The biggest movie of the week involves everything I love, including: space, raccoons, flying, jokes, and Fleetwood Mac. The only thing missing from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a plot.
Yeah, okay, but before we get down into it, what’s plot exactly?
Imagine leaving a movie theater. You’re discussing the movie with friends. You know you loved the humor, the action, and, in Guardians 2’s case, the colors. But there’s something missing. There’s something that ought to be there that you can’t place.
That’s the plot. Guardians 2 is a warm-blooded body without a circulatory system, and it feels straight-weird.
Explaining Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2's plot.
Plenty of movies limp along without a plot. Goodfellas has no plot. Henry and his gangster cement-headed friends are just kinda hanging out. That’s all Goodfellas needs. The plotless, vignette structure works when telling years and years of a person’s life story. In fact, most Scorsese movies lack plot, he’s copped to that.
Guardians 2 takes place over the course of roughly three days. This is a movie that demands a stronger plot where the characters are pushing against the world and the world is pushing back. There’s struggle. Guardians 2 has meager push and pull.
The Guardians have no agency. They aren’t even riding a wave of circumstance, pushed forward, surviving. They’re airy, especially in the A-plot.
Spoilers start here.
After the opening action beat, we rejoin the team of established characters as they flee pursuers. Rocket stole batteries from the Sovereign and things have gone sideways. The Guardian’s escape is agency. Then they crash-land and the movie slams to a halt. Kurt Russell is introduced and the movie ends for half the cast. From here on, Peter, Drax, Mantis, and Ego will do nothing but talk until the climactic sci-fi blow-up setpiece.
There will be no tests for them. Ego’s diorama backstory / PowerPoint presentation is fine exposition until you realizes it’s lasted for an hour of film time.
In the B-plot, Rocket, Yondu, and Groot participate in their own short film. They’re captured and then escape from jail. This contributes to Yondu and Rocket’s relationship and provides future context for Peter to reconcile his two father figures. However, examining this movie as a single unit, Peter needs to face a similar challenge or conflict in his own environment for it to make the B-plot on the Ravager ship work to the required degree.
Understanding Nebula in Guardians 2
Odd that the C-plot, which we can call Gamora and Nebula’s story, is all at once the smallest and the realest. Nebula has the most personal agency of any character in the story. She’s a tragic figure. Nebula contributes more to Gamora’s character strength than Peter ever does. Out of nowhere, Nebula capitalizes on her circumstance, deals with the Ravagers, escapes capture, hunts down Gamora, and fights her, all for the sake of acting on her personal needs.
By comparison, Peter is led around by the nose, Drax and Mantis hang out and joke, and Rocket and Yondu bond in their fun side-story.
Nebula is the heart of the film because she’s actually acting. Nebula is doing Nebula, man.
This accumulates into the climactic sci-fi blow-up setpiece with Peter choosing to side against the man who killed his mother (such bravery and character growth) and zings around on a jetpack. Yondu dies saving him. It’s sad. Roll credits.
The movie has tons of charm and personality. That’s enough to make it a good movie. But it doesn’t make a plot.
By comparison, lots of superhero movies have rich plot.
The Dark Knight has a plot. It might even have too much plot. Hang on, let me count off the top of my head (you can count along, you’ve seen The Dark Knight, too) how many plot turns there are in this movie.
1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… 7… 8… ? Are there roughly eight main plot beats in The Dark Knight? Dude, that’s wild.
More recently, Logan has a plot: get from point A to point B, alive or dead. It’s simple. It worked for Mad Max: Fury Road, and it worked for another very relevant movie.
The first Guardians of the Galaxy has a perfect plot.
- Meet the gang (Peter and the Power Stone)
- Gang meets each other (everyone fights over the Power Stone)
- Gang capitalizes on their chance encounter to make some money (work together to escape the prison)
- Travel (let’s go to Knowhere)
- After seizing opportunity, gang’s character differences creates external conflict (Drax literally drunk-dials the villain, Ronan, to pick a fight)
- Response to conflict forces growth (Rescue Peter from Ravagers)
- Gang is reunited, combats increased threat (defense of Xandar)
- Character arcs are completed within conflict, the end (hold hands to contain the Power Stone, defeat Ronan)
Compare that to Guardians 2 and you’ll notice a huge difference.
This is why plot is so critical. It makes the characters make more sense. When characters make more sense, there are fewer escape points for the audience to disconnect, which is what we never want to do as storytellers.
-- Alex CrumbTwitter | Facebook