3 out of 5
Directed by: James Gunn
“Makework tasks” would refer to the kind of busywork you’d divvy out in lieu of work that actually needs to get done, i.e. sweep these floors even though they were already swept because I need to give you something to do. It don’t sound pleasant, do it? It’s not. And most people are aware of when they’re being given makework, as are the taskers generally aware that they’re tasking it.
That being said, makework can be an unfortunate necessity, at least in as much that we’ve structured our world around certain hours-a-day / hours-a-week shifts and the sense that pay must be “earned” during that time by, y’know, staying busy. Without going too much deeper into that… the same concept can be transposed onto media, once again accepting some defining borders of said media: that’s it here to entertain; that it’s here to make money. So, no, Guardians of the Galaxy the first film didn’t have to exist, and neither did a sequel. But Marvel, and money, and connected universes, and blockbusters, and The Fans Demand It, so it happens. Makework, in films – at least by my definition – occurs when everything in the film, plotwise, is a justification of itself. Comic book flicks are especially subject to this, as their source material has struggled with the “but bad guys wouldn’t exist if the good guys didn’t…” quandary since letter writers first had the opportunity to write in and ask Why? Added onto this plaguing problem is that movies – sequels – are required to top themselves continually. Bigger and Brighter and Better. When your first entry is really, really good, combining fun effects with great action, banter, antagonists, and a surprisingly emotional core, those Bigger demands make it hard to keep all of those elements in play. Thus, as a lot of the bluster bloats, in order to hold on to the more subtle aspects… makework happens. The struggle turns internal.
Assuming you were able to avoid the million and one plot explanations prior to viewing the flick, the fact that GotG de facto leader Peter Quill has, like, nine conversations about his missing father in the opening scenes makes you realize: oh, that’s what this entry is going to be about. And when Rocket Raccoon does something that pisses off a very subplotty group of characters early on, you doubly realize: okay, while the father stuff is going on, this subplotty stuff is going to serve as our distracting filler.
Yup. Now cue up two plus hours of this, with much more space-faring effects than the first flick – i.e. a less grounded feeling – required “callbacks” for the fans, and really surprisingly cheesy dialogue at points, delivered with complete sincerity. Is it fun? For the most part: heck yeah. Director James Gunn is aware enough of the above issues, and thus tries to lampshade as much of it as possible, and our cast is damnedly charming, which was certainly a big chunk of the first film’s appeal. He navigates the action well, spacing it out with dialogue scenes and varying his settings as much as possible with scene cutaways, even though we’re mostly relegated to one main location for the majority of the film. The makeup looks fantastic. The sets are eye candy.
But it’s makework. Without the weight of an origin story, we’re adrift in a self-justifying plot, so much so that it seems like a humorous afterthought when, late in the game, the story tries to show that our Daddy Issues events are actually affecting other planets and other peoples. Those stakes are lacking, as are the legit “emotions” when the film tries to settle down and deliver wholesome dialogue.
Meh, that’s okay. It happens. I was entertained, and maybe makework is, even with films, an “unfortunate necessity” to clean up plot clotter that can get us to the next success.