Warning: Contains spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2.
It’s important to admit straight away that I am not a member of the Marvel fandom. I grew up too obsessed with Asterix and The Adventures of Tintin to care much for superheroes, so I missed that phase of my childhood. Thus, I didn’t dive straight into the Marvel Cinematic Universe when they began releasing films. When I my friends finally convinced me to watch one, The Avengers, I discovered that MCU was an all or nothing endeavour. I didn’t understand what the Tesseract was, so they told me to watch Thor. That didn’t make much sense. Then they told me to watch Iron Man and Iron Man 2, and I decided that I was out. I wanted to enjoy a Marvel movie every now and then, but I wasn’t ready to watch all 15 films.
Not to say that I hadn’t watched a very long film series before, having sat through all the extended editions of The Lord of the Rings, but the Marvel films seem to contain several very different storylines that were somehow semi-connected. They are all separate stories featuring different protagonists with different issues in different worlds and some appeal to me more than others. For instance, I want to watch Norse gods having a family feud whereas a playboy billionaire does not really interest me. Yet somehow, it is not possible to understand either of those stories separately and so I reached a conclusion: the Marvel universe was a little too caught up in its own mythology for me to jump into it anytime soon.
This is all a very personal reaction, of course. If you grew up reading all the comics or have been an avid fan since Iron Man came out in 2008, I’m sure all the little clues placed in each movie to other facets of the universe are incredibly satisfying to watch. I know that whenever The Force Awakens made any such references to the original Star Wars trilogy, I laughed and cried as it tugged on just the right nostalgic strings in my lightsabre-loving heart. But at least all the Star Wars films are clearly set out in a chronological order and contain several thematic similarities, whereas the Marvel films sometimes feel like a box of puzzle pieces that has been emptied onto your dining hall table for you to assemble. Perhaps the Marvel universe is just not aimed at people like me who only want to catch the occasional superhero movie, rather than engage in a religious-like viewing of them all.
This is exactly why I was pleasantly surprised by Guardians of the Galaxy, and now by Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. They stand apart from the rest of the Marvel films, both in tone and the fact that they are not filled with cut-scenes featuring characters I am expected to have already met. Instead, the main characters of the Guardians of the Galaxy films exist on their own: Tony Stark doesn’t show up to give them guidance and Wonder Woman doesn’t suddenly cameo to everyone’s excitement and shock. The story is self-contained and all fits within the two hours of screen time. I am not expected to have done any pre-reading and I can just turn up and enjoy it.
Of course, this isn’t entirely true and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 still shows signs of a film made by Marvel. Stan Lee features in his traditional cameo and, according to other reviews I’ve now read, there are still several references in the film back to the comics and to characters from other Marvel films, both past and future. But the difference between Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and other Marvel films is that in this case, it wasn’t overpowering. The story was mainly about Peter Quill and his father, not pleasing Marvel fans. It was a narrative that was lightly supplemented by Marvel Easter eggs, not driven by them, which meant that it was enjoyable for both Marvel fans and non-Marvel fans alike.
Because I did enjoy it: I went into the cinema expecting a feel-good superhero film about a gang of misfits filled with lots of gags and epic space battles and that is exactly what I got. All of this was epitomised in the opening credits sequence, which featured Baby Groot dancing to Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr Blue Sky while the rest of the team battled a space octopus in the background. That battle must have taken a very long time to design and render (two years, apparently) but I was mesmorised watching the tiny plant dance and that was the genius of it. I am still in awe of the fact that director James Gunn successfully made not just one, but now two science fiction films set entirely to 80s music. It is not a concept that sounds like it should work on paper, but Guardians of the Galaxy has somehow turned it into a style that I’m sure will seep into the rest of film in the coming years.
The composition of the Guardians presents a great dynamic, each bringing forth a different type of humour: goofy Peter, sarcastic Gamora, sadistic Rocket, insensitive Drax and wildcard Baby Groot. However, the standout performance is given by Karen Gillan as Nebula. She delivers her monologue about her father replacing parts of her body in such a tone that slowly reveals the real pain and anger that hides behind Nebula’s tough exterior. It almost felt like an Oscar-worthy moment. That was a rare glimpse of a three-dimensional character amongst a film based mostly on parodying stereotypes. The increase in Nebula’s presence also allows this film to pass the Bechdel Test through the exploration of her relationship with Gamora. I thought this plotline was a refreshing change of pace from most of what I’ve seen in my limited watching of superhero films and extensive watching of science fiction films.
If I had to pick a main fault in the film, it would be the script. While it was a great story overall, and I very much enjoyed the plotline of Peter’s relationship with his father, the script had its flawed moments, such as the clunky lines in the opening scene, Nebula in handcuffs and her inevitable escape and the clichéd “I believe in you!” moment from Drax of all people in the finale. This was paired with the pacing, which only became problematic when the final battle dragged on just a little bit longer and had clearly been written so that only one big boss had to be faced at a time.
One thing I will always love about going to see a Marvel film is that everyone else in the cinema will stay until the final credits have finished rolling, even if this is only achieved by the several cut-scenes hidden in the credits. I am a huge fan of staying seated in the cinema and watching the names of all the people who worked on the film, so it was nice not to be the only person left in the cinema for a change.
I will happily buy my tickets for Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3, although I do remain wary of the Guardians’ upcoming appearance in The Avengers: Infinity Wars. So much of what I love about Guardians of the Galaxy comes from the fact that it is separate from the rest of the tangled Marvel mythology, but it seems not even that will last.