Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 was famously reported to have five post-credits scenes, which isn’t quite true. It actually has five mid-credits scenes, which I think we can all agree is too many, but more importantly should give you some idea of just how many people had to work together in order to create this film. We’ve all become used to the idea of movies like this costing the GDP of a small country (no hard numbers on this one yet, but the first cost $170 million not including marketing), but seeing one like Guardians cost so much and also work so well, followed by the names of more crew than the entire population of my hometown — well, it’s enough to make you believe in a utopian society.
There’s nothing we critics find ourselves writing about more often than million-dollar effects that look like trash, collaborations gone wrong, too many cooks in the kitchen, focus-grouped plots, jokes by committee, etc, etc. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is that rare work that suggests that maybe more brains really are better. That’s why the joy of Guardians 2 turning out decent goes beyond the usual feeling of seeing a good movie. A movie with a crew of thousands, a budget of millions, and an audience of billions isn’t just a good movie, it’s also a testament to human ingenuity, an expression of shared desires. It’s less art than an alienation assuagement device. I go through most days thinking other people are loud-chewing sacks of turds who should leave me alone, so an expression of a shared, non-turd-filled humanity is a rare and wondrous thing.
Guardians 2 has its issues, sure, like being 20 minutes too long at the end, a little overstuffed, and hingeing on a finale MacGuffin only slightly less played out than destroying a portal, all of which is more or less to be expected. One of the mid-credits sequences also involves Stan Lee, as if he’s starved for recognition. (I tend to despise the requisite Stan Lee cameo in these movies, though I will say it fits much better with Guardians‘ woolly, self-aware tone than it does in any other movies.) It’s also, from the first minute on, visually brilliant, with just enough conceptual justification. The macro plot, about Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) finding his father (Ego, played by Kurt Russell) is just so-so (he’s got a thing and he wants to destroy a thing and blah blah blah!), but it hardly matters because the comedy works shockingly well, and the visuals consistently impress. I saw it in IMAX 3-D, and not only is it one of the few times 3-D, which I normally hate, felt like added value, it might be the first “live-action” movie I’ve ever seen where I was so conscious that virtually everything I was watching was a computer effect and didn’t mind.
It’s not that CG was ever bad. CG is just a tool. But audiences got accustomed to seeing CGI misused, by directors and producers who didn’t seem to understand its limitations or have a clear idea why they were using it, other than “make it look expensive!”
For much of the past 10 or 15 years, the bulk of noticeable CGI work seemed to consist of “blow up a big thing,” as if the key to making an “epic” movie was simply a matter of scale. For one thing, it isn’t, and in fact increasing the casualty count cuts directly against the entire idea of “human interest,” where it’s much easier for us to care about one or two people in peril than it is to care about a hundred or a thousand — something yellow journalists have known for a hundred years. For another, how many times can an action movie destroy the Bay Bridge or the Eiffel Tower, or a superhero movie blow up the universe or the fabric of reality, before it eventually becomes a droning sound?