By Esosa Omo-Usoh
There are some successful movie franchises whose hype and popularity I have never been able to understand no matter how many times I have seen them. I see them, at best, as just plain okay and certainly nowhere near the profound cinematic experience they are hyped up to be. Top on the list of such franchises are the Hunger Games and the Twilight Franchises. The next is the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise.
In 2014 when the first installment of the Guardians of the Galaxy was released, it met with both critical and box office success. It was so praised that on a list of movies released in 2014 and on a ranking of movies released under Marvel’s cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy was ranked higher than what should be the best film of 2014; Captain America: The Winter Soldier. A cinematic heresy was never more brazen!
I have seen Guardians of the Galaxy multiple times since its cinematic release in 2014, and till date; I am yet to understand the hype about it. Three years after, its sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, has been released to critical and box office success (albeit the former to a lesser degree than the first installment), and again; I still don’t get it.
Vol. 2 opens with a flashback to earth that was intended to put the events that would later unfold in the movie in perspective. Using digital technology earlier utilized on Jeff Bridges’ Kevin Flynn in Tron: Legacy and Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark in Captain America: Civil War, Kurt Russell gets a de-aged do-over in the flashback.
Deploying its 70s music-driven shtick, the next scene welcomes us to a totally self-indulgent and gratuitous fight/music/slapstick combo sequence that has now become a signature of the franchise.
Hired by the Sovereign race to protect their valuable batteries from a cartoonish-looking space behemoth, our oddball guardians of the galaxy deliver their end of the bargain, and get in exchange for their services; Gamora’s captured estranged sister, Nebula.
But as you would expect; one of them is going to make an idiot move and take more than what was bargained for. The wise-cracking, gun-toting and wrong-eye-winking raccoon, Rocket, helps himself to a few of the precious batteries.
When the Sovereign race finds out, they unleash an armada of remote-controlled drones after them which begs the question; with that amount of firepower at their disposal, why did the Sovereign race need the services of our quintet oddballs to protect the batteries? Why not just do it themselves?
Help arrives for the infamous quintet in the form of a mysterious man riding in an even more mysterious looking space ship accompanied by his praying mantis-antennaed empath. The man introduces himself as Peter Quill’s father, Ego.
As it turns out, the aptly-named Ego has an ego quite literally the size of an entire planet. Ego is a celestial being who has existed for millennia with a backstory that mirrors the mythology of gods walking amongst men, and a megalomaniacal ambition to destroy the universe and rebuild it in his own…, well, image.
Much like the Fast and the Furious Franchise, the Guardians of the Galaxy Franchise makes a show of the fact that it is family-centric at its core albeit for the latter, it is more of dysfunctional family-centric.
There is Peter Quill/Star-lord and his father, Ego on the one hand, and the quasi father/son relationship between him and Yondu on the other hand, There is Gamora and her estranged sister, Nebula and their sibling rivalry/love hate relationship on the one hand and their estranged relationship with their father, Thanos on the other hand, There is also the bond between Rocket and Groot on the one hand, and Drax the Destroyer and baby Groot on the other hand. And of course, there is the dysfunctional family-like relationship that ties the titular characters together.
In Vol. 2, they played the family shtick rather heavily and in all its varieties. Families rise and families fall. Families by blood and families by bond. Families of convenience and families of necessities. A family that fights within and a family that fights without. A family bound by honour and a family that bands together to honour.
But it is in the mix of its largely 70s music soundtrack and the exchanges of sarcastic and witty repartee that the Franchise draws its most endearing strength from. The dialogue exchanges in Vol. 2 took up the gauntlet from where the first installment left off, and whilst it delivered to considerable lengths, it is arguable whether it matched or even topped that of its predecessor.
In terms of performance, the ones most deserving of kudos would have to be Bradley Cooper’s Rocket, David Bautista’s Drax, Karen Gillian’s Nebula and perhaps an honourable mention for Vin Diesel’s baby Groot, more for baby Groot’s teeny-weeny cuddly cuteness than for Diesel’s voicing.
As usual, Rocket got the best lines filled with righteous angst and feral mischief/irreverence all inimitably delivered in Bradley Cooper’s voice-over that elevated a raccoon’s performance to genuinely appreciable thespian heights.
As the muscle-bound Drax, Baustistapulled off delivering cringe-worthy and guffaw-sprinkled lines convincingly with barely noticeable awkwardness either for himself or the audience. That in itself is no mean feat even for one with a background in professional wrestling where wrestlers with the gift of the garb regularly cut impressive promos off sometimes cringe-worthy scripts.
As the angst-filled Nebula, Karen Gillian was impressive with her intensity and sarcasm especially at the titular quintets’ fumbling at being a family.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 did not depart very much from the formula that made the first installment such a baffling success. It is a music-driven cabaret of hero space oddities who engage in as much in-fighting amongst themselves as they do with the cartoonish assemblage of villains with intergalactic delusions of grandeur they have to contend with.
Marvel Cinematic Universe has unleashed an ambitious multi-franchise cinematic behemoth with an overarching storyline tying them all together as it heads towards a denouement. Whilst the other franchises have infused Marvel’s fictional cinematic universe with a seriousness that lends the events therein plausibility, the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise does the exact opposite. Its cartoonish flourish reminds us not to take it, and ultimately the marvel cinematic universe too seriously.
For a Marvel Cinematic Universe purist, that is such a downer. The escapism that Marvel’s Cinematic Universe provides is so profound that anything that makes light of it just detracts from it.