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Peter Quill and his fellow Guardians are hired by a powerful alien race, the Sovereign, to protect their precious batteries from invaders. When it is discovered that Rocket has stolen the items they were sent to guard, the Sovereign dispatch their armada to search for vengeance. As the Guardians try to escape, the mystery of Peter's parentage is revealed. (From Marvel’s official synopsis)

 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2
In the 2000s, when superhero movies began to completely dominate the summer season, the second film in a series was all but guaranteed to be an improvement. Free from the sticky confines of introductions and origin stories, Bryan Singer’s X2: X-Men United (2003), Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 (2004), and Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008), among others, were able to expand their narratives and characters, explore unique themes, and experiment with cinematic techniques. A decade later, Marvel Studios is setting a completely different precedent – one that seems tied more to the fruits of their wild success than the unsteadiness of the once fickle blockbuster movie game. With the exception of Joe & Anthony Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), which ended up being one of the studio’s best films, and Alan Taylor’s Thor: The Dark World (2013), which failed for its own specific reasons, all of the MCU’s number two films – Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2 (2010), Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), and now James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 – have been sloppy victory laps. What’s even more interesting than this sudden shift in superhero sequel expectations is the fact that all three of these movies are problematic in such similar ways.

The chief connection is that all three movies jump out of the gate with more swagger than grace or actual charm. Like black-suit Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3 (2007), the filmmakers, who were so cautious with their initial efforts, are suddenly burdened with an overabundance of confidence. They strut and dance and shoot finger guns at normal people, who find their actions tiring and their hip-shimmying jokes unfunny. The three movies in question were the follow-ups to big gambles – the studio’s first solo effort, a first-of-its-kind crossover event, and a galactic sci-fi comedy. Their successes allowed the directors to take off their training wheels and magnify their unique attributes. At the same time these films all lack consistent quality: their highs are higher, but their lows are also much lower.

 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 fits the Age of Ultron & Iron Man 2 mould perfectly. It is overstuffed with ‘world-building’ events that don’t serve the film’s more contained major story, it revels in big action and special effects, it’s centered around a pace-deadening second act that offers a weak emotional pay off (specifically Tony Stark’s drunken malaise, the scenes at Hawkeye’s farm, and the Guardians hanging around Ego’s planet), and it vastly overestimates the snarky appeal of its perpetually sarcastic characters. Given the Guardians series’ wacky side, these issues extend to tone and taste. This is most apparent when Gunn overplays unfunny jokes, such as Drax's faux disgusted reactions to Mantis' affections and Rocket's extended Taserface tirade. In addition, the Taserface scene (or at least its inception) illustrates one of Gunn's many dumbfounding tonal choices. This otherwise lighthearted break for laughs directly follows the reveal that the Ravagers loyal to Yandu have been jettisoned into the vacuum of space, where they freeze to death in horror. It's a truly sobering sight for a generally easygoing film, yet the effect is immediately undermined by Rocket's antics. This might have worked for a Troma movie – where sex & violence are permitted and bad taste is the only taste worth having – but it’s awkward in the context of a slightly edgy Disney comedy and emblematic of the film’s refusal to take any of its own threats seriously.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’s inadequacies never dip as low as Age of Ultron’s farm scenes, but it never reach the heights of the Vision birth sequence, either. Still, Gunn has some major advantages over its MCU sequel competition. It’s a very good-looking film that accounts for the comic book roots in a way not quite seen in the first film and sets a new standard for the studio’s cosmic movies (one that will hopefully be surpassed by Thor Ragnarok, then again by Avengers: Infinity War). Gunn’s hand-to-hand fighting is still pretty weak, but the large-scale, space-faring action is delightful, especially the multi-ship chase that sets off the plot. Ego is also the best, most interesting villain since Loki. While Gunn may be guilty of building the character too stringently around Kurt Russell’s established persona (Ego isn’t the Marvel Universe’s malevolent living planet – he’s bad guy Kurt Russell with fantasy powers), it says something about Russell’s charm that he can effectively sleepwalk through the role and still be so delightful.

 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2
Speaking of Ego, there is one more curious connection between Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Iron Man 2, and Avengers: Age of Ultron – pervasive daddy issues. Tony Stark is haunted by his dead father’s expectations while battling a villain who blames the Stark family for the obscure death of his father. Ultron’s anger with his ‘father’ (Tony Stark) drives him to reject his programming and try to eradicate humanity, while the heroes gather their powers to create a different ‘son’ to destroy him (Vision). And now, Peter Quill is torn between ruling the universe with his deadbeat dad, or reestablish a relationship with his abusive adoptive father. The question is why? Why, when given nearly infinite storytelling rein over several decades worth of characters and established mythology, would three different groups of filmmakers choose to build extensive themes around father/son strife*? Are Hollywood types just perpetually scared of disappointing their parents?

Video


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was shot using Red Dragon digital cameras and post-converted into 3D for theatrical release. There was also an IMAX version, which expanded the aspect ratio to 1.90:1 during some scenes. This 2D Blu-ray is presented in 1080p at a consistent 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Gunn and cinematographer Henry Braham’s use of vivid, eclectic colour and smooth, milky gradations makes for a particularly striking HD transfer. Everything is just so clean – even the filthy textures are impeccable in terms of separation and sheer detail (to the point that you can see how inconsistent Gamora and Nebula’s make-ups are). Sometimes, things appear a bit fuzzy in long-shot, but I remember these shots looking similar in theaters (perhaps the 4K UHD disc is able to squeeze a bit more detail here?). The bigger deal is the colour, which is outrageously vibrant with wide dynamic range. Oranges are rich, greens are lush, blues are icy, and everything pops beautifully against deep, pure blacks. There are only the slightest hints of compression noise and banding in complex gradations, and no notable issues with unintended bleeding.

 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Audio


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 and meets the expectations of modern sci-fi and superhero action movies. Highlights include the thrilling and funny Sovereign drone fleet attack (there’s just so much going on from the beginning to the end of that sequence), Gamora and Nebula’s explosive battle on planet Ego, and the extended inner-Ego climax. The surround arena isn’t only used to pump-up the intensity of action sequences – it serves the jokes, too, like the extended gag where Quill flies behind the viewer to ask everyone for tape, which might actually be the most demo-worthy moment in the whole movie. Once again, one of Peter Quill’s ‘Awesome Mix Tapes’ is at the center of the musical soundtrack, while Tyler Bates’ more traditional score takes a back seat. The music is expertly integrated to serve each scene; on some occasions, it simply blares over the action or is the only aural element, but, more often than not, its tonal quality and speaker placement changes based on the environment.

Extras


  • Commentary with James Gunn – Gunn is always good for a charming and informative commentary and doesn’t disappoint. The writer/director unloads details about the technical processes, his inspirations, Easter eggs, and more in his typically friendly manner. He also recorded the track after release, so he’s able to sorta address some criticism, which is sadly unusual for new releases. He spends a bit too much of his time congratulating cast & crew members and bragging about the supposedly record-setting digital effects (they used a lot of polygons and he wants us to know it!), but doesn’t lose his momentum or leave a lot of blank space.
  • Bonus Round: The Making of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (37:39, HD) – This four-part behind-the-scenes featurette covers the screenwriting process, general filming, the musical choices, production/character design, special effects sequences, and the cast. The info is substantial, though it follows the fluffy, EPK-ish style of most post-Disney MCU making-of documentaries, so it sort of feels like four entertaining, but long commercials.
  • Guardians Inferno Music Video (3:35, HD)
  • Gag reel (3:41, HD)
  • Four deleted/extended scenes (5:04, HD)


 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Overall


Despite my particularly critical review, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is still a pretty entertaining movie. And, just like the oft-mentioned Iron Man 2 and Age of Ultron, rewatching it magnifies the value and charm of its best moments (Nebula and Gamora’s relationship is definitely something I look forward to revisiting in Avengers: Infinity War and Guardians Vol. 3). On the other hand, The its problems are magnified during a second viewing. My mind specifically dwelled the fact that Gunn’s plot is the one-millionth step-by-step reiteration of The Empire Strikes Back (and not just because of the evil dad thing, but that’s another five paragraph review, that I will spare you, dear reader). This Blu-ray pushes the format to its limit with bright colours and super tight details, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is demo-worthy, and the extras are slightly better than the usual.

*This isn’t even to mention that news of dead mothers pushes Tony Stark to betray Steve Rogers and Quill to betray Ego. And how does this connect to the “Martha!” moment from Batman v. Superman? Why are new superhero movies so deeply entrenched in Oedipus complexes? What is going on?!

 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2
** Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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