05 May 2017

It's Time Again to Guard the Galaxy!

The first Friday in May is upon us, which means as it has in so many years previous, the Summer Movie Season has officially begun. This represents so much - the first tweedle of summer birds flocking back up north, the ever ripening end to school days, and of course, A SUMMER JAM BABYY!!

Do people in the South get bummed over summer when their birds leave?

May has been dominated by Marvel Superhero movies since time immemorial. Or at least since 2006 when Mission: Impossible 3 (2006) earned the distinction. This isn't necessarily always Marvel Studios films - we had X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) as recently as three years ago drop on this noble weekend. It's amazing, though, how much those whiffed.

We've had a lot of good superhero films drop on this day prior to 2006, notably X2: X-Men United (2003) and Spider-Man (2002), but there's some real rough ones in there. The Mummy Returns (2001). Kingdom of Heaven (2005). Van Helsing (2004). The Marvel Brand has owned this weekend for better or for worse, and after assaulting the world with Captain America: CIVIL WAR (2016) this weekend last year, they're prepared to unleash their full fury: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017).
Not giving a shit has never looked more epic.

With all this hype over this immortal weekend, though, doesn't it seem like no one really cares about Guardians 2? That's sort of my impression for a few reasons. For one, it should be stunning to everyone that a weekend once hallowed for Spider-Man and X-Men is now a place for a team of superheros no one had ever heard of during the time that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 premiered. Everyone attached to that film has had their stock rise in the past three years and it's still a very warmly received antidote to most formulaic superhero and sci-fi films.

Except of course it's sort of not. On a thematic or conceptual level it's really pretty standard. It's just filled with superficially painted characters that mask its complacency. That matters less when there is real chemistry, real engaging interactions, and a lot of jokes that really land when they're important. I still enjoy Guardians a hell of a lot, but when you're perceived as so innovative it's next to an impossible task to follow it up.

That's especially true when there have been so many imitators over the past few years in the superhero genre. Some have done really well in establishing their own identity (Deadpool [2016]). Some blatantly failed (Suicide Squad [2016]). Like any film that creates a mold, its follow-up appears continually derivative rather than advancing the same playful innovation.

Now, most of the soundtrack is out, although I've abstained from pouring over it because 1) I want to be surprised at how well it (hopefully) works, and 2) c'mon, you've never heard of half of these acts anyway - at the best just faded half-memories. Pop music in comic book movies has suddenly become ubiquitous, especially in trailers thanks to Guardians and Blue Swede. It exists in a difficult spectrum, where catchy music still works really well for setting mood, especially fun or creepy vibes, as with anything, too much becomes repetitive and loses its impact. It's unfortunate that "too much" in this case is best practice for an entire industry, but as we've said here at Norwegian Morning Wood, people don't want cool fun songs in their movies because they're cool fun songs - they want them because they're something new that they had never seen used that way before and they worked with the characters and story. That's how you develop and innovate your filmcraft.

On the refreshing note, let's talk Chris Pratt. Three years ago seeing the schlub from Parks and Recreation headlining a major studio picture with shredded abs was an amazing site. Since then he's had a fair amount of over exposure, to the point where while the kind of character he plays (yes, solid enough that there's a "Chris Pratt-type" character moniker) is still interesting, we've seen it quite a bit by now. And actually, his Owen Grady in Jurassic World wasn't really witty or Star-Lord-esque, and his Passengers character wasn't really as quippy either. The fact remains, though, that the shock and novelty has been dispersed. Guaurdians 2 needs to re-establish all the fun his first outing had. It doesn't help that as his popularitiy has risen it's ever more clear that he's a douchebag.

Let's get into why we're even here though - what is this film's commercial, cultural, and critical potential? Commercially, there's enough goodwill from the first film, not withstanding the shared universe popularity that indicates that this will do great. The trailers have been pretty successful, and considering the fact that people actually know the characters this time around, it'll do fine.
So cute tho!!

Culturally, as we've said, Guardians V 2 needs to keep pushing in some new way to distinguish itself from both its original film and its imitators. The original was borderline gimmicky, and there needs to be something significant here to let it stand out from the crowd. Since 2014 we've also seen a superhero caper film in Ant-Man (2015), the universe torn down in CIVIL WAR, whatever Deadpool was, the introduction of trippy magic in Doctor Strange (2016) and lastly, the epic emotional roller coaster of Logan (2017). Suddenly we're in an era where a superhero film can be anything and many be who they want to be really well. There's so much more freedom, although Marvel always seems hesitant to truly embrace it.

Critical reaction hardly matters anymore - Marvel's MO tends to be making competent and well-liked films that aren't really exceptionally good films. They're still made to be enjoyed by an extremely wide audience, and before you knock that, consider what DC has continuously failed to do. Sure the financial returns have been wonderful, but there isn't really a love or cultural resonance there like there is for most Marvel films and characters. This is all to say that it's still a tough bit of filmmaking to actually make films that are widely loved and critically appreciated in an age where we see a Legend of Tarzan (2016) and King Arthur: Bup Shit (2017) that no one gives a dick about for every Guardians Vol. 2.

In the end I'm sort of excited about this, but not nearly as much as I was for the first one, or for Deadpool or for Logan. Hell, I'm actually even a bit more into Thor: Ragnarok (2017), which is something I never thought I'd write. This ought to be just fine, just serviceable, but as the Marvel machine has done time and time again, this really feels like an Infinity War (2018) set up, as many second films have done that came out just prior to a big team-up film such as Iron Man 2 (2010) and to an extent, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). The path seems very clear to make a definitive bridging connection, even if we actually do have Homecoming (2017), Ragnarok, and Black Panther (2018) to keep moving pieces into place. Ultimately, my main desire to watch this is actually to see how the greater story continues to develop, which hey, is the whole fucking point of a shared universe in the first place.

What do you think? Will Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 knock it out again? Or did the first one actually suck? Will it suck too? Will it be a let down and suck even though the first one was secretly or overtly good? These are the immortal questions.

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