Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t a perfect movie. It’s a little overeager on the humor and the 80s nostalgia kick isn’t as strong the second time around. Despite those issues, Vol. 2 is a terrific viewing experience easily making for Marvel Studios’ most emotional offering yet.
Director/Writer James Gunn shows no signs of fatigue with the franchise he launched to mega-stardom in 2014. In an encouraging sign, Gunn seems invigorated by the challenge of topping the first film. But rather than just follow the same beats as before, Gunn crafts a more thoughtful space odyssey with strong emotional beats as well as the series’ trademark humor.
True to form, the latest Guardians’ mission didn’t go as smoothly as planned and their employer Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki, The Great Gatsby) wants them dead. And that’s before the immensely powerful Ego (Kurt Russell) pops up claiming to be Star-Lord’s (Chris Pratt) father.
Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista) join Star-Lord in traveling to Ego’s planet alongside his mysterious aid Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and the now pint-sized Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are left to repair the ship and guard their prisoner — Gamora’s cybernetic sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). But the undersized duo quickly gets in over their head as Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his Ravagers come calling to collect the bounty on the Guardians’ heads.
Gunn does an outstanding job tapping into the core of the Guardians. Yes, it’s the same bickering, funny group as before, but Gunn does more than just play the team off each other for laughs. There’s a ton of those — almost to a fault as sometimes the humor gets too goofy — but this is a complete film that allows for a wealth of emotions.
Bautista once again makes the deadpan Drax a standout, but it’s Saldana and Pratt that provide the film’s heart. Saldana softens Gamora’s rougher edges, not so much in the obligatory romance scenes with Star-Lord, but her relationship with Nebula. Saldana and Gillan have a number of strong scenes together and they have a fully developed arc that makes the Star-Lord romance unnecessary.
Pratt also adds some welcome depth to his performance. As the cocky team leader, Star-Lord rarely confronts his emotions. His arc will undoubtedly lead to some teary eyes in the audience. And Klementieff makes for a great addition to the cast. She’s able to make Mantis feel like she’s been part of the team all along with her unique personality quirks and childlike demeanor.
But it wouldn’t be Guardians without some over the top action. Gunn crafts some clever sequences that continue to make Guardians a unique entry in the superhero genre.
Vol. 2 might be the most unapologetic comic book movie of the Marvel Studios’ films. There’s a slew of Easter Eggs that won’t mean much of anything the casual viewer, but folks who know the history of Marvel’s cosmic side are bound to be geeked out. To that end, it’s probably why some critics aren’t embracing Vol. 2 as easily as they did its predecessor. The first film was all about universe building. The sequel is expanding a universe completely independent of Captain America, Iron Man or Spider-Man. And it’s exciting to imagine where Gunn will go next.
The soundtrack wasn’t as catchy this time around. I still can’t get Redbone’s Come and Get Your Love out of my head after that amazing first sequence in the first film. Sticking with an almost exclusive 80’s soundtrack doesn’t feel nearly as novel or maybe it’s just the selection isn’t as inspired. Some fun developments near the end of the film hint that the third installment should pack a bigger musical punch.
Vol. 2 is the film Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer wanted to be just done so much better. There’s a squabbling ‘family,’ new super-powered allies, an enemy working with the heroes, one of the heroes gets a mega-power boost and the team faces a god-like enemy with unimaginable power.
Only Vol. 2 doesn’t wuss out and make the main villain a puff of gas. But with Ego being wrapped up in the Fantastic Four license, 20th Century Fox had to grant permission for his use. That’s an encouraging sign of future character sharing (Fantastic Four cough cough) down the road.
For now Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the clear ruler of the Marvel Cinematic galaxies. Fortunately we won’t have to wait too long for the next dose of the gang as they’ll be playing a big role in Avengers: Infinity War. But this just makes for another reason why that wait is going to seem so long.
Rating: 9.3 out of 10
Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures