Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
A fun - and funny - film that lacked the urgency or the narrative drive of the first film, and despite the humour it was still, unfortunately, predictable and shallow. James Gunn may have great vision, especially in the cosmo-building of the MCU franchise, and an eye for imageries and great but as a director, and writer, he lacked depth, subtlety and the nuances. And therefore, this sequel will surely be a hit.
The other thing that Gunn got right was the unabashed embracing of the utter cuteness that is Baby Groot. There cannot be too much of BG, and Gunn got that right. He even had a character voice that sentiment right out (see above re: lack of subtlety). Lucky BG is the definition of cute, although there were brief moments when it was dragged on a wee bit too much. But nonetheless, did I mention how cute BG is?
And on the other spectrum, Gunn got the music so wrong this time wrong. Unlike the first film where the awesome music was organic to the story, this time round, almost every single kitschy music felt shoehorned in and contrived. Gunn took whatu was good in Vol. 1 and just ran amok with that idea with nary a thought to how it fits in.
Then in between we have the titular Guardians. Sure, each actor were well suited to their character and they all have that familiar chemistry of a well-gelled cast. However, we barely got to know them any better this outing than the last. Gunn chose plot over character development and it was not as if GOTG2 had much to do with "The Infinity Wars". And as much flak as Joss Whedon got for "Age of Ultron", at least it advanced the characters that we are supposed to care about.
Speaking of Whedon, Gunn's bantering still has not improved much. And, personally, I find Drax's attitude and quips about newbie Mantis bordering on misogynistic, even in spite of Drax being Drax and always so literal. Once or twice (to drive home a character point) was fine but continuing to do so despite admonishment was just poor taste and gagging for cheap laughs.
And that was another major problem with Gunn's writing. A lot of the humour were cheap. Cheaply earned and cheaply executed. A running gag (again see Whedon) only works well if it is not too on the nose and the audience do not see it coming a few beats, or even scenes, away.
Then we have the villain. This time round the MCU gifted us with an amalgam of their previous Big Bads. An almost-amorphous gaseous/non-solid/energy-composite being that just want to destroy the world. I really think that after "The Infinity Wars", the MCU might want to do more films on a smaller scale. That was what made the Captain America and Iron Man franchises such bigger successes than Thor or GOTG.
The old cast members were all solid in their roles but were kept apart far too long. It was their chemistry in the first film which helped elevate it and over here, although apparent in the beginning was lost in order to build new interactions. Some worked, like Rocket and Yondu, while others did not, looking at you Gamora and Drax.
Zoe Saldana had much less to do in this film than the first and so it was hard to root for her and Chris Pratt's Peter. The barely had moments to develop much chemistry to speak (hah!) of. Gamora's relationship with Nebula (poor still barely recognisable Karen Gillan) was actually more interesting especially if given a chance to develop.
A word about Pratt. He has gotten him is schtick as the adorable asshole down pat. But as a hero, or even an anti-hero - heck! or an unwilling hero - he still lacked that screen gravitas and charm.
Also, the decision to have Mantis portrayed as she was in the film was in very bad taste. Mantis looked Asian - almost manga-ish - and is portrayed by Canadian-born Korean/French-Russian actress Pom Klementieff which is all good and fine, but must she act and speak like that? Almost like a bad caricature of a Japanese manga character.
Of all the new additions, Elizabeth Debicki was the best cast. And I really hope she will be back for GOTG3. Michelle Yeoh and Ving Rhames were surprise cameos and looks like they will too be back with the mysterious Sylvester-I-eat-my-words-Stallone in the next outing.
Tyler Bates did the scoring and there were moments that I wished we had more of his scores than the bad song choices. Henry Braham lensed the film and he helped to gorgeously bring some of Gunn's visions to life.
GOTG2 suffered from the usual sequelitis that affect so many projects, especially superhero franchises. Find what worked the first time and amplified it. Sometimes it worked (Groot) and sometimes it doesn't (the music). But always just distract the audience with more. More characters. More explosions. More at risk. More...more...more money.