With sweeping, panoramic upshots of a raging battle in progress, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is such a work of art immersed in its source that it becomes something more than just a sequel, with improved technical debris bridging the dust of 1960s Marvel comics to a cinematic life of its own stature. Its tendrils tie what has happened to what’s about to occur, kicked alive pretty much where it left off, as space mercenaries get hired to defend a power source for a smug alien race known as Sovereigns, and by so doing, they are sucked into the conceptual vortex of a physical reenactment of the cover to Fantastic Four #1 – the foundation and origin of Jack “The King” Kirby’s Marvel Universe!
Only this rendition focuses on a tentacled, bug-eyed, space-bred baddie hoping to abscond with space-batteries while the dancing Groot keeps time to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” (the Electric Light Orchestra used to feature spaceships on their LP covers, and “Mister Blue” is possibly in reference to Yondu, an original member from the Guardians comic books), an obvious reminder that Marvel Comics has been Disney-fied!
With its numerous sub-routines and plot-spirals, Guardians Vol. 2 is as pure a Jack Kirby movie as we’re likely to see. Sure, Kirby write the sci-fi screenplay for an unmade movie call Argo that Ben Affleck used as the basis for his Academy Award-winning film of the same name, and Kirby is the creator of the majority of Marvel Comics characters, from the Hulk and Captain America to Groot and the aforementioned Fantastic Four, which was considered the flagship title of the company, revered as Marvel’s “first family.” It’s where major concepts and villains were initially introduced. where aliens such as the Kree and the Skrulls shared the cosmos with the Eternals and Celestials. The groundwork for this universe was laid around the Silver Surfer and the Watchers, upon the doorstep of the Baxter Building. But with that franchise in limbo, estranged from their cinematic universe, the title has gone unclaimed until now, and it is clearly adopted in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 once Drax (Dave Bautista) proclaims, “We are family!”
Bombarding its epicenter with mid-20th century pop culture iconography, the movie is a trove of Disneyana. (“I’m Mary Poppins,” claims Yondu!) Yet in between the Maxfield Parrish psychedelia and troll dolls surrounding claustrophobic romantic and affectionate passing-of-the-torch setups lies a huge debt to Forbidden Planet, the mid ’50s science fiction movie about a manufactured world occupied by Dr. Morbius (also the name of a Spider-Man foe) and his daughter, where the remnants of a dying race called the Krel (as opposed to Marvel’s Kree!) abandoned nuclear reactors beneath the planet’s surface. And on that planet dwells an energy creature referred to as an “Id” monster, which was designed by Joshua Meador, an artist from Disney studios. In Guardians 2, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) learns that his father’s true identity is Ego, the Living Planet (played by Kurt Russell). He hopes to seduce Quill into joining up as he unravels the fabric of the universe. Alongside Ego, the only other inhabitant on this planet is a young alien named Mantis, an empath. Able to impose emotions on others, she’s a foreshadow for the slow burn toward the introduction of “the messiah” in this Marvel Universe.
So with this background established, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 sets in motion the next phase of what’s to come in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Doctor Strange opens the portal to Titan, where the confrontation with Thanos (who is Gammora [Zoe Saldana] and Nebula’s father) leads to the gauntlet. Meanwhile, the movie attempts to address unanswered questions left open from the first film, such as why Yondu (the awesome Michael Rooker) collected the bounty on Peter Quill.
It’s as much about defining character as it is an action film, and for those of us familiar with the original team, the Guardians were four survivors from various planets, first covered in Marvel Super Heroes #18 (dated January 1969). Yondu, the archer, was teamed up with Vance Astro (an astronaut recently brought out of hibernation), a crystalline being called Martinex, Charlie-27 (the last inhabitant of Jupiter) and Starhawk and his wife. They battled the Badoon, a warlike reptilian race, and were occasionally joined by a Skrull replicant and Killraven. All of them show up during the memorial service near the film’s end!
Which raises another interesting aspect of Guardians 2: its credits. Okay, so Sylvester Stallone appears as Starhawk and Michelle Yeoh as Aleta, his wife. But also listed are the recognizable names of Miley Cyrus, Rob Zombie and Ving Rhames! Good luck spotting them (or their voices).
Of course, the most memorable name in the entire movie belongs to an actual comic book character. Taserface, played by Chris Sullivan, gets repeated as the butt of the joke to the point that he becomes a household name!
And the credit for that happening has to belong to director James Gunn, who directed The Belko Experiment earlier this year, and is known for being something of a loose cannon. With five (!) mid- and post-credits teasers at film’s end, he’s either stirring up fan speculation or planning a massive deviation from the script without mentioning the Enclave or the Universal Church of Truth!
Even though he has stated that these hints will not be realized in The Avengers: Infinity War, there are a few ponderables. Will HIM attempt to mate with the Lady Sif as he did in Thor #166? How does he acquire an infinity gem of his own? And just who does that mask belong to? Kang the Conqueror or the Scarlet Centurion, both of whom figure in the Infinity timeframe?
But this movie cannot be properly vetted without mentioning Rocket.
A vibrant soundman, demolitions expert and rambunctious helmsman, the raccoon runs the gamut of emotional responses in this one film – belly laughs to tears – and is responsible for three of the film’s punchiest scenes: biting Mantis, ridiculing Taserface and the Basil Wolverton-esque LSD facial distortions sequence in space.
By focusing on feisty combatants, some not even human, built around precision timing and comedic flair, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 moves to the forefront of Marvel’s movie realm, suggesting that once the current trend starts to fade, and aging actors need to be replaced, Guardians will still have a shelf life!