Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is everything its predecessor should have been. That’s clear from its opening credits, which roll over an iridescent confrontation with a flying space squid. Oh, there’s all the CGI excess you’d come to expect from a mid-era Marvel movie, but director James Gunn is permitted to put all those millions of dollars of VFX into an out-of-focus background as Baby Groot scurries about the landing pad. It sets the scene for the film that follows, which despite hewing fairly closely to Marvel formula, is finally allowed to prioritise fun and character over expensive-looking action. You almost get the sense that Marvel is loosening their strictures and admitting a small trickle of auteurist tendencies through the floodgates. (Here’s hoping Taika Waititi busts those gates wide open.)
Of course, Gunn puts the vulgar in vulgar auteur; as a director who came from Troma and is known for the slimy likes of Slither, the stamp he puts on the material is decidedly crude. Your enjoyment of this movie will depend almost entirely on your tolerance for dick jokes. Personally, I found them pretty funny, but I can understand serious cinemagoers rolling their eyes. The film is campy, but in that straight-first-year-film-student-who-worships-Tarantino sorta way: think irreverence and violence instead of anything legitimately subversive.
This is beginning to sound an awful lot like I didn’t appreciate the movie, but that’s far from the truth! Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may not be sophisticated cinema, but it manages to efficiently juggle an overladen plot with a genuine sense of pun and a thrillingly fast pace. Even when a scene falls flat it’s not long before you’re thrust into some brand of psychedelic excess. Where the first film felt like an attempt at silliness shackled to the strictures of MCU formula, Vol. 2 sings because it’s allowed to scribble in the margins.
Like the first film, we have an aesthetic mishmash of disco/psych album covers with a hefty dose of space opera – and maybe a videogame or too (there’s certainly videogame logic driving how our intergalactic heroes and heroines are able to extricate themselves from supremely perilous circumstances). Oh, and there’s the soundtrack full of deep cuts from decades earlier, now incorporated into the plot yet feeling incongruous with the events onscreen.
Weirdly, though, the main influence that I noticed was from an unlikely source: Futurama.
I should probably unpack that. I admit I went in with the scent of Futurama in my nose; I’d imagined that the imperious-looking golden folks from the trailer were a riff on the Neutrals from “Brannigan, Begin Again” (they weren’t, at all, but it was a nice thought). So maybe I’m seeing things that aren’t there. But when Peter “Starlord” Quill (Chris Pratt) runs into his long-lost and apparently divine daddy, Ego (Kurt Russell) and hitches a ride to his fabulously fertile – and ominously under-populated – planet, I couldn’t help but be reminded of “A Bicyclops Built for Two.” For those of you who aren’t Futurama fans, that’s the episode where Leela finds who appears to be the only remaining member of her species … only to ultimately learn that things are not what they appear.
It’s probably not giving too much away to say that Vol. 2 has a similar twist stowed in its nether regions. But along the way it offers up some other revelations – like that Quill is vested with a power upon which the fate of the universe hangs – with an uncanny similarity to Futurama plot points from its later seasons. (Okay, to be fair, almost every second sci-fi story has similar revelations, so.) Combined with the humorous tone (with a satisfyingly dark edge), and Quill and Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana’s) “unspoken thing” (à la Cheers’ Sam and Diane or, yes, Futurama’s Fry and Leela) it almost feels like you’re watching a big budget, live action Futurama. That’s a good thing, I reckon.