Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

I had low expectations of the previous GOTG flick, but left that movie with a grin on my face. I had low expectations of the current one also -- is the Marvel Universe growing slack, or am I just weary of its media omnipresence? -- but this time my emotional torpor was no buffer from disappointment. Volume 2 falls flat, in other words. But I've been having trouble putting my finger on why this is so.

It could be I was in the wrong audience. Early into the movie I found myself laughing while the rest of the crowd was silent, and vice versa. I quickly shut up, and stayed shut up -- even when I was young and freshly college-smart, I disliked audience members who used laughter to signal they were in on a joke the rest of us squares were missing. That a dad in his 50s needed to check himself this way during a comic book movie did not bode well, I thought.
"Trust me, kids -- this is funny, funny stuff!"
In the initial movie, the Chris Pratt character ("Peter" or "Star-Lord," take your pick) was a smart-ass -- a mouthy guy who occasionally stumbled across a good idea. In this movie, all signs of smarts have vanished -- he's just an ass. I was ready to accept him as a ditz (the more buff Pratt gets, the easier it is to let his shiny eyes and open face distract from the keen intelligence that got him where he is), but the director, cast and crew kept pulling punches at every turn, hoping (I imagine) to keep their chief meal ticket the locus of audience sympathy.

Yeah, but . . . when your long-lost dad shows up looking like Kurt Russell fresh from the hair-salon and introduces himself as "Ego," surely even a ditz is going to roll his eyes.

Russell surprised me by being all smarm and no charm. His CGI younger self drives a '78 Mustang 2 King Cobra -- a notorious lemon we used to deride, back in the day, as a shined-up Pinto (a friend's older brother owned one for a couple of weeks, before unloading it on the next gas-addled doofus hoping to score with a cheerleader). To make matters worse, he's got "Brandy (You're A Fine Girl)" cranked, while the chick beside him whoops and hollers with noninfectious glee.

I took from this that Pratt's Peter was due to discover two unpleasant truths about his parents -- daddy-o is an inveterate sleaze (no surprises here), while dearly-departed ma was evidently not one of the brighter bulbs in the chandelier of humanity. Hey, there's plenty of good material to be mined from such a promising vein -- in fact, the writers who've stepped into the Guardians comic book stable are generally squalid enough in their instincts to make something amusing from their characters' darkest disappointments and insecurities.

Not so the movie writers, alas. Earnestness and easy sentiment -- "Every meanie in the galaxy is just a misunderstood child, except for Bad Old Dad!" -- overrules everything. Nobody so much as sniggered when Ego recited the lyrics of "Brandy" as if they were akin to Homer's laments. Perhaps this is what the omnipresence of the comic book universe has wrought -- po-faced recitals of pop culture ephemera taken at face value, while the narrative source code deteriorates from bit-rot and recedes from memory.


Joel Swagman said...

I had a mixed reaction to this movie myself. There were plenty of jokes that I thought were cringe worthy--in that I cringed because I was embarrassed on behalf of the writers of the film.

But, there were also a lot of genuinely funny moments as well. In the end, I thought the positives outweighted the negatives.

Whisky Prajer said...

I'm probably harsher in commentary than I was as a passive viewer -- Bautista was frequently funny, I thought. But when the credits were (finally!) over I asked my daughter what she thought, and she shook her head ruefully, unimpressed. When I get that from either girl it tends to give me permission to have at the piece in question.

Yahmdallah Bjorknickerfod said...

I think you should laugh regardless, if the spirit so moves you.

Whisky Prajer said...

Good point. Who the hell takes offense at a genuine belly-laugh?