Any film that follows up the surprise smash hit Guardians of the Galaxy is put in an inherently difficult position, with the shadow of the original looming ominously. Should audiences be given more of the same and risk it becoming stale, or try something different and potentially lose the magic that made the first movie so beloved?
(Mild spoilers to follow)
Vol. 2 finds an interesting balance between the two directions and right from the get-go this certainly feels like the same universe we first saw back in 2014. The original’s endless charm is still there, filled to the brink with charm and effortless humour. I’d actually argue that this film is even funnier than the first one, though that is obviously open to debate. The colourful aesthetic of Marvel’s cosmic universe continues to be a treat and offers some of the best visuals of the year. Importantly, even in its most serious moments, Guardians of the Galaxy is still tons of fun. The Guardians’ opening scene, battling against the beast seen in the trailers, is worth the price of admission alone.
The easy chemistry of the titular Guardians was one of the greatest strengths of the previous film, which is why Vol. 2‘s decision to split the party is so interesting. Watching the fully formed team was what we would naturally expect from the sequel, but director James Gunn chooses a different approach. The result makes for a less compelling core narrative in exchange for a deeper exploration of the characters.
In a roundabout way, Vol. 2 reminds me a little of the Mass Effect series’ similarly numbered entry. The first instalment has an obvious core story, a mission to be completed and a villain to be stopped and while the second still has these things, they are more of a background prop, there to give the characters something to do. In the end, it’s the characters themselves that are the real focus and provide the true story. The pacing definitely feels weaker than the first movie as a result, but the characters are compelling enough that it doesn’t really hurt the film.
The theme of the day is family and it works pretty well as an emotional hook. At the forefront we have Peter’s duelling father figures in Ego and Yondu, as well as Gamora and Nebula’s tumultuous relationship that is much more emotional than their previous confrontation aboard Ronin’s ship. There’s also Rocket pushing the team away from his fear of rejection, and Drax finding a kindred spirit in excellent newcomer Mantis. These stories mostly play out as you’d expect and ultimately there’s a little too much telling rather than showing, but what’s really impressive is how powerful these stories still end up feeling by the film’s climax.
I’ve long believed that comedy creates the most powerful drama and Vol. 2 only reinforces that opinion. The final act is surprisingly emotional and Gunn manages to create some intense connections that I didn’t expect, most specifically with characters like Yondu and Nebula, relatively underdeveloped in the first Guardians of the Galaxy but who manage to have fully formed arcs this time around. Michael Rooker is particularly fantastic as Yondu, developing so many more layers to the character in a way that still feels consistent with his characterisation in the previous film.
When it comes to the new characters, Mantis is an immediate favourite. Pom Klementieff is so incredibly likeable onscreen, playing it similarly to Dave Bautista’s Drax but just differently enough to make their budding friendship sparkle. Their scenes together ended being some of my favourites in the movie. Ego is a little undercooked in terms of motivation, a common problem in Marvel movies still, but Kurt Russell imbues him with so much natural charm that it mostly balances out.
Although the Guardians of the Galaxy series is arguably intended to be Peter Quill’s story, especially considering Ego’s presence, this movie almost belongs to Bradly Cooper’s Rocket instead. Responsible for kick-starting the overall plot by pissing off the pompous Sovereign, the character ends up delivering much more than just comic relief, especially when paired against Yondu. This relationship was the most unexpected but also the most welcome and interesting, revealing much more about the characters than I would have thought.
Gamora is probably my weakest link in the team at the moment, unfortunately failing to be particularly compelling on her own. Her potential romance with Peter doesn’t feel natural enough and is there just because it’s expected. Pairing her with Nebula and exploring their sisterhood does way more for both characters and I thoroughly enjoyed all of their scenes together. With a little more room to make the character breathe, Karen Gillan manages to make Nebula just sympathetic enough without making her soft.
The soundtrack was a huge part of Vol. 1 and there was plenty of hype for what tunes the sequel would incorporate. The choices aren’t bad at all, with “Mr Blue Sky” being absolutely perfect in its chosen scene, but overall the soundtrack doesn’t have the same impact as before. This is probably mainly due to how surprising the musical aspect of Guardians of the Galaxy ended up being, but also because it served an actual narrative purpose before, linking Peter to his old home in this strange galaxy. But now that he’s found his new family in his fellow Guardians, that link isn’t really relevant anymore.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 doesn’t want to be the exact same movie as its predecessor, and that’s not a bad thing. Splitting the team was a risky choice, one that can still disappoint those who wanted to see more of the Guardians together. Ultimately, your enjoyment of the movie probably depends on how much you like these characters and how invested you are in their stories, which is good because these are incredibly likeable characters. And when everything and everyone comes together for the final act, Vol. 2 ends up being just as awesome as the original.
- Baby Groot was front and centre in all the marketing leading up to this movie (because he’s freaking adorable), but I felt Gunn found the right balance with the character. He obviously has merchandise potential, but he’s definitely not a Jar Jar or Ewok situation. Keeping Groot this way also keeps his sacrifice in the first movie relevant, showing that it still cost him.
- The Easter Eggs for Marvel fans in this movie are insanely good, as well as plentiful, and I’m sure I missed plenty myself. For a comic fan, Stan Lee’s cameo in particular is probably his best yet and a legitimate highlight of the film.
- This is a film that does side characters right, from the delightful Taserface to Sean Gunn’s returning Kraglin. The gold-themed Sovereign have some entertaining moments and great visual gags, but ultimately they are nothing more than plot drivers. Despite this, Elizabeth Debicki still does a fine job as Ayesha and leaves me wanting to see more of her in future films.
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