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So They Guarded the Galaxy… again (no spoilers)

When the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie came out, I wasn’t expect much. I’m not really much of a fan of the comic. It’s fine. I didn’t think it would suck or anything. It just looked like “oh, a movie with Rocket Raccoon. That ought to be fun maybe.” I was very pleasantly surprised by it. I wasn’t writing up movie reviews regularly back then, but if I was, I probably would have glowed about it. I was expecting a dumb but fun popcorn movie… a space opera romp… maybe some solid quips… some neat looking CGI and an explosion or two. I thought it would be good. It was more than that. It was great. The fun of the first film was that it ended up being so much more than that. It had a lot of heart to it and that was a pleasant surprise. And maybe a bad one. Because it made me want more out of the sequel and that isn’t really fair.

Was Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 a great movie? No. But it was a good one. It was a dumb but fun popcorn movie… a space opera romp… some solid quips… some neat looking CGI and an explosion or two. I enjoyed myself.

But it made me start thinking about where the superhero genre film is going. What even constitutes a good superhero movie anymore? One of the things that made the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies notable is that they went out of their way to not just be superhero movies. They were movies… about stuff… that happened to have superheroes in them. That has been the key to the MCU. Rather than trying to make a good superhero movie or twenty, they made a spy movie and a heist movie and a war movie, etc. and just put superheroes in them. The first GoTG movie was a space opera with superheroes. But more than that, it was a character driven buddy film. A bunch of quirky outsiders learning to set aside their idiosyncrasies and become a family. In a way, it succeeded for the same reason that the Fast and Furious movies or the Hangover movies – as ridiculous as they both are – succeed. The relationships between the outcasts who have to learn to band together to survive is charming and sort of gives hope to the viewer. It’s nice.

This movie wasn’t that. It was still fine. I still liked it. But it didn’t quite sing to me the same way and it took me a while to kind of figure that out. And now I have it. The problem is that Guardians *IS* Fast & Furious. And not just because they both have Vin Diesel. It’s the same premise. And those movies are about family. Vin even says it every few seconds in either film, “It’s about family… It’s about family… I am Groot… It’s about family.” And that was true here. But where the first film was all about building the family… coming together. This was just sort of about… being a family. They just were. And in a few ways I was kind of annoyed with how they hadn’t quite grown as a family.

See, in the first film, the specifics of threat of Ronin are superfluous. They don’t matter. He’s a miscellaneous bad guy, and all that really matters is that everyone has team up and stand together in order to beat him. And they sort of learn that lesson. Stronger together. Without getting into spoilers for the new movie… they seem to have forgotten that lesson. It’s like there was a sitcom reset. They had to learn it all over again. And I mean a complete reset. In particular, the three main leads (Peter, Gamora and Rocket) seem to have completely forgotten every way their characters progressed in the first film. There’s no explanation. They’ve just reset to where they were at the beginning of the second act of the first movie… just so they can learn the exact same lessons again.

Of course you’re not supposed to notice that. So to distract you, the movie fills time with cameos! So many cameos! Some fun cameos. Some expected cameos. One very much unexpected cameo that bordered on the ridiculous, but turned out to be kind of awesome. Some cameos that are so cameo that you won’t even notice them unless you’re an uber comics fan. I’m actually ok with those. They did a good job of not being distracting. It’s kinda great i you’re a comic fan and you can say “holy shit! It’s Charlie-27! Awesome!” And unlike the cameos that I hated in Rogue One, they did that in a subtle enough way that it’s not distracting to anyone who doesn’t know things. Of course, it did make me go “hey, where the fuck is Nikki?!?! You tossed in Mainframe and Krugarr and I couldn’t have my darling Nikki? Fucking Krugarr beats out Nikki? Are you shitting me? What the fuck Gunn?” There… see how distracting and annoying cameos can be when obtrusive and forced and you don’t know what I’m talking about? THAT is why you don’t force cameos.

Anyway, the cameos were fun, but not enough to make me forget the problems.

I liked the villain in this film. I thought it was well thought out for what it was. And if Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 had never happened, the final battle would have been a cool climactic scene to build to. But GotG Vol. 1 did happen. And it was really really good. Quite simply… it was better than Vol. 2. So a lot of what happened here just seemed derivative. This could have been avoided by having the characters struggle with the family being ripped apart by external forces (something that would have been quite simple with a couple minor plot tweaks) rather than having them struggling to come together as a family again. I hate to say it… but this movie really needed to learn a lesson from the later Fast and the Furious films. *shudder*

Anyway, the villain was fun, but not enough to make me forget the problems,

That doesn’t mean this was bad. It wasn’t. It was fine. And that’s what really got me thinking. I’ve been saying that about a lot of superhero movies lately. It was fine. It was a movie. I enjoyed myself. And really, that’s mostly what you want when you go to the movies. Entertainment. But I also want more. A lot of why I want more is that Marvel has sort of been conditioning me to want more. At least they were. But now, what I think they’re actually doing is conditioning me to want less.

I’ve referenced the book The Revolution was Televised by Alan Sepinwall before. Sepinwall argues that the last couple decades have seen a reinvention of television so as to compete with film. Rather than being episodic and resetting over and over, Sepinwall says that now TV is serialized. So now rather than each episode standing on their own, we have complex longform narratives that are engaging because we can tell 20+ hour stories that film just can’t handle. And Marvel is as good at this as anyone with their Netflix shows.

My biggest complaint about the DC films is that they’ve been more concerned with telling the serialized story than they are at having a cohesive narrative in the singular film itself. Defenders of Batman v. Superman argue that this is a good thing. BvS didn’t need to make sense alone because it was just chapter 1 of a long story. I called bullshit on that. If I’m paying $15 to sit in a theater, I want a complete experience. If it also fits into a larger experience, that’s great.

But now in the post-franchise cinematic universe world, it feels like the MCU’s main goal is essentially going the other way training its fans to pay for episodic television. Or at least semi-episodic. And this is something they’ve learned from their comic books. For the last twenty years or so, Marvel (and DC) have relied on big mega event series. The entire Marvel Universe must band together to take on PLOT DEVICE (Civil War, Skrull Invasion, Secret Empire, Secret War). It seems that MCU wants the Avengers movies to be that storyline. Everything they’ve done these last few years has been building to Avengers: Infinity War. But in order to make these stories feel bigger, the comics publishers often force tie-in comics into the other series that nebulously are related to the overall mega event, but if you miss them, they don’t really matter. If you skip the series you don’t care about, you can follow the mega event just fine. And that’s where this movie fits.

At the end of movie, I realized that the overall story of the MCU had not progressed AT ALL. Nothing in this film really mattered. Marvel has announced that the Guardians are going to be in Avengers: Infinity War. This film introduced a couple new characters that I assume are going to be along for the ride. But if you don’t go see this movie… you won’t care at all. You won’t have missed anything. You’ll just watch the next movie and you’ll say, oh… the Guardians now have a new member… good to know… and you’ll be fine. And that’s weird. This movie feels very… optional.

And that would be completely fine if it weren’t for the fact that within the context of the film, I felt like things were kind of optional too. It was an interesting story but the stakes felt lower than their first adventure AND the characters felt like they had more or less reset in development to where they were at the beginning of that film too. It’s like they said “that first movie was good. Let’s do it again.” and they did… just not quite as well. It was Hangover 2... and I actually liked Hangover 2. But it wasn’t Hangover.

But really. It’s fine. And I’m wondering if that’s what they’re going for. Because right now, a superhero movie that’s “fine” is better than anything DC can do at all (I actually liked Suicide Squad about as much as I liked this, but this is technically a better movie. In fact, Suicide Squad may even be slightly more fun. Suicide Squad was just very fun in its dumbness. But it has a lot more problems. So, like dumb fun vs. slight technical superiority… it’s like this is an eighth of a point better). And that’s one of the reasons I want DC (and other people) to start making better movies in the genre. Marvel needs better stuff to compete with. There’s a bit out there. Logan was amazing for instance. But I think the best way I can really state my problems with this movie is that objectively… the Iron Fist TV show is better than this is. Not a whole lot. But it is better. Iron Fist took a lot of shit. Some deserved and some not… mostly because of the race controversy… but also because it isn’t as good as the other Netflix series (or Legion. Are you watching Legion? You totally should be! Legion is really good). But you know what, it’s a fuck-ton better than Gotham. And it’s better than Smallville. And it’s sure as fuck better than Constantine was… and the internet cried when they cancelled Constantine. Media needs competing media in order to drive it to excel. Marvel doesn’t have that right now. And in a world where you’re competing against BvS and Suicide Squad… “fine” is good enough. And that’s the world they were working with when they filmed it (they probably didn’t know Logan would be good).

There’s nothing wrong with just entertaining me. Thank you for that Marvel. But you’ve gotten to the point where I’m judging you at a higher level than your competition. I’d rather see you strive to meet that… and drag the competition with you. Don’t lower the bar so that they can catch up easier.

So yeah… go see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. It’s fine.

★★★⅛☆ (3.125 out of 5 stars — that’s right… an eighth of a star… my ratings are precise dammit).

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