I’m going to start by saying some positive things about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. It has fantastic CG. Wow is cinematographer Henry Braham truly inept at compositing it with live footage, but the CG is fantastic. Whether it’s the exploding spaceships or exploding planets or the genetically engineered, bipedal racoon, the CG is fantastic. It’s not exceptional with the other CG characters, the micro-sized plant toddler or de-aging Kurt Russell, but, dang, is there some good CG. And James Gunn is usually good with the shot composition for it. So long as he’s in medium long shot or long shot and they shots don’t involve Chris Pratt. Especially not when they involve Pratt and Zoe Saldana. But otherwise, pretty good with the composition.
Other good things? Bradley Cooper’s great voicing the raccoon. Yes, it’s a Gilbert Gottfried impression, but… given the amount of dialogue Cooper gets, he’s so much better at delivering than anyone else in the movie, he deserves a lot of credit. He’s got more vocal inflection in four words than Pratt manages in his entire performance. Saldana, well, like Dave Bautista, their lack of affect is part of their characters. There’s an excuse. Maybe not a good one, but there’s an excuse. And Bautista’s fine. He gives one of the film’s better performances. Though, technically, Saldana doesn’t even give one of it’s bad ones. Because she’s always opposite Pratt–who’s downright laughable when he’s got to pretend to emote–or Karen Gillan. Technically, Gillan has one of the film’s more thoughtful character arcs… unfortunately, she’s terrible.
And it’s not like Gunn (who also scripts) can make the family relationship between Saldana and Gillan work. The daughters of an intergalactic would-be despot who spent childhood trying to murder one another in combat for his amusement then reconciling as adults? Given Gunn rejects the idea of taking the setting seriously–you know, the Galaxy–and is downright hostile the idea of doing so (apparently no civilization in the known universe except Earth has come up with iPhones or similar personal technologies), he’s probably the right one to crack it. But he sure does better at it than Pratt finding out his deadbeat dad is Kurt Russell, who’s an interstellar being with the power to create life. Their relationship is a series of terrible scenes punctuated by Pratt’s terrible deliveries and emoting.
How Russell was able to keep a straight face through the film… well, professionalism. Pass it on.
I did not dedicate all the bad and stupid things in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to memory. I gave up somewhere before the first act finished, but a lot of the problem is Pratt. And Gunn. Both as a writer and director. As a director, Gunn could give a crap about performances. Everyone mugs through bad jokes. Or pop culture references. The pop culture references are concerning, not just because Gunn uses them instead of giving Pratt’s character any interiority, but also because they imply some really dumb things about the character. Pratt’s got an arc in Vol. 2. It’s one of the many concerning things about the film, if you give the film any thought, which Gunn doesn’t want you to do and you don’t want to do because it just reminds you of the very, very long two hours plus you’ve already put in.
Needless to say, Pratt’s “finding his father” arc–involving Russell and intergalactic mercenary Michael Rooker (who speaks entirely in B-movie colloquialisms even though he’s an alien)–is pretty weak. Rooker does better than the other two, but… only because he’s not godawful. Pratt’s bad, Russell’s not good, but the writing for both of them is lousy. Rooker’s got dumb dialogue, but Gunn definitely gives him the best male arc. Again, Rooker’s professional. It helps. A lot.
The chaste romance between Pratt and Saldana is terrible. It only gets one real big scene and it’s one of Pratt’s worst, which is something because it comes after his previous low of the “Dad? You wanna have a catch?” scene. There’s no floor to Pratt’s inability to essay, you know, sincerity in this film. He’s not good mugging through the jokes but at least then it’s only not funny, not a crime against filmed dramatics.
Other macro terrible things… oh. Yeah. Pom Klementieff as Russell’s empathic pet. She’s around to give Bautista someone to talk with for much of the second act and to engender suspicion regarding Russell’s true intentions. Gunn’s writing for her character is frankly hostile. He uses her as the butt of jokes, he emotionally manipulates her (usually only to objectify her–or not objectify her), and to act as… well, he needs someone to mock and particularly redeem. He makes fun of his brother (Sean Gunn plays Rooker’s sidekick) but eventually redeems the character. Klementieff’s treatment just gets worse as her character “development” progresses.
It’s truly astounding Bautista is able to rise above the material in his scenes with her, since he’s usually the one crapping all over her. The joke is, she doesn’t know better because Russell’s keeping as a combination of pet and slave. It’s fine. He’s got cool hair. Though, maybe in one of the most telling plot holes, Russell has absolutely no interaction with Klementieff after their introduction. Her name might as well be Malcolm Crowe as far as Russell’s concerned… though, wait, Russell doesn’t really interact with anyone except Pratt–maybe he wasn’t available for filming. On one hand, it’s narratively nonsensical, on the other, it saves from (different) bad scenes.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is ostentatious, self-congratulatory dreck. It’s impressively executed on its scale in terms of set pieces. The editing of them is bad. Gunn and editors Fred Raskin and Craig Wood choke through every single action sequence in the film, whether it’s a space battle or fist fight. There’s a lot of emphasis on the soundtrack, which has some great songs, terribly set to scene. Of course, Tyler Bates’s score–with a couple actual good tracks–is lousy too. It’s a lose-lose. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a lose-lose.
Even when the third act is so impressively executed (though not in terms of dramatic tension); there’s a lot going on, some of it dumb, sure, but still a lot and Gunn is able to play it through. Shame none of the acting is good, outside maybe Rooker. Cooper’s “arc” doesn’t amount to much in the end, other than him still giving a better performance with his voice than anyone else in the movie.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is hostile to even momentary thoughtfulness, critical thinking, or–god forbid–actually being able to contextualize what the pop culture references would actually mean… It’s not even tripe. Regardless of the technical competence of the third act (I mean, where was it in the first). It’s not fluff. It’s not popcorn. It’s a $200 million rubber dog poop gag.
With bad cinematography and terrible acting. Like. The most interesting question the film raises is how did they get the tears in Pratt’s emotion-free eyes? Visine or CG?