I’m Mary Poppins, Y’All!
It’s been just over a year since Stevenage’s Cineworld – my preferred local cinema – unveiled it’s brand new 4DX screen. At the time, it was the fourth and largest 4DX screen in the country and it was advertised to death. To. Death. Not only do the seats move and rotate, but 4DX promised to further immerse the audience with air, scent, water, bubbles and strobe lighting.
Since April 2016, I’ve been waiting on a film that justifies the expense and tests the limits of the 4DX format and, well, it’s taken a year but I think Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) just nailed it. I mean, it’s no Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) but if the first film was anything to go by, it promised to deliver a rip roaring space adventure full of action set pieces, great humour and surprisingly emotionally rich characters.
So, did it deliver?
Written and directed by James Gunn, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is set just a few months after the events of 2014’s surprisingly popular Guardians Of The Galaxy. The Guardians, a group of mercenary misfits dragged from the seedy depths of society, is comprised of human-in-exile Peter ‘Star Lord’ Quill (Chris Pratt), ex-assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax The Destroyer (Dave Bautista), raccoon(ish) weapons expert Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and his adorable associate-come-house plant Groot/Baby Groot (Vin Diesel).
Together, the Guardians survive in a constant flux of ego, argument and sexual tension. Forced together during the events of the previous film, the audience is quickly swept back into the action where we see our heroes launch into a full on action scene within moments of their re-introduction on screen. Their task, it is revealed, is to defend a collection of extremely valuable batteries from a inter dimensional squid beast, in exchange for the return of Nebula (Karen Gillan), vicious foil from the first film and Gamora’s estranged sister.
With Nebula safely locked up in Quill’s ship’s hold, the group head off to find their next adventure before falling foul of their former bosses. After a second action set piece, the group are in serious trouble – when they are saved by a mysterious figure calling himself Ego (Kurt Russell), accompanied by his sort-of associate Mantis (Pom Klementieff).
As Quill, Gamora and Drax head off to Ego’s homeworld, the rest of the Guardians quickly become the targets of the Ravagers (space pirates), led by Quill’s father figure and childhood antagonist Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) and notably supported by Kraglin (Sean Gunn). In time, Rocket, Baby Groot and Nebula become central to a Ravager mutiny and find themselves partnering with some unlikely allies to survive.
As the story develops, we soon begin to learn more of the galaxy around us. Questions left unanswered at the finale of the first film are soon revealed, with the identity of Quill’s long lost father playing a pivotal role in not only his life – but the lives of countless others.
With all the above, it seems pretty ironic to point out that this is a much smaller story than you would expect. Every path returns to Ego, with every arc working to round off the characters left over from the first film. In many ways, it feels like Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 could be better described as Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 1.5.
That sounds like I didn’t enjoy myself – please don’t get me wrong. This was just as enjoyable as the first film (which I adore), and it’s extremely refreshing to see a sequel shirk the ordinary sequel responsibilities of telling the same story, only bigger! Instead, it feels like the film took a deep breath and decided to have a look around and develop the universe and supporting characters before throwing itself into the grander Marvel saga. I understand this was deliberate, with James Gunn himself stating that as the first film was such a breath of fresh air, the sequel should also deliver something new and surprising.
That said, some fleeting glimpses of sequelitis showed its face. The first film felt funny, Vol 2 feels like it’s trying to be funny. This was particularly obvious with Drax, a surprisingly comedic and deep character in the first film, who seemed to do or say something funny at every opportunity. Ehhhh, I dunno. Perhaps its a case of too much of a good thing, but I feel like this was a little overplayed.
What wasn’t overplayed was the soundtrack. There was no way the Awesome Mix Volume 2 could beat the playlist of the first film, I know this, but the soundtrack seemed far less involved than the first time round. You still had some great tunes – I’m always fond of some Cheap Trick in my movies – but the music seemed to have much less involvement with the story.
It’s almost as if they knew.
It goes without saying that the performances were spot on. Chris Pratt’s leading performance took a bit of a back seat to further promote the supporting cast, but he still manages to steal every scene. Every scene, that is, that doesn’t feature Kurt Russell. Kurt. Freaking. Russell. I joked to someone recently about how he is a god amongst men. I didn’t expect to be proven right in quite such a way.
I won’t name them, but there are some serious cameos in this picture. I deliberately avoided reading up too much on this film, but, wow. Without wanting to become too transparent, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 features so many of my paternal man crushes that I left the cinema with several feelings I had to discuss with myself. Alone.
So, over all? A much more introverted story, with far more time dedicated to character development without losing the grand appeal of action, humour and special effects. A little forced at times, perhaps, but still leagues above the competition. A more than welcome new chapter in the ever growing Marvel Cinematic Universe.
And my verdict on 4DX? I’m still not sure. It’s definitely a great and fun experience, but it’s possibly a little too distracting to really enjoy a film for the film’s sake. It has to be the right film, and, to be fair, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 might well be the perfect choice. I’m gonna have to go and watch it in boring old 2D to really know what an impression it makes.
That said, if we ever see a film featuring multiple massages as the main set pieces, well, get yourself down to Cineworld. It’ll be an experience you’ll never forget!
Yours, A P Tyler
PS. Make sure you stay past the credits – multiple post credit scenes and some of the best music on the soundtrack continue right until the end.