The joke that opens Guardians of the Galaxy 2, where the Guardians fight a giant monster in the background of the scene, out of focus, while Baby Groot dances obliviously in the foreground, is a joke you’ve seen before, in, say, Hellboy, or Men in Black, or the Q scene in a James Bond film. “Background chaos ignored by foreground character” is a dependable gag, but it only ever needs to last a few seconds. In Guardians of the Galaxy 2, it goes on for as long as the opening credits need it to, which is about five minutes. So, how much you’ll get out of the film may depend on how long you can stomach a joke for.
“Ok, I get it,” was what I found myself thinking for a lot of the film. An action sequence incongruously played out with a 70s pop song over the top of it? That’s funny and cool! Five or six times in the same film though? That’s predictable and tiring. Drax saying something insultingly literal for a laugh? Funny! Drax only ever saying insultingly literal things for laughs? That’s two-dimensional, and cheap. One David Hasselhoff reference is a quick gag for the older audience but Guardians of the Galaxy 2 goes back to the joke at least four times. There’s a point where nostalgia starts seeming desperate, and the film gets pretty close.
Nor was it just the comedy that wore my patience down, but the drama as well, with characters frequently spelling out the emotional subtext and dramatic beats. The film seemed perpetually worried the audience wasn’t going to laugh at a joke if it happened too quickly, wasn’t going to pick up on an eighties reference, or understand what the characters understood.
The film is undeniably beautiful, the brightest, boldest, most colourful Marvel film yet. Kurt Russell is as magnificent as ever, all thick lustrous hair and beard and a perfect blend of affable and sinister. The whole cast play their roles as perfectly as they did in the first film. But the approach the film seemed to have was to note what people liked about the first film, and then do it again, but for longer.
I liked the first Guardians, though I wished at the time it had been a TV series instead, to give all the characters room to develop and breathe, and to allow the story the space to introduce all of its concepts and planets and races. Guardians of the Galaxy 2, retreading and belabouring the first film’s jokes and not allowing for much character development at all, made me wish this all the more.