when Gamora and Nebula are having their sibling rivalry, only to Gamora’s relation that all Nebula ever wanted was a sister who loved and care for her but couldn’t due to Thanos’s abusive power on the two that causes them to have not so great mindsets about each other for years, only then do they let go of that pain and trauma is when they learn to forgive each other with the growth of the characters and performances from Karen Gillan and Zoe Saldana respectfully truly shine in those moments.
Or when Rocket and Yondu starting to bond once their crews abandoned them due to their selfishness, and once their bond grows stronger and more real throughout the course of the film, Yondu breaks down to Rocket that the reason why Rocket is the way he is, and why Yondu knows everything about who Rocket is, is because he WAS Rocket (man, does that scene gets me every time). Someone who is abused, abandoned, emotionally disconnected from the rest of the world, and needs that retooling to be better. Which Rocket takes that to heart during the final battle that he isn’t willing to lose Yondu, but Yondu had to tell him he needs to give them this moment, and even with Rocket stopping Gamora for rescuing Quill, he doesn’t want to risk to lose more than one friend in a single mission. Showcasing his humanity and caring for his love ones has changed in profound ways.
Or even when Peter is fighting against Ego, is playing in a figurative and a literal sense with him fighting against Ego’s power after what he has done to manipulate him and having Peter’s anger being put to the test once he found out that Ego killed his mother. But as Ego is about to die, he screams “If you kill me, you will be just everybody else”, and Peter responds with “What's so wrong with that?”. That demonstrates Peter’s growth in this film, that he needs to destroy his ego and selfishness, in order to become the hero he deserves to be and the person both his family and loving mother desires to be.
Scenes like these and many others is why this film spoke to me on a personal level. I was very much like these characters. Granted, I’m not in space fighting a literal planet alongside a talking raccoon, but these characters' internal flaws, struggles, confusing emotions, all of that is stuff I go through on a daily basis. Even at the cost of hurting my chance to grow into being better and better communicate with the people around me. But sometimes I have taken that leap of faith, and truly learning to accept who I am despite my flaws and being better with my communication with other people who will love me for who I am. And the fact I found in myself in characters like Peter and Rocket has really helped me to be that person I desire to be in truly powerful and effective ways.
The final 10 mins of the film I think sums up everything this film was going for both from a filmmaking and storytelling perspective. Yondu’s funeral ties up all looses ends and having every arc closed in a beautiful way that feels earned. From Peter’s recognizing how much Yondu means to him and he was that cool father he was searching for the whole time (just didn’t know it until he missed it), to Gamora and Nebula settling their pain and trauma to forgive each other (“you will always be my sister”), to the Ravagers giving Yondu a heroic funeral with flashy colors galore, to Peter and Gamora revealing their love for each other, but in a more friendship like way (because that’s where the relationship is rooted on, and that's more deeper than a kiss as James Gunn stated in the audio commentary of the film), to Rocket finally opening up to his flaws and mistakes to his family and sees how Yondu really changed his life for the better. All of these elements work so well not only from a visual standpoint with striking colors and affective uses of camera angles (tons of close-ups, wide shots, dolly moves, etc), but on a thematic standpoint, showcasing that the team has become better and stronger not only with them remembering the fallen of a close friend to them, but have learned that their flaws won’t affect them based on how much they love and care for each other (even the use of Father and Son is used to visually shows how much of Yondu meant to Peter and is hoping that he gives the same love to those around him). Not to mention this film ends on one of my favorite final shots in film history. Rocket, a CGI raccoon, crying over the loss of a friend that meant so much to him but is filled with happiness that people are remembering him during his passing, and the fact he’s apart of a family who loves and cares for him, because of embracing the flaws he faced with on a constant basis and there's a desire in him to become better. That gets me every time I watch it.
I think I did more than enough to convince you why this film is amazing. But to sum it up, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is a film that means so much to me. On top of the amazing directing, unique sense of humor, clever ways of editing and cinematography and it’s crazy and wacky space opera like feel it all that makes it entertaining to watch, there’s a deep, real, personal, and honest story about broken people from all different corners coping with their egos, selfish/toxic behaviors, and how their actions affected the people around them. It’s only after going through a life-changing journey to discover what they really need to break out of those toxic aspects to make their life a bit better, and that to me is absolutely amazing. It’s crazy to me that James Gunn was given the opportunity to make a $200 million independent film that's not afraid to be both insanely fun with its visuals and humor and deeply personal with its story, characters, and themes.
And that’s just the beauty of cinema. If it can both entertain you and deeply touch you in ways you might have not expected, then you know it’s a film that can stick with you and you want to come back to. Not only because of how you remember how fun it might be, or even noticing tiny details you might have not caught upon your first viewing that makes your enjoyment more enjoyable, but it might even desire you to be better in life. To me, Guardians 2 is one of those films that not only wants to make me a better lover of film or a better writer or a better filmmaker but above all else, a better person.