Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 Review
After the heavy conclusion of Captain America: Civil War and the moody, bizarre introduction of Dr. Strange, it was time to deliver a fun, adventurous chapter to Marvel movie fans, and they got it in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. This movie not only picks up where the first movie left off but expands and deepens the bond that this group of space misfits has formed, tightening up the loose ends of the first film and launching them forward into future phases of the franchise. The result is a story that brings back fan favorite characters, humor, and action without repeating itself or veering away from the elements that individualize it from other Marvel movies.
Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Groot (Vin Diesel) are back in full force, combining their strengths and skills to carry out dangerous missions for other alien races. After saving some valuable batteries from a creature known as an Abilisk for a planet of gold-skinned beings known as the Sovereigns, they are granted custody of Gamora’s sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan). Nebula is still intent on murdering her adopted sister for reasons that emerge later on.
All is well until the Sovereigns attack Star Lord’s ship, the Milano, after noticing that Rocket has pilfered some valuable batteries on the Guardians’ way out the door. Their escape is aided by a stranger in space, though it results in them crash landing on a wooded planet. The stranger follows them to their crash site where he introduces himself as Ego, Star Lord’s father. He persuades Star Lord, Gamora, and Drax to accompany him back to his home planet while Rocket and Groot stay behind to repair the ship and guard Nebula. When Groot and Rocket are attacked and captured by the Ravagers led by Yondu (Michael Rooker), Nebula escapes and uses the Ravagers to help her find Gamora. Rocket and Groot are rescued by Yondu, who has a change of heart, and they head for Ego’s planet after Yondu learns that Star Lord has connected with his father. The three head off to rejoin the other Guardians who have an even bigger threat than Nebula on their tail.
Story and Themes
You can’t guard the galaxy without there being a threat to the galaxy, and this film definitely creates that need. However, it doesn’t come in the form of Thanos or the Infinity Stones as expected. Without giving anything away, it has to do with a plan that has been building since the beginning of time and has had a direct effect on Peter/Star Lord’s personal history. There is a strong family theme resonating throughout this story. There is the general dysfunction of the five original Guardians, the tension between Gamora and Nebula, the lost years between Star Lord and Ego, and even Yondu’s connection with Star Lord. All of our heroes are battling with their personal demons while trying to make their current family situation work. It could have lazily gone the route of breaking up the group due to blown-out-of-proportion squabbling, but this film recognizes that the squabbling is just part of typical family dynamics. Instead, they welcome three more misfits into their gang, including Nebula, Yondu, and Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Ego’s lonely but sensitive assistant who lived her whole life as one of only two occupants of Ego’s planet.
Romance surprisingly takes a back seat in this film. The will they/won’t they relationship between Star Lord and Gamora continues with little progress made by the film’s end. There is a hint of a future between Drax and Mantis but nothing definite. Instead, they concentrate on working through the plot’s twists and turns and trying to decide how everyone fits into the conflicts and how to work through them.
Humor is a big strength of this movie. Since the laughs were such a big part of what made the first film so successful, the writers amp it up in this next installment. They insert running gags like Rocket’s inappropriate winking, hysterical insults led by an ignorant Drax, and a Mary Poppins reference from Yondu that nobody saw coming but hit a nerve in everybody’s funny bone. Star Lord is still our relatable hero trapped in 80’s Earth culture. Gamora is our grumpy heroine who is funny in her eye-rolling response to the silliness. Added is Mantis’ innocent secret blabbing and Drax’s unintentional verbal punching bag. The cuteness of Baby Groot creates an easy but earned brand of jokes throughout and is no doubt a scene stealer in his part. His safety is first priority among the Guardians, but he is not helpless, sometimes unleashing his toddler rage to great effect.
Luckily, the movie is never afraid to reel in the humor in order to deal with the emotional stuff. Losing laughs does not make the audience lose interest. There are some pretty heavy scenes, and the actors pull of these tonal changes so smoothly that it doesn’t feel jarring or incapable of switching back once one is activated. This is because both tones serve the story and help to keep a realistic balance of how characters would react in these extreme situations.
Many music fans have praised the soundtrack choices which are integral not just for the entertainment value but to the story itself, almost acting as an off-screen representation of Peter’s mother. The music is not my preferred genre or era, but the various music cues serve the story perfectly in terms of grounding the story in reality and keeping the tone lighthearted and energetic. It is part of what makes these movies fun to watch, even for audiences like me who aren’t interested in the intricate space jargon and species of the Guardians’ world.
My only criticism is that I would have liked to have seen certain storylines fleshed out a little better, especially Ego’s role which seemed to be the big reveal that would dominate the film’s screen time. Due to the Guardians splitting up during the second act, the story flip flops between several characters’ situations which can be hard to juggle, not giving enough time to some main characters while giving ample time to secondary characters in order to fill in some exposition or carry out a funny sequence. By the final battle, things speed up so quickly that certain plot points are glossed over in order to get to the action and resolution. It ultimately pays off and finds its focus, but it does get a little shaky heading into the third act. Hopefully, the ability to balance many characters will be worked out soon as the Guardians of the Galaxy will be joining a much larger ensemble not long from now.