To this day, Guardians of the Galaxy is still my favorite Marvel movie. Out of each of the films the studio has released so far, James Gunn’s surprise hit of 2014 was the film that blended together Marvel’s signature heart, humor, and action into a cocktail that made for perfect viewing. Needless to say, I had high hopes going into Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 last night. Unfortunately, I don’t believe Marvel or James Gunn managed to match the highs of their first cosmic outing.
Let me be clear: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t a bad movie. It’s an adequate movie that, in the ranking of all of Marvel’s films, would probably fall somewhere directly in the middle of the list. It’s perfectly enjoyable to sit through and watch, but I feel like the story won’t quite connect with audiences as much as the first one did – mainly because there’s really no substantial story here. It’s a character piece without a plot, comparable to a filler episode of a hit television show.
The main thrust of the movie is as follows: Rocket steals batteries from an alien race called the Sovereign, who hired the Guardians of the Galaxy to protect said batteries from an interdimensional beast. For Rocket’s crime, the Sovereign sentences the Guardians to death and gives chase to them across the galaxy, where they eventually crash land on a planet and run into Peter Quill’s father, Ego, along with his assistant, Mantis. From there, Peter, Gamora, and Drax accompany Ego and Mantis back to Ego’s home planet to learn about where Peter comes from, leaving Rocket and Baby Groot behind to fix the ship and keep watch over Nebula, who was captured by the Sovereign and handed over to the Guardians in exchange for keeping their batteries safe. Unfortunately for Rocket and Groot, the Sovereign send the Ravangers, led by Yondu, after them to bring them back to the Sovereign in order to face punishment, and though Yondu has a soft spot for Peter and his friends, his underling Taserface does not.
The problem with the movie’s conceit is the fact that once the Guardians are separated, nothing of importance happens – there really is no plot. There is a beginning and a predictable reveal toward the end of the movie that makes for a standard, run-of-the-mill climax, but nothing occurs in-between. In addition, there’s no real intimidating villain – neither the Sovereign nor the Ravangers are threatening or pose any real danger, and the third villain (whom I won’t spoil in this review, though I’m sure most people have them pegged from the trailers) doesn’t emerge until the last twenty-minutes of the film. The lack of a menacing threat, or some kind of race against the clock hanging over the characters’ heads, really takes away from the movie. It also doesn’t help that nothing really happens in this movie that has any bearing on the big, overall story that Marvel is trying to tell with all of their films.
While the lack of a story, or anything of consequence happening, prevents this film from reaching the dizzying heights of its predecessor, like I said above, it’s still an enjoyable watch. There are good things about it! The splitting up and pairing off of the characters, Empire Strikes Back style, really allows for some excellent, heartfelt character moments. Pairing Drax off with Mantis, a character even more innocent than he is, was a stroke of genius, and the two of them definitely provide the majority of the film’s humor. (In fact, going in, I expected Baby Groot to be steal the show, but I’d honestly give that honor to Pom Klementieff’s Mantis, who is a delightful revelation.) The Peter/Ego and Gamora/Nebula pairings are enjoyable to watch as well, albeit slightly predictable, and I’d say those four characters provide much of the film’s drama. The heart, however, comes from the surprising interactions between Rocket and Yondu. (Baby Groot is also there with them, but – besides playing a pivotal part during the climax of the film – is a pretty inconsequential character this time around. He’s just there.) Seeing these two rough around the edges, sarcastic, mean-spirited characters forced to work together, and really break through one another’s tough exteriors, were some of the best moments of the film, and it speaks to the genius of James Gunn that he had the brilliant idea to pair them off in the first place.
The movie’s biggest asset is its tremendous amount of heart, which is always on the surface due to the wonderful characters that fans know and love, brought to life by actors who don’t get nearly enough credit. Much of the film showcases our heroes individually questioning their meaning and purpose, reflecting on their own familial tragedies in their pasts. What becomes evident to them by the end, however, is that despite the arguments, despite their disparate, extremely different backgrounds, they’re family; they’re the family they’ve all been searching for their whole lives, and it doesn’t matter that none of them are related by blood. It’s an extremely heartfelt, endearing, and slightly corny message that will resonate with people, despite the lack of plot.
Besides its story, though, I do still have a few other criticisms of the movie. Firstly, as great as the songs chosen for ‘Awesome Mix Vol. 2’ are, they don’t flow as well within the context of the film as the songs of ‘Awesome Mix Vol. 1’ did in the first one. In fact, there were times when the music took me out of the movie completely it was so jarring. It almost seemed to me like James Gunn picked the soundtrack first and then wrote around it, rather than writing the script and then choosing the best songs to compliment it.
Secondly, the humor this time around didn’t feel as organic as it did in the first Guardians of the Galaxy. I felt a lot of it was shoehorned in at inappropriate moments, taking away from some of the more dramatic scenes – to a greater degree than even the first movie was guilty of doing. (Which, believe me, it was guilty of doing; I still can’t get over that “dance off” at the end.) The script definitely tried too hard at times to make the audience laugh, and when jokes fell flat, it just made for awkward pacing within the scenes.
Thirdly, as much as I love Baby Groot, I can’t wait for Groot to be a fully grown adult again. What made Groot so endearing in the first Guardians of the Galaxy was that he came across as a loyal dog. Though extremely cute and innocent, he was also intelligent and emotional. Baby Groot lacked both the intelligence and cuteness of his grown counterpart, and though he was adorable to look at and hilarious to watch, I felt like I wasn’t as emotionally connected to him as I was when he was fully grown.
I want to end this review on positive note, however, so I just want to draw attention to the excellent work done by the entire cast. Everyone from Chris Pratt and Kurt Russell to Bradley Cooper and Karen Gillan brought their A-games. I also want to applaud James Gunn for his excellent directorial skills and the amazing designs of these alien worlds – it’s truly a beautiful, imaginative, and quirky looking film; I might go so far as to call it Marvel’s best looking movie to date.
The bottom line here is this: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a mixed-bag of a movie that, while it’s enjoyable and I personally liked it, doesn’t come close to the level of its predecessor. That said, its characters and its heart saved it, and I can’t wait to see the Guardians themselves return in next year’s Avengers: Infinity War. I only hope that James Gunn was consulted on all of the scenes they’re going to appear in, because he truly gets who the Guardians of the Galaxy are and who they’re supposed to be.
What did you think of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2? Did it live up to your expectations? Did you find it as good as the first one? Let me know in the comments below!