Review Roundup - Father and Son


With the exception of The Winter Soldier, the ever expanding Marvel franchise hasn't had a great track record with those tricky follow ups. Because of the nature of this universe it doesn't generally have that typically bigger and better first sequel (and inevitably disappointing third entry) that other distinct trilogies usual manage - these are all pre-planned as a single behemoth. Or so they say. Which means that they usually focus on sequel hooks and cameos to tie things into upcoming releases. However here James Gunn has apparently been left to his own devices, to write characters that are allowed to develop and expand as they face more personal challenges instead of simply fighting against bigger, louder problems. Of course the galaxy itself is still under threat, and there are plenty of eye melting visual effects sequences - but how these two elements combine to form the difficult second album is worth looking into.

All the members of the team are present and correct, as any fans of the original would be hoping. There's still a talking raccoon, a talking plant and a rude and oblivious berserker. Of course along with leader / loser Starlord and living weapon Gamora this remains a pretty abrasive ensemble, which can sometimes rub people the wrong way if the tone doesn't sink in quickly enough. By now I think everyone gets the idea but it does of course push things to new extremes since the risk factor is lower this time around. Personally it's nice to return to this world and spend time with this group of misfits. The jokes are faster and not all of them land, but there are frequent laughs.

The big change this time around is a stronger sense of drama, as characters like Nova (Karen Gillan) and Yondu (Michael Rooker) are allowed more room to breathe and develop, which in turn allows the other Guardians to grow. In a way it's like any good sequel; you know all these faces already so after some old traits have been established the rest of the running time gives them a chance to be fleshed out. These kinds of stories often attempt to bring the cast together as a team, and even as a family, but this is one case where that idea is actually central to the plot. Everyone has a moment to themselves, whether it's to say stupid dialogue or to actually provide some emotion. They may stop once too often to sit and discuss their troubles pasts and personal shortcomings, but even these slower scenes have an overall purpose.

Perhaps the biggest improvement here is the fact that the villain is actually an essential part of the story this time, rather than simply providing another make-up covered goon to be disposed of before the credits roll. Kurt Russell as Ego (the living planet) may eventually be a cause for a giant CGI fuelled smack down, but in terms of performance and script this is easily the most interesting foe that the red and white money train has provided. There is a lot of the expected exposition and scheming, but since this was all teased in the fist film it's acceptable. If anything they could have used a little more of him before the finale where visual effects take over, but generally they spend enough time with the inevitable I am your father storyline for it to really work.

The major flaw is probably the structure, as this a pretty baggy, meandering movie in which characters spend time apart, come up against new troubles, and then have a few minutes of personal angst before coming around to save the day. Again all of this serves a purpose, there's some bonding and some mistrust, and relationships are brokered. You can tell it was mostly written by one film maker that had an idea of where to take the adventure in terms of personal arcs - even though it's at the cost of pacing at times. Beyond the lack of a simple team up origin story there's a lot to fit in. It was inevitable that the novelty value would be watered down, but they try and pack in a little much in some places.

This has more heart, and bigger dramatic beats, but it also succumbs to larger space ship sequences and explosive set pieces that feel messy at times. It often looks very colourful and is frequently far more visually interesting than the grey concrete tones you find in Earth based Marvel adventures. But the effects are sometimes just bigger and faster than before which detracts from their impact. The gold plated Sovereign planet is dazzling, but the hundreds of attack craft they send out soon become a blur. However beyond the pyrotechnic extravaganza this manages to deliver the kind of punch that laser battles alone can't deliver - the mix of weirdness and personality that James Gunn brought to things like Slither and Super. Nobody making the safer, blander origin tales that preceded this would have included the face distorting moments of light speed madness here, or put an emphasis on a musical sequence in front of the opening monster attack.

The rock themes have been switched out for the likes of ELO and Cat Stevens, but it still retains enough charm - particularly the Meco inspired final track. In a way this could be accused of trying to force in too much of a good thing or tread old ground, but when it all fits together this well I can't complain too much. It almost buckles under its own weight at times with a bigger cast and a wider scope, and some of the fat could be cut out during the mid section. It's a lesser movie than the original in this way, as it was a simpler, cleaner cut journey. But this delivers more of what worked, and a few new ideas that richen the experience and expand the emotional core, despite a few structural hiccups.