How does a singular artistic voice maintain any sense of its unique attributes when entrapped in the confines of a large money-making machine? Well, to be truthful, they don’t and GOTG Vol. 2 is the perfect example of this despite the fact that it’s trying to overturn the Marvel formula by centralizing the characters and thematics. There’s something violently paradoxical about this film, where the spirit of individualism feels treacherous but the overbearing feeling of the MCU feels tyrannical. There’s enjoyment to be had, but that’s only a result of Gunn overthrowing Marvel or the elements of the MCU we’ve come to love shining as the simultaneously choke Gunn’s artistic vision under their control.
Everyone loves James Gunn, he’s the man, the artist that was able to break the mold of studio-filmmaking by bringing in his particular brand of idiosyncrasies. Maybe that worked the first time around because the MCU desperately needed a new voice that could take command of this weird out-branch of the MCU they needed monetize, but it’s always different the second time around. Gunn isn’t the same anymore, he’s no longer the wild new guy that revamped the stylizations of the MCU, he’s now committed, he’s making a trilogy, his particular group of outliers is forced to collide with The Avengers sooner or later and there’s not really much room left for him to breathe as he suffocates under studio mandate. The product he crafted originally might still maintain the same look and feel, but it just isn’t. As weird as this comparison may seem, listen to Katy Perry’s One of the Boys and then listen whatever her latest album is called, there’s a clear difference stimulated by money and whether you liked that album or not, you can clearly tell there’s been a decline ever since. Surely, there might be a couple of highlights sprinkled across her career, but sadly, nothing will ever compare fervently artistic motivated voice she seems to have lost.
I’m not saying there’s no hope left in Gunn’s career or that GOTG Vol. 2 is a colossal train-wreck, but I do want to point out the artistic decline that surrounds the franchise and how the MCU’s model has warped our perspectives so harshly that we feel like a perfectly fine Shane Black movie goes against everything the MCU ever stood for. Now that the pessimism (or realism) is out of my system, I would like to go back and focus on those sparks of artistry sprinkled across GOTG Vol. 2. First of all, I must say it, this is the most beautiful MCU film put to screen, now that’s Guardians is a proven property Gunn goes all the way in ensuring we perceive the grandness of this universe as he colors it with kaleidoscopic effects that brought me back to the beauty of Jodorowsky’s conceptual art for Dune. The film’s humor is still the same Gunn has stapled all of his film’s with and as unnatural as it feels to write, these two positive aspects most beautifully converge towards the middle of the scene as Yondu goes on a mass-killing spree that’s preceded by an amazing gag involving Baby Groot misunderstanding a series of orders. The Guardians are equally great as they were the last time around and Baby Groot is so adorable he’s immune to any criticism.
My biggest conflict regarding this film is Ego (Kurt Russell) as he perfectly highlights that paradox I initially mentioned. Although tackling the most excessive form of narcissism ever put to screen through a character named Ego seems a bit on the nose, I like the concept even though it feels like centralizing Ego goes against the MCU’s model in which the villain is maintained as distant as can be. I admire Gunn for trying to invert the model, but the fact of the matter is that by centralizing what usually lies at the outskirts, the time you spend on the villain that you usually would’ve spent on everything else means everything else will be hindered because not enough attention can be given to it. Thematically, you can argue that that’s what an over-inflated ego would do, ruin everything to make itself better and indeed, that is what Ego does in this film, temporarily rupture the MCU model despite the end result being the same as always, a huge CGI-galore with a happy ending. Containing a few sparkles of hope here and there, GOTG Vol.2 is a disappointment that seems conflicted about embracing the functioning MCU model or the its artistic roots.