The Guardians of the fricking Galaxy are back!
Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star Lord (Chris Pratt) is reunited with his long-lost father, Ego (Kurt Russell). After inviting him back to his home planet, Peter goes with Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista), accompanied by Ego’s assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff). The remaining Guardians-Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), alongside their recent captor, Gamora’s stepsister Nebula (Karen Gillan)-are ambushed by the Ravagers, led by their leader and Quill’s mentor Yondu (Michael Rooker), as payback for their slight against them in the previous movie as well as being paid by a race Rocket had wronged called the Sovereign.
2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy was a surprise hit for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, gambling with characters only the most hardcore of comic book fans would have known. Hiring co-writer/director James Gunn was a stroke of genius, as he imbued the concept with his own pulpy and quirky charm, as well as rocking one of the most successful movie soundtracks in years. With the sequel, the studio had the task of managing to make lightning strike twice without the surprise of it being great holding it up. What they went for was to not do that.
Don’t misunderstand me here: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is not a film that doesn’t try. It just switches gears from a maverick space hopping adventure into a slower and surprisingly more contemplative character journey, buddying up the sizeable cast and giving room for their subplots to all breathe. They do this while also keeping the style and humour from the original, and amplifying it in parts.
Sometimes that doesn’t always go right. For example, at nearly 140 minutes, the movie is very slow paced and can stop dead in points. This is especially noteworthy in contrast to the original Guardians which had a brisk, very well tempered pace. Also, the humour in this film is more excessive and constant and a lot more of it falters because of this. Now, mostly the film is absolutely hilarious with some standout moments (the opening credits come to mind), but it also has the annoying habit of undercutting intense or emotional moments with really stupid jokes.
Sadly, the soundtrack is not as well implemented here. It stops being the spirit of the story (due to its connection to Peter’s mother, though that does come into play) and more as songs to play over certain scenes. Not that it’s bad, it just doesn’t blend into the narrative as well and it’s not as balanced. There is one scene where the songs are brought up to emphasise his connection to the Ravagers, which does pay off thematically and leads to one of the movie’s most standout and insane scenes.
Where this works is how gorgeous the movie looks. This is easily the MCU’s best looking films to date, with an absolutely stunning and trippy palette that never tries to show off and remains inventive and absorbing. Definitely a sign that Gunn was left off the reigns and allowed to flex his Troma-bred muscles with a large budget.
It’s biggest strengths are the drama, characterisation, great buddy acts and fun. Ego is a great character-really well understood and the reveal while not surprising is definitely impactful. Everyone plays very naturally with their chosen pairing and nobody feels underdeveloped. The lesser action scenes we get this time are awesome, there’s still some interesting world building that plays out naturally and feels exciting, it has a serious amount of heart and a hell of a lot of confidence to be more relaxed and explore these fun and interesting characters rather than a really involved plot.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 feels like a risk that has definitely paid off. While having its failings in place, the strength of character and surprisingly emotional resonance helps elevate beyond even other MCU films. Gunn clearly had more creative freedom here, and while it can be way too blunt with it thematic purposes and a bit too dragged out in places, where it works it really works and gives us that great sense of fun and adventure without it feeling derivative or too played out by its final scene. A worthy sequel to a pretty awesome movie; doing its own thing and trying out new avenues to take the concept, like every great follow up should but rarely does.
Also Baby Groot is freaking adorable.