What can I say? Any movie that concludes with Yusuf/Cat Stevens crooning his sentimental classic “Father and Son” is my kind of movie. Consequently, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is right up my alley. As Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his gang of merry intergalactic mischief-makers stare wistfully out their spaceship window, the timeless track caps off the mood.
As with its predecessor, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 offers a jubilant soundtrack, prime for outdoor parties and morning pump-up routines. But the film’s use of ‘70s-era music is more than just an advertising gimmick for Doritos. Music is GOTG’s secret ingredient, the feature that sets this film apart from others in the Marvel Universe.
In Guardians of the Galaxy, all Peter has left of Earth is his mother's vintage cassette player. Peter becomes the DJ of the Guardians movies, infusing fight scenes with ‘70s exuberance. Along with the simple truth that vintage music makes for terrific fun, it's also a tool for characterization in Guardians. Peter’s tapes are a manifestation of his longing to connect with the human race, from which he’s been shut out since he was kidnapped as a child by a space scavenger.
The soundtracks also serve as proxy for Peter's deceased mother, Meredith. Her musical taste becomes a stand-in for her personality. As director James Gunn told Rolling Stone, “She's a music lover, but she's completely not elitist. If it's something that's thought of as goofy and pop, she likes it...she’s an oddball, like her son.”
Peter's musical proclivities lend themselves to a thrilling juxtaposition: a superhero movie that values fun over action.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.’s amazing opening sequence, when "Mr. Blue Sky" by Elo is embedded into the fight choreography. Instead of focusing on fighting a massive, multi-legged space octopus, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is fidgeting with the stereo. Eventually, Baby Groot (the movie's other secret ingredient) plugs in the stereo, and with that, signals the start of some musical magic. While his friends dodge tentacles, Baby Groot dances. Later on in the film, the Guardians overthrow a ship to the tune of "Come a Little Bit Closer" by Jay & The Americans. Villains plummet to their deaths in tandem with the song's beats. The scene is so irresistible that I forgot to be horrified by its gruesome violence, as I usually am in superhero films.
Guardians recognizes the improbability of its conceit (a team of space misfits fighting other space misfits), and uses music to bolster that absurdity — instead of deploying a score that tries to take everything very seriously.
Sometimes, the musical choices in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 are laughably on the nose. As the Guardians fly over the planet Ego, crafted entirely by a mysterious figure (Kurt Russell), George Harrison’s song “My Sweet Lord” complements the lush scenery. When it's revealed that Russell's character is actually a god, of sorts, Harrison's spiritual song becomes all the more appropriate.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’s choice of soundtrack isn’t just endearing. It’s a significant departure from other Marvel movies, which are in the midst of their own musical crises.
As film editor Tony Zhou explains in his video series “Every Frame a Painting,” Marvel films are lacking in a recognizable theme. Think about it: You can hum a tune from Star Wars or Pirates of the Caribbean, but definitely not from Iron Man or Thor. Zhou's critique likens the music in most Marvel movies to “the air conditioner in the background. After a while, you tune it out.” Though Guardians’ original score may suffer from the same tepidity and predictability as the rest of the Marvel universe, at least some great Earthling beats come to the rescue.
Perhaps most significantly, the music in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 serves to unite characters and audience. While watching, you can bask in the fact that Baby Groot is dancing to the same songs you’re dancing to in your seat. For every song we hear, we can see that the characters in the movie are hear it, too.
As goes a running theme throughout Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, some people are dancers. And while the sequel may not have complicated or significantly bettered any aspect of its predecessor, it’s a “dancer” that maintains the party spirit. You’ll be dancing your way out of the theater, too.
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