Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ★★★

Sort of proves that I just can't be satisfied sometimes. This should be longer to create enough room to juggle this bunch of swashbucklers' histories of abuse and afford each of them the catharsis they deserve. But this should be shorter to expedite the (well-acted, but increasingly redundant) emotional exposition as well as bouts of action which Gunn has difficulty staging when he's not lamely undermining every other beat with an ironic remove. This is way too mean, frequently punishing one of its characters for the social handicaps and trauma she's endured from a lifetime of enslavement. But this isn't mean enough, sugarcoating abuse by merely signalling it through affably demeaning one-liners that go down easy. This looks better than the first film, absolutely oozing color and batting 1.000 on memorable character designs. But the aggressive Taste the Rainbow pallette is unshakably synthetic, and the film never achieves the atmospheric viscera found in the original's damp opening credits. 80s needle drops are inherently cynical, especially with this many of them. But that doesn't mean they don't provide the intended chills when accompanied by such arresting images like a swirling armada of remote-controlled ships or a flashback of Peter's warm memories among friends.

The components almost never work in conjunction with one another, yet enough of them are interesting, moving even (the infusion of overbearing patriarchal demands and colonialist narcissism, two sisters struggling to coexist after being taught to hate one another, Rooker's impeccable so-uncharismatic-it's-charismatic performance), for this to work. This lives and dies on the strength of its cast and just barely comes out alive, but the mere success of that imbues the film with an additional triumphant edge that I find completely endearing. I doubt any of these personality-driven Marvel films will ever be blessed with the coherency afforded to their more workmanlike studio-churned peers a la Civil War (which I still, shamefully, find quite entertaining), but there are certainly more demanding (and even more insulting) ways to watch a movie than being forced to pick off the toppings one enjoys and tossing out the rest of the cardboard pizza. It's nice that Gunn was allowed to give one of these an actual ending for once.

Ranking 2017 (at #21)

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