Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ★★★

"I am Groot."
"'Welcome to the frickin' Guardians of the Galaxy,' only he didn't use 'frickin.'"

I knew coming into v.2 that there is no way it could match the brilliance of the first Guardians of the Galaxy. Knowing that at the outset keeps it from being a disappointing movie, but even so it fails to take advantage of many of the assets that it was given at the end of the first film.

Asset: Characters that really gel together.
How it's wasted: v.2, like many a sequel before it, makes the mistake of thinking that splitting characters, and their previously established comradery, is the best way to provide tension. Splinters are shown early on as Quill and Rocket's normal jabs go deeper and more intentionally nasty than usual. Then the characters split apart physically--at one point we have main characters in 3 or 4 different locations as the story jumps from one to the other. Sometimes the split is subtle, such as that between Rocket and Groot--they're friends, but the emotional link has been spread out among the rest of the cast (with a stronger focus on Quill and Gamora.)

Asset: A Fire Soundtrack
How it's wasted: The music is such a big part of the personality of the first Guardians film that it's no surprise Gunn tried to make music a big part of v.2. But, ultimately, he thought too hard about it--tried to get too cute. You've got a few well-known barn burners, like the ones he leaned on for the first film, but mostly these are deeper cuts (he literally calls them "b-sides" in the special features); either you're hearing the song for the first time or it's one you have to turn to the album to hear. They're not tracks that have been woven into the American cultural landscape. It doesn't help that he's written the songs into the script on such a topically intimate level that you literally have a character whose dialogue is lyrics from the song playing in the background. That's just kind of ridiculous. Subtlety goes a long way. Instead they act as a cheat-sheet for the film plot.

Asset: Visual spectacle
How it's wasted: Actually, it's not completely wasted--most of v.2 looks fucking awesome. There is visual pizzazz out the wazoo. And, sometimes, maybe too much visual pep. Plot points disappear among the popping yellows, blues, purples, oranges. Sometimes it's like a glitter bomb was set off, tinted with neon love and a depth that's breath taking. And when battles were being waged, I had very little grasp on what was happening. The entire ending felt a bit like a deus ex machina because it was (goddamned beautiful) unicorn barf.

I could probably go further down the wasted asset path (has anyone figured out why Vin Diesel voices a character with exactly two phrases in their lexicon?), but as messy as the movie is, I still liked Guardians of the Galaxy v.2. It's not an instant classic, and perhaps following an instant classic like v.1 serves to highlight its flaws, but it has just enough humor, just enough moments that hint at the perfection that came before, that I found it serviceably entertaining.

Maybe that's damning with faint praise, but a 3-star movie is a 3-star movie.

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