There are times when I can be a simple man. They’re not always common, but they come. My mind is an ever-racing clutter of overstimulated thoughts and unorganized confusion, but when I do find happiness, it’s often in the silly little things. Like a sentient tree who can only speak three words. Or an inexplicably hunky Chris Pratt being a ’80s manchild in outer space. Or a talking raccoon with a wicked sense of humor that loves to shoot things up.
James Gunn’s bizarre concoction of wisecracking shenanigans, space opera melodramatics and colorful action that became 2014’s widely profitable Guardians of the Galaxy was, in short, a blast, an oddly adorable, yet deeply weird, dysfunctional family misadventure that veered close enough to Marvel’s brand to stay true to their exhausting cinematic universe, while still remaining unique and, again, strange enough to stand out admit the others. It wasn’t perfect but it was exactly what Marvel’s brand needed: a frisky, poppy, splashy success that stayed true to form but found enough wiggle room to stand out on its own. It was syncretic and friendly, yet just prickly and unorthodox enough to distinguish itself from its peers. This gang of misfits might be assholes, but they were goofy and likable assholes.
Which leads us to Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2, Gunn’s second madcap effort inside the galactic outer realms of Marvel’s fantastical space-based recesses. Peter Quill (Pratt), a.k.a. Star-Lord, an oversexed boy man with a heart of gold, Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a rambunctious raccoon that yells more than it talks, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the green-skinned son of Thanos with a desire to do good for the galaxy, Drax (Dave Bautista), a muscular alien with very few social skills and Baby Groot (voiced, as far as they tell us, by Vin Diesel), the now-adolescent walking/talking tree we once knew before, are back, and they’re just as disoriented as ever. Traveling around the galaxy with a greater sense of purpose after their previous endeavor, they’re cockier but still, well, out of their element.
Through a grave mishap or two, they wind up in the bad graces of Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), a golden ruler with a snarl, which results in battling more than a few foes ready to blow them into smithereens. But that’s only the beginning of their problems. Throughout the course of their roughhousing, they cross paths with Ego (Kurt Russell), an older gentleman who claims to be Peter’s father. Having been abandoned by his pops from an early age, Peter feels resentment towards this mysterious man, yet can’t help wanting to mend their relationship and make up for lost time. The other Guardians, most notably Gamora, however, are dubious — at best — of Ego, yet Quill decides to trust him, hoping to finally find a proper parent figure in his life. Particularly as Yondu (Michael Rooker), the wild-eyed blue-skinned criminal who actually raised him, continues to forge through his criminal space-based misgivings. To top it all off, Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora’s half sister, is hot on the Guardians’ tail, hoping to enact her final vengeance on her sibling.
There are space battles and there are slightly crass gags, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a lot more centralized on the characters. The idea of fatherhood, both with Pratt’s predicament and Nebula and Gamora’s disdain for their all-powerful father, is one explored to odd depths, yet admit all the bizarre antics thrown onto the screen, there’s a level of honesty and sincerity to it all that rings true, emotionally. The island of misfit toys angle is given more heft and weight this time around, as we see that these characters are all more broken and disfigured than we initially believed. Admit all the wacky galactic action, these characters are trying to find their own central gravity. Admit all the nonsensical acts, they’re just trying to find some sanity in their unstable lives. It’s not Shakespeare per se, but it’s surprisingly heartfelt and, in its own weird way, sorta sweet, notably by its warm ending. Gunn infuses a great sense of perspective and identity to his blockbuster sequel, which helps enrichen this newest Marvel sequel in ways that the others often appear flat.
It also helps that this movie simply looks gorgeous. From the set designs, which are awe-inspiring, to the detailed make-up, which is simply stunning, to the lively cinematography, with a wide array of bubblegum colors that pop and dazzle, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a delightfully eye-catching movie, which isn’t something you can always say about the MCU. There are no washed-out colors and there are no bland color schemes. This is clearly a movie with a director at the helm, and that’s something I hope to say for more Marvel movies in the near future. These movies need to feel alive, and they should own up to their comic book origins more. Thankfully, Gunn is up to that particular task. It’s like a candy store filled with delectable treats for as wide as your eye can see. It’s scrumptious looking.
But like a kid in a candy store, Gunn winds up maybe a little too hyper and overstimulated for his own good. While the first Guardians of the Galaxy felt focused and contained, Vol. 2 is a lot more scattershot and all over the place, to the point where it’s pretty exhausting. There are not a lot of wasted moments here, yet everything feels tiresome in a way that the first movie simply did not. Perhaps it’s simply the superhero fatigue kicking in more and more with each passing year, or the fact that there’s virtually no way that this sequel can be as unexpected and unique as the first movie (though it tries as it might, bless it), but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 just doesn’t quite compare to the original film. It has a lot of lofty ambitions, and it’s harder for Gunn to keep up with all the balls he’s juggling. But it works, at least more than it doesn’t, and while it’s certainly more lumpy and bumpy than the first film, there are hardly any moments where you’re bored, especially since there are simply so many things happening in this movie, it’s hard not to be stimulated.
To delve into more would be to discuss spoilers, and while there are certainly more than a few leaked by now, it’s best to go into Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 with a clean slate. It’s a more complicated and layered film than the first, but it doesn’t loose its rambunctious spirit. The characters are still endearing, the antics are still amusing, and it’s clear that there’s an inspired filmmaker at the helm, which isn’t something you get often these days with your blockbuster spectacles. Above all else, however, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a great deal of fun. Weird, bonkers fun, but fun nonetheless. It might not be as simple or sublime as the first movie, but that’s okay. Because it knows how to keep it all enjoyable.