Monday, May 8, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens NY

For almost as long as I can remember, comic books have made me want to create a sci-fi epic. I've tried, more than once: As a kid, I made my initial foray into self-publishing comics. Among my attempts included a Fantastic Four-inspired yarn set in space. I did them strictly for myself. I made no attempt to reproduce them. That would come much later.

In recent years, I started (but never finished) a comic that was a SF remake of The Wizard of Oz (substitute a wormhole for a cyclone) and an SF graphic novel originally meant to be a pitch to Marvel until I changed the names and made it an original. I have a bad habit of not finishing stuff, which kinda irks me. That's why I'm so determined to complete my novel (almost two-thirds done as of this writing!).

Comics were great for these kinds of tales growing up. Post-Star Wars, the movies were starting to get a better handle on the special effects, costumes, sets, props and makeup necessary to create better alien worlds, ships and beings. Comics, however, could go anywhere and do anything, on a way smaller budget.

To a ten-year-old kid like I was, these four-color sagas blew my mind. They also fired my imagination, right around the time I began to discover my artistic ability. The fantastic worlds and strange dimensions depicted in comics made me want to create a few of my own.

Comics are still capable of going anywhere and doing anything, but these days, so are the movies. While watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I had to take a moment to, pardon the pun, marvel at what I was seeing: a talking raccoon with ray guns; a plant-like child alien; a godlike being and his heavenly home planet; a giant squid monster; sophisticated weapons and ships that move and function in ways that would've been impossible to depict thirty years ago.

Once, comics were the best at visualizing such things. Now, they're not only possible to create for the movies, they've practically become commonplace. I don't think we properly acknowledge this minor miracle enough. (I found it telling that the new Marvel Studios logo contains images from the Marvel movies instead of from the comics, like it used to.)

What does this mean for comics? Well, no one's stopped reading books because of the movies; I suspect the same will be true of comics. They still have their own unique properties - the comics theory books of Scott McCloud go into great detail about this - that should be emphasized if they're gonna move further in the 21st century. That's gonna mean way more than superheroes. But that's an argument for another day.

Director James Gunn wrote G2, as he did the first film. This feels a bit more like a Marvel Universe movie. Kurt Russell's character is one I never thought I'd see in a movie, because of its obscurity and its cosmic scale, but this is a franchise tailor made for both. Gunn found a way to not only bring him closer to human scale, but to tie him to the Guardians in a convenient way. In a series so eager to celebrate 70s/80s pop culture, casting Snake Plissken (and Sly Stallone too!) was a good call.

So what did Stephanie Zacharek think of G2? Previously, the film critic (now working for Time) sneered at "Fun! with a capital F" movies like Guardians. This time, sad to say, her opinion hasn't wavered: "[G2] feels not so much crafted as squirted from a tube.... This is a movie that praises viewers for being cool enough to show up and then proceeds to insult them - but only ironically, see?"

Needless to say, I did not feel insulted, ironically or otherwise, and neither did the audience I saw it with (who applauded at the end). G2 expands on the surrogate-family theme in the first film, contrasting it with conflicts within actual families. Granted, this is not unfamiliar territory, but it's all about execution. Gunn gives us enough human moments (for non-human characters!) in-between the humor to let us believe in these people and care about what happens to them. Special kudos go out to Michael Rooker, who was particularly dynamite here.

Then there's the songs. Zacharek says: "Freed from their original contexts and given flimsy new ones, if any, they toil in the service of a movie that's invested in little beyond smirking at its non jokes." I tend to agree with the part about the music. Outside of the song "Brandy" by Looking Glass, which plays a significant role, one does get a feeling the music's there in G2 because it's what we've come to expect now, not because it impacts the story in any way. This is always a risk when pop songs are a big part of your soundtrack. I would hope Gunn becomes more judicious in how he employs music in the future. Look at the way "Hello Stranger" is used in Moonlight and you'll know what I'm talking about.

Also, after a post-credit cameo in the last film, Howard the Duck makes another brief appearance in G2, a slightly longer one this time. Howard was a character from the 70s who was unique in that he had a very countercultural bent, reflecting the sensibilities of his creator, the late Steve Gerber. Unfortunately, he's remembered more these days for that awful George Lucas movie from the 80s. Could Marvel be setting us up for a Howard reboot - one in which he's done right? Sure seems possible!

Cinemart started screening G2 Thursday night, May 4, so I took advantage. Their renovation has continued; they upgraded their bathrooms, which was nice. Not that they were sub-par before, but this is better. I was dismayed to see, however, that their popcorn comes pre-salted, without a salt-free option. I sampled a really small bag. Couldn't taste the difference, but I won't eat it in the future, even if they are giving it away - which they were. Points off, but there's always candy. Perhaps they'll add healthier options to the menu in the future. I hope so.


  1. The further I got from the first film, the less I seemed to like it. Also, it was in the late 70s and early 80s that contemporary pop music and I parted ways. So, I became very (and expertly) curmudgeonly about Guardians of the Galaxy.

    However, people I trust (you, Laura G.) have good things to say. Janet has expressed pleasure with the colour palette of the film. She also likes to remind me that I didn't like so-and-so, but grew to like such-and-such. Who knew she was paying attention? I may be seeing this despite my best intentions to be an old grump.

  2. I think there's a lot to like based on the simple fact that it doesn't take itself as seriously as so many other genre movies these days. There is a heart to it that makes it more than a bunch of silly jokes and 80s nostalgia. While I do think it's starting to show signs that it might be getting too big for its britches, I can still laugh with GUARDIANS. They're not the Avengers, the professional, upright champions. They're the other guys.

    As for the music, well, I can't help you there. It ain't Bing Crosby or Ella Fitzgerald. Sorry. If that's a deal-breaker for you, I understand - 70s/80s rock is a major component of this franchise - but if you can grin and bear it, I do think you'll be rewarded.

    1. I have long since accepted that I am never going to hear "my" music outside of my own home. I'll deal like I do at any shopping mall. Grit my teeth and inwardly bemoan the poor taste of the rest of the people on the planet (LOL)! I'll complain when I get home and Garry and Janet enjoy themselves making fun of me. Win-Win.

  3. If it helps, lately I've begun to think rock has become more and more marginal. Songs like those in the GUARDIANS movies used to be on the radio all the time. Now they're confined to the oldies stations. Forget about finding one that plays modern rock. I rely on Pandora more and more these days.

    There is one scene where Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana dance to Sam Cooke. Don't know how you feel about classic soul.


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