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A little bit of both

Perhaps our expectations ought not be too exacting for a blockbuster Marvel movie about a baby tree-creature and a militant raccoon. But the first Guardians already raised the standards and showcased its makers’ God-given skills in harnessing off-the-wall-humor—even sweetly crude humor—as an energy source for likeable characters who struggle with sincere emotion. If its sequel errs, it does so by throwing these parts more randomly together and distracting itself away from the film’s big ideas—including the implicit challenge to the cinematic “friends are a better family” trope.

Audiences are loving Vol. 2, with an early screening score of a rare 100, and a current film reviewer “Fresh” rating of 81 percent. At my movie screening, audience response felt more subdued. I felt the same. The film, like its likeable heroes, struggles to find its own sense of significance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and its titular saved “galaxy” is left with little gravity or sense of place. By the story’s end, what is our response? Should we laugh or weep? Vol. 2 exclaims, “Both at the same time!”

I wonder, then, if the film’s makers could have instead paid heed to another old song, based on a Preacher who urged disciplined separation of these feelings: “A time to laugh, a time to weep … A time to build up, a time to break down / A time to dance, a time to mourn.” Perhaps Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will re-improve this series by separating these moments, exploring its heroes’ humor and pursuit of purpose with “extravagant humility,” as Drax might say. Far better to be hooked on one feeling at a time rather than try to hook all the feelings at once.

E. Stephen Burnett writes about biblical truth and fantastical stories at Speculative Faith and Christ and Pop Culture. He lives with his wife, Lacy, in their Austin-area home.

June
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