February 22, 2018

Guardians of the Galaxy II

Guardians of the Galaxy is pure space operetta, though with some substance lurking beneath the razzle-dazzle veneer. And it does bother to get one bit of science right. As Kyle Hill explains on Because Science, exposed to the vacuum of space, you would simultaneously asphyxiate and freeze to death. Messy by undramatic. No exploding heads.

That's pretty much the end of the science. The laws of thermodynamics? Orbital mechanics? Fuhgeddaboudit. But we are served up some tried and true science fiction memes. And while I'm all for the-same-only-different, the conflict at the core of Guardians of the Galaxy II struck me as entirely recycled, too much the same and not at all different.

The good stuff (and there is some good stuff) gets short shrift, though it is worth sticking around for.

But first, let's venture back in time to 1965 and the second Star Trek pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before," a dang good piece of cinematic science fiction for the era (notable for its lack of both monsters and miniskirts).

Gary Mitchell (Gary Lockwood) is the same sort of supercharged human "god" as Kurt Russell's "Ego" (though Gary gets there much quicker). His rule-the-universe end game is the same too. Star Trek returned to this plot device over and again. You'd think that in the process of amassing all the knowledge of creation, these "gods" would learn a thing or two.

Or get more interesting hobbies. A subject of the current season of Lucifer is how immortals entertain themselves for eternity. And the one refreshing idea is that the main character has no desire to rule or reign over anything.

Lucifer is about a dysfunctional (very Greco-Roman) family that functions, also true of Guardians of the Galaxy II. Despite being such a weird bunch, the way they connect to each other says a lot about the human condition.

But I don't include Ego in that group, despite the familial connection. He adds nothing to the mix, and finally turns into a by-the-numbers supervillain.

In the end, Captain Kirk buries Gary Mitchell's divine ambitions under a big rock. Ego meets a similar fate. The screwed up sibling rivalry between Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) pays off better than the screwed up father-son relationship between Ego and Chris Pratt's Peter Quill.

Indeed, Nebula's relentless pursuit of Gamora is a sideshow that could have been the main attraction.

The movie begins with an act of pure MacGuffinry, Rocket stealing some "batteries" from a bunch of hilariously condescending and (literally) gilded aliens (who apparently all descended from Niles Crane) with no concept of the sunk cost fallacy.

As the leader of this race of Inspector Javerts, Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) is prepared to pursue Rocket to the ends of the galaxy over a couple of Duracells, draining the coffers of the planet in the process. (As in Star Wars, the economics of building—and destroying—these enormous space fleets is never questioned.)

It would have been nice to tie these pair of obsessive quests together into a deeper message. Instead, Ayesha is reduced to playing the relentless paperboy from Better Off Dead, hounding John Cusack with cries of "I want my two dollars!"

The even better story lurking in wings of this movie focuses on the father-son relationship between Peter and Yondu (Michael Rooker), the space pirate who "kidnapped" him and then thought better of turning him over to his real father (Ego).

But like every other laudable element of the movie, it is swamped by volume of digitized material hitting the screen in every frame.

In the end, what's good about Guardians of the Galaxy II manages to surmount the overly busy script and the tidal waves of CGI. Please, Hollywood, just because you can fill every square inch of the screen with 3D SFX doesn't mean you should. Give the audience some moments of calm, a respite now and then to let the story to sink in

But now with all the big backstories dealt with, I can only hope that the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise turns into a goofier version of Firefly. Joss Whedon should be available.

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