Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: The Power of the Soundtrack

Hi! It’s been a while since I posted on this blog. I will kick off May by talking about one of this year’s most buzzed-about films, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2!

I really like the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie since it is a different tone from most Marvel Cinematic Universe films. The entirety of MCU’s Phase 1 films and most of MCU’s Phase 2 films deals mostly with Earthly conditions; specifically about how our main superheroes are embedded in real life situations. This automatically puts superheroes in a condition where they have to work with reality-resembling organizations such as the military or the intelligence. Politics also come into play in these films – there will always be sides to a certain conflict. Even though starting from Phase 2 Marvel has turned these sides into gray areas and not just black and white morality, I feel like sometimes audiences need a break. People go to the films for an escape and it is best for Marvel to slip in fantastical films into its film roster. Superheroes themselves are already a fantastical concept; why don’t we put them into fantastical circumstances as well? Again, this is my own opinion and you might think differently about your preferences for superhero narratives. But the Guardians of the Galaxy film series serves as a reminder that superheroes are fantastical and it is okay to put them into extremely fictional settings. The MCU itself is making a direction to the fantastical starting from Phase 3, with films such as Doctor Strange and Infinity War in its roster. The newest installment of the Thor movies is also heading in this direction, with more characters from the fictional outer space setting. This is going to be a great Phase 3 for me, I can tell.

So, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 picks up from where we are left with in the first movie. The gang is on the run after Rocket Raccoon (v. Bradley Cooper) stole batteries pivotal to the Sovereign galactic race. In the meantime, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) meets his father (Kurt Russell) for the first time and the story ensues.

mantis1.pngMantis (Pom Klementieff) and Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). Mantis, a new character, helps Quill find out about his past. Also, Pom Klementieff should be cast in more movies!

This second Guardians of the Galaxy film is still fun, but at the same time, it is loaded with a healthy dose of tragedy and complex storylines. When Guardians of the Galaxy asks questions, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 answers it. The characters are fed with lots of backstories that is put into effective use as this film is all about resolutions. The new characters introduced here serves as a means to deliver those answers and even though they are supporting roles and plot devices, they have interesting personalities. This also allows our original characters to develop major character development as they learn about themselves and come to terms with their past. This is also a great film technically – James Gunn as the director adds a dose of the absurd and the psychedelic with enticing, mystifying visuals and amazing special effects. Damn, if this film won the Best Special Effects Oscar, I wouldn’t be mad.

Okay, we are now heading into spoiler territory – if you haven’t seen the film, continue to read at your own risk. Spoilers will start after this gif of Chris Pratt as Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation.

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However, I still don’t feel like this film is a satisfying sequel. Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 handles so many storylines that it doesn’t have time to explore each of them deeply; it only scratches the surface of every conflict. The Ravagers’s disdain towards Yondu isn’t explored enough – only explained because they are jealous of Peter Quill and the conflict surfaces out of nowhere. Ego’s (Quill’s father) motivations to rule the entire universe is only based on his ego and nothing else. The one I’m most bugged with is that Gamora and Nebula’s sister relationship could’ve been much more exciting if it is explored much better.

The flaw that I am most bugged about is that this film is poorly acted. Peter Quill is a complex character – his mother died in the first film and his emotional torment is way greater in this film; he found out that his father planted a tumor to his mother and his guardian Yondu has to die in the same movie. Pratt didn’t deliver even half the amount of torment Quill is supposed to feel. I know Chris Pratt can act better than that. Same goes with the rest of the cast – Zoe Saldana could’ve been more invested in her sister relationship with Nebula and Kurt Russell, bless his soul, could’ve been less forgettable in this role. I don’t think it’s because the actors are bad; I think the whole ensemble acting of this film is badly directed.

However, I still feel the feelings of the characters despite the less worthy ensemble acting. That is because the whole film is constructed based on its soundtrack. My theatre professor likes to say that musicals, even when it’s badly written, could evoke a grand emotional response because it triggers the brain to release a series of chemicals attributed to emotions; music succeeds where words fail. For instance, if you were to strip the musical aspect of the musical Hamilton, it would be just another textbook history lesson and won’t attract the kind of audience it has now.

guardiansofthegalaxy2-babygroot-detonator1.jpgBaby Groot (v. Vin Diesel) trying hard to follow instructions.

Same goes with how music is used in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2. Music fills in the emotional gap in each of the scenes. George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”, a song about trying to find solace and consolation through communicating with a higher being, is played during scenes in which our main characters visit Ego’s planet for the first time, amazed by how beautiful the planet is; the same concept in which Harrison talks about being amazed by a higher being in his song. This accentuates the gang’s amazement about the planet, a planet built by Ego who can be considered as a higher being. Another example is Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”, played during the final battle. The song is played exactly after Peter Quill remembers about the relationships he constructed with the people around him and utilizes his superpowers to fight Ego. “The Chain” itself is often attributed as a song that represents Fleetwood Mac’s resilience and unity as a band; this mirrors Quill thinking about the relations to the people in his life. Yet the most effective use of music in this film is Cat Stevens’s (now Yusuf Islam) “Father and Son” played during Yondu’s funeral. In the film, Quill realizes that Yondu has been a real, supportive father to him and Quill has taken Yondu for granted since he had high expectations for his biological father. In the song, Stevens tells the story of a father calming down and giving advice to his son who is about to start a new life for himself. After Yondu died and Quill realizes that he has been the true father for him, Quill has to start a new life as a mortal on his own. This parallels the lyrics of the songs.

Another musical aspect I am really happy with is the score. Iconic films that build up great emotions are associated with a certain theme tune. You can always think of the theme tune of Star Wars and Jurassic Park, but not films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (This great video by Every Frame a Painting will explain it to you). However, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 served a distinctive piece of music heard throughout the film. It might not be as obvious as Star Wars or Jurassic Park, but at least it is an improvement from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This also connects to an original song made for the movie, “Guardians Inferno”, in which the piece of music is also referenced in the song.

In conclusion, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is a fun sequel lacking in its narrative and acting department but saved with its musical curation. This film is a solid evidence on how music can lift up emotional aspects of a piece of performance art. Because in the end, we are all Baby Groot dancing to “Mr. Blue Sky” ignoring all the ruckus in his background; music is what keeps our brain moving and our emotions in check, and makes everything else background noise.

★★★½

You can listen to the full soundtrack of Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 below as a guide to help you identify the film’s amazing music curation.

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patriciaksmngtys

Patricia K. is an Indonesian computer science and theatre student based in Seattle, Washington. When she's not busy coding in Python or understanding Edward Albee's plays, you can find her watching movies or talking about them.

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