I’m currently in the middle of watching the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe again, in anticipation of Thor: Ragnarok (which opens next Thursday), and just went past one of my favourites in the entire MCU: the original Guardians Of The Galaxy. And I noticed something about that film which was notable – not just because of what it meant to that film, but also notable because it was missing from the sequel, Guardains Of The Galaxy: Vol 2.
Warning: spoilers from both films follow, so watch them before reading on.
The original film was a success both at the box office and with critics, who described it as weird and wonderful, but with a real heart at the centre of everything – and a lot of that heart comes from small character moments: Rocket angrily letting loose about his past, or Drax defending Gamora from Nebula’s insults (“nobody talks to my friends like that”) or the closing scene with Quill opening the gift from his mother.
And we get similar – albeit not so small and subtle – scenes in the sequel: Quill dealing with the death of his mother in a more direct way, Gamora making amends with her estranged sister, Drax revealing more about his past with Mantis, and so on. The Guardians Of The Galaxy films both attempt to bring an emotive aspect to everything, even if it is a little heavy-handed at times.
But I think one character is horribly underserved in the sequel: Groot.
Okay, I know I’m not covering new ground here. Despite the popularity of Baby Groot, I think a lot of fans were probably disappointed that Groot didn’t get to play as big a role on the team as he did in the first film, here relegated to little side missions – arm the bomb, get the fin – instead of being used as a more active member of the team.
Remember how Quill, Drax and Groot have to fight their way through Ronan’s ship, and Groot got to fight off a number of henchmen through his sheer power? Yeah, he doesn’t get to do anything like that in the sequel.
In fact, I think there are three brilliant, and touching, Groot scenes in the first film which don’t have a match in the second – and it is that, combined with the fact that Vol 2 super-sizes everything on the emotional side of things, which is completely, and very noticeably, missing.
The first scene is shortly after the group arrives on Knowhere: the team disembarks from the Milano, and a small girl approaches Groot out of sheer curiosity – and Groot bends down, innocently smiles at the girl, and produces a flower from the palm of his hand, which he picks off and gently hands to the girl.
The second scene is after the team crash-land on Ronan’s ship, the Dark Aster; emerging from their craft, Drax laments how dark the interior of the ship is. Groot opens his arms wide and reaches upward, producing glowing spores from his body that light the way through the ship for his friends.
The third scene is near the end of the film, when the team realises that the Dark Aster is going to crash into Xandar: while the rest of the group bicker over what to do, Groot calmly scoops them up and creates a ball of intertwining sticks and foliage which will protect them on impact. Rocket laments his actions, saying “Groot, you’ll die!”, but Groot softly but forcefully responds “we are Groot”. Cue tears.
Look, I love Guardians Of The Galaxy: Vol 2. It is the funniest of the MCU movies to date, and features some of the best action scenes – and is a very worthy follow-up to the first film. But it just seems to me that it is missing that element of heart that is so intrinsic to the original.
And these Groot scenes are emblematic of the wider problem. There is no equivalent scenes in the sequel, no small moments that reveal a little of the deeper character traits of Groot, and very few that do this for anyone on the cast. When we meet Groot in Guardians Of The Galaxy, he is introduced to us as an enforcer, as Rocket’s muscle for hire, but as the film goes on we find he is playful, gentle, and has a wonderful heart under all those twigs.
In the sequel, Groot ends the film exactly where he started: as a baby. We don’t learn more about him – or really about anyone outside of Quill, and a little of Drax – as the film goes on. And where Groot’s sacrifice near the end of the original hits hard, the major death in the sequel (Yondu) doesn’t quite land the same way.
Those scenes I mentioned, giving the flower to the little girl or lighting the way for his friends, those scenes are where the heart of Guardians Of The Galaxy is most evident. Despite Vol 2 being a solid, entertaining film, those types of scene are noticeably missing in the sequel.
And in a genre where heart is sorely missing is most entries, it is sad that a franchise (or sub-franchise) that nailed it the first time wasn’t able to hit it again the second. If it had, we might be talking about Vol 2 as one of the best ever.
Guardians Of The Galaxy: Vol 2 is directed by James Gunn, and stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell and Pom Klementieff, with the voices of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, and is available on bluray/DVD now. Thor: Ragnarok is directed by Taika Waititi, and stars Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston, Tessa Thompson and Jeff Goldblum, and is in cinemas next Thursday.