As Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was being sold last month the emphasis seemed to be on the goofy antics of the ragtag crew of space pirates and outlaws that we’d met in the first movie. The campaign focused squarely on the adventures they got into, all of which was accompanied by a dozen or so classic rock hits and deep tracks, and promised a few surprises along the way.
The movie, if you haven’t seen it, picks up a while after the events of the first film. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the rest of the group that assembled earlier are now an in-demand group of mercenaries and protectors, always choosing the right side of morality when accepting a job. After a mission goes a bit sideways they happen across Peter’s long-lost alien father (this isn’t a spoiler, it’s in the trailers) who offers to unlock his son’s destiny. There’s a price to that, though, and while the story splits the characters up for more than a good chunk of the movie they all come back together to reinforce that family isn’t necessarily who you’re related to but who you surround yourself with.
The marketing for the movie offered a mix of action and humor that was similar to what had hooked audiences back in 2014. It showed that everyone we enjoyed seeing snipe at each other a few years ago would be back and that while the dynamic had evened out a bit it hadn’t really changed, with everyone still abrasive as ever and not really getting along. A line of Nebula’s to that effect even made it into the trailers.
To that effect, the final product delivered on that promise. While the characters have evolved a bit, they’re still pretty much the same as when we first encountered them, with all the various personalities still fitting into their assigned archetype. And it has just as much humor and action as you’d expect from the trailers, all of which is just as visually eye-popping as the colorful posters would lead you to believe.
What’s surprising is just how unexciting the whole package is. Marvel’s movies were once praised for the reliably predictable formula their stories used, leading the audience to know with some degree of certainty what to expect when they got to the theater. While the movie is certainly and undeniably fun, it’s also easy to see how the story plays out from the minute the first reel ends. That predictability is beginning to become a weight around the studio’s neck, even as it seeks to expand the scope of stories into either space or the mystical realm.
One big element that was almost completely missing from the campaign was the emotional journey of the characters, which can’t be downplayed. There are tough choices and big decisions that are made that don’t involve massive guns or wiseass comebacks, but the marketing wasn’t interested in that. The revelation of Peter’s father appearing was a key part of the push but the campaign didn’t dive at all into what that means for Peter or the team.
That’s part of the overall strategy of, as I said in my review of the campaign, largely ignoring anything resembling the story. Providing any of the details about that story would have, it seemed, gotten in the way of the shots of Baby Groot and other visual tricks and so was pushed to the backburner. That’s a shame since while it might be somewhat predictable there is a story here that was interesting. Perhaps it’s because much of that story involves Kurt Russell’s character, which was only teased and not explained at all in the marketing. It means, though, that one of the biggest and most appealing aspects of the movie was left out of view of the audience for the marketing.