Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an action-adventure space opera, the sequel to 2013’s surprise Marvel Studios hit, Guardians of the Galaxy. The film is directed once again by James Gunn, and stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel as the galaxy’s favourite rag-tag team of heroes. The film focuses on the team’s discovery of Peter Quill’s (Pratt) true parentage, as they come across Ego the Living Planet (played by Kurt Russell), a powerful ancient being claiming to be Peter’s long-lost father. Meanwhile, the ravager/bounty hunter Yondu (played by Michael Rooker) is contracted to find and capture the guardians, while having to deal with growing discontent among his fellow ravagers due to Yondu’s apparent soft spot for Peter. The film primarily follows these two story threads, providing us with a more in-depth exploration of the guardians’ characters.
Not many would have anticipated the cinematic brilliance that was the first Guardians of the Galaxy, a Marvel classic which grossed $94 million dollars at the US box office in its opening weekend. From Chris Pratt’s epic opening dance to Vin Diesel’s numerous ‘I am Groot’s, the first Guardians film was a risk that ultimately paid off in spades, as its charismatic, funny, epic and emotional elements turned a team of virtually unknown comic book characters into a pop-culture phenomenon. As with Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, expectations were understandably high for this second instalment in the Guardians series. Can Marvel Studios continue its solid chain of cinematic universe films, or will their lightning-in-a-bottle franchise fizzle out into empty space?
Overall, while Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t as exciting as its predecessor, it is ultimately a different type of movie in terms of structure and in turn, purpose. While the first film was an introductory locale-hopping adventure, the sequel is a far more isolated story, providing the script some breathing room to develop its characters. Think of the first film as Star Wars, while the second is more of a Star Trek. Two great franchises in their own right, but with different core values. Vol. 2 is in many ways a necessary addition to the trilogy’s storyline, an entrée to the original’s appetizer. While our steak is slightly overcooked in certain areas, it is still a wildly entertaining film in various aspects, representing another solid entry in Phase III of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fans of Guardians of the Galaxy, stunning visual effects and 80s music will definitely want to check this one out.
Awesome Mix All Round
What is expectedly Guardians Vol. 2’s biggest strength is the chemistry and camaraderie amongst its characters. Chris Pratt once again oozes charisma as Peter Quill, as his relationships with Zoe Saldana’s Gamora and Kurt Russell’s Ego is a surprising source of drama. Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Racoon is a factory of sarcastic and snide remarks, while Baby Groot is as adorable as the trailers suggest. But the standout is Dave Bautista’s Drax, with more hilarious lines executed with deadpan brilliance in a role Bautista has obviously grown more comfortable with. Michael Rooker’s Yondu is given much more screentime and development compared to the film’s predecessor, and this theme of development also seems to be common to the rest of the cast. Among the relentless slew of jokes comes an unexpected level of character backstory, fleshing out the details of the guardians’ unique motivations, allowing viewers to understand and empathise with the characters they already know and love.
A common trait of the MCU movies is the uninspiring, muted colours of each film, giving the heroes’ coloured costumes a gritty edge. But Guardians Vol. 2 definitely pulls no punches with its use of colour, using an extravagant palette and some weird and wacky production design that doesn’t quite surpass the first, but still manages to entertain for the most part. Director James Gunn uses these resources to set a light tone for the film, while still managing to yield several jaw-dropping moments of pure epicness.
Never Break the Chain
Much of what made the first Guardians movie so cool and refreshing was, ironically, its use of classic tracks from the 70s and 80s. It’s no rumour that Guardians of Galaxy introduced ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ and ‘Come and Get Your Love’ to many from the younger generation. Guardians Vol. 2 adopts the same model with Awesome Mix Vol. 2, featuring mega-artists like Fleetwood Mac, Sam Cooke and Cat Stevens. Unfortunately, while being well suited to the particular scenes they play in, the tracks are mostly not as catchy and memorable as the tracks from the first Guardians. There is, however, one exception. Because unlike the first movie, one of the songs in Guardians Vol. 2 is directly involved with the plot progression, a creative choice that builds a specific character in a big way.
While the soundtrack leaves a bit to be desired, Guardians Vol. 2 touches on some impactful themes, particularly what it means to be in a family. The film explores the degree to which family is restricted by blood, and the difference between being a father and being a parent. The film also explores belonging, fulfilment and desire, all of which are implicated in the character arcs of several individuals. This can be seen as a big metaphor for the world we live in today, highlighting the fact that every individual has a story, filled with pain and sometimes ambition. But one of the things that separates us is not who we are, but how our actions affect the lives of others, especially the people we care most about. That is why I believe Guardians Vol. 2 might be Marvel’s most lesson-filled film to-date.
Too Much Brandi?
A few elements of Guardians Vol. 2 prevents it from being one of Marvel’s best-made films. Apart from the soundtrack, the editing of the two threads within the story sometimes felt jarring and inorganic. In a few instances, after a particularly dramatic scene, the film cut to a scene which began light-heartedly, introducing an unnatural emotional contrast. The jokes hit for the most part, but certain visual gags felt awkward and contrived. All these little things added up to reduce the impact of the third act significantly, such that the spectacular climax the film promised lost a bit of its steam. This isn’t really helped by the fact that the third act from the first Guardians movie is one of the things that made that film extra great.
It may seem unfair to compare Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to its predecessor, but from a technical standpoint, one should always aim to improve upon previous work. Creatively, the film serves to develop its characters more, and so shouldn’t be directly compared to the first. Make no mistake, this film is still well worth a full-price ticket, as it holds a treasure trove of incredible sequences, great humour, and some exciting possibilities for the future of the cinematic universe. It’s an incredibly enjoyable experience and I walked out of the theatre with a beaming smile. Its flaws are easily overlooked, and unless you have impossibly high expectations, I’m willing to bet that you’ll be smiling too. It’s not Marvel’s best, but with its light tone and loveable character roster, the Guardians of the Galaxy films will always be eternally rewatchable.
Overall Rating: 7.9/10