Loud. Colorful. Bombastic. Ambitious. These are all apt descriptions of Marvel Studios’ most outlandish franchise, Guardians of the Galaxy. The first movie was one of the biggest hits of 2014 and it was clear that audiences were eager to see more of the space adventures from the crew of misfits aboard the spaceship Milano. Director James Gunn returns along with the entire core of the first movie to deliver an entertaining, yet flawed, second installment to the series.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 follows the ragtag group of heroes who have gained fame and notoriety after their exploits in the first film. The film begins with them on a mission to defeat a space beast for Ayesha (Elizabeth Debecki), leader of the Sovereign, a race of genetically engineered aliens. This leads them into a chance meeting with Star Lord’s true father Ego, played by Kurt Russell, who claims to have been searching for his son for decades.
It’s close to impossible to enjoy a Guardians of the Galaxy movie without falling in love with the characters that Gunn has brought to the screen. He knows that they are the franchise’s strength and plays to them at every turn. Everyone brings their ‘A’ game, however there are some undeniable standouts that carry the film and possibly the franchise into the future.
Chris Pratt once again proves that he’s a legitimate movie star, while getting the chance to show off his comedic, romantic, and roguish qualities. Dave Bautista continues to charm as the powerfully dense Drax the Destroyer, who has left behind much of the pathos from the first time and is simply enjoying the ride the second time around.
Kurt Russell joins the cast as Peter Quill’s long lost father, Ego, who harbors many mysteries and secrets that will impact both Star Lord and the entire Guardians team. Russell fits effortlessly into the intergalactic hi-jinks and his presence helps to further define Star Lord’s character. The casting works on multiple levels as both Russell and Pratt share many of the same attributes as actors, and personalities, that is illuminated on screen.
Karen Gillian gets a lot more to character development in her second turn as Nebula, as her backstory and the motivations for her sibling rivalry with Gamora (Zoe Saldana) are much more clear and dramatized. Gunn cleverly gives tragic meaning behind Nebula’s jigsaw appearance and sets up a story line that will have to be concluded in the near future. While new Guardian of the Galaxy Mantis (Pom Klementieff) – Ego’s adopted daughter who harbors secrets of her own – serves as Nebula’s innocent reflection on the team. The actress brings a naive likability to the role that effortlessly blends with Drax’s own style of linear, caveman logic.
It’s hard to overlook scene-stealing Michael Rooker as Yondu. Gunn gives Yondu perhaps the biggest character arc in the series and there are unexpected payoffs from his performance. He and Ego personify the nature vs nurture inner conflict that Star Lord is experiencing, by being forced to come to terms with his two father figures during the course of the movie. This is one of the most successful elements of the film, which helps to raise the emotional stakes for the movie to something more than a simple slapstick space adventure.
The action choreography is much more dynamic this turn and Gunn makes an effort to visually illustrate why each member is so dangerous, with the exception of Drax the Destroyer ironically enough. Dave Bautista is given perhaps the most opportunities of all the players for comedic moments, in a film that’s already packed with jokes. However, the way Drax is written in the sequel may exemplify the movie’s biggest problem. Gunn focuses on bolstering the first movie’s strengths – comedy and heart – while pushing the plot to the sidelines in the sequel which is to the film’s detriment.
Music is once again thematically built into the fabric of the story, with a blazing soundtrack inspired by the sounds of the 70’s and early 80’s. However, the music cues are less organic this time around and instead of complementing the on-screen action, at times the movie feels dangerously close to a music video. Ultimately, it pays off and adds to the level of fun, but definitely lacks the impact that the first movie’s tunes provided.
Before shepherding the Guardians franchise into the MCU, director James Gunn’s foundation was built on his affection for genre films. Gunn previously sharpened his filmmaking tools with Slither and Super, two movies that are B-movies at their best. His taste has traditionally been more geared towards adult audiences and the first Guardians of the Galaxy was a perfect marriage of style and substance. However in Volume 2 he skews his material for an even younger audience, with a movie that often feels like a Saturday morning cartoon with limited stakes.
For better or worse, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 leads up to a bombastic ending that aims to make you forget about the dance-offs of the past and delivers spectacle that reminds you that you’re watching a comic book movie. The superhero styled antics are a little over the top and bring to mind fight scenes from The Matrix Reloaded and Man of Steel, which is ultimately the diametric opposite of what most would expect from a Guardians’ adventure. However, it’s the effective emotional ending, not the over the top action, that really pulls the movie together in the final act and makes this Marvel movie hard to miss.
It should be noted that the franchise has quickly become the template for other studios’ current and future releases by mimicking the humor, music cues, even down to how Guardians of the Galaxy trailers are cut. You have to look no further than Suicide Squad or Thor: Ragnarok to see how influential Gunn has been in recent times. He had a tremendous task of bringing back his creation to a marketplace that has copied his style and he doesn’t try the exact same story formula to his credit. However, the plot does suffer as a result and the first half of the movie lacks a compelling drive, due to a lack of engaging story beats. The sluggish beginning is fortunately buffered by a series of comedic bits which are humorous, but may not age well over time.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is another solid movie from Marvel Studios. The chemistry and timing of the cast and director is cinematic synergy at its best. The color palette and production design is truly inspiring, while the world that Gunn has created deserves to be explored further in future films. If you saw the first one, watching the sequel is like reuniting with old friends, or your favorite group of assholes. However, the follow-up fails to build on the first movie the way other second films have in the past, such as The Dark Knight or Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is a fun popcorn ride of a movie with a emotional heartbeat at its core, but fails to become the transcendent experience that many may be hoping for.