Marvel’s sequels have been pretty hit-or-miss up to this point. Some have been the studio’s best movies (looking at you Captain America series), and others have been Thor: The Dark World. However, despite the mixed track record, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 quickly became one of the most anticipated movies of 2017. That kind of hype can make or break a film, so how did this tale of lovable a-holes fare?
Guardians Vol. 2 focuses on answering the question that it’s predecessor set up: who is Star Lord’s dad? The audience doesn’t have to wait long to find out, as Kurt Russell’s Ego reveals himself very early on. The rest of the film is dedicated to Star Lord getting to know his pappy – who is he, why did he leave, and why does he suddenly want a relationship with his son? Meanwhile, a group of stuck-up gold aliens named the Sovereign are chasing down the Guardians to retrieve some items that Rocket Raccoon stole (for no reason) and exact justice.
This film is enjoyable on so many levels, but perhaps the greatest element is how far it strays from the typical Marvel formula. The first Guardians of the Galaxy was praised for how original it felt, but Vol. 2 takes it to a whole new level. First off, there’s no MacGuffin. So many Marvel films are driven by “we need to get the [Tesseract/Aether/Orb] before the bad guy can use it for evil,” but Guardians Vol. 2 avoids that trope completely. Second, the main villain doesn’t reveal him or herself with a big splash in the first act. It’s not until late in the film that the major threat is revealed. The story up to that point is driven entirely by the characters.
James Gunn’s script delves deep into what makes the Guardians tick in Vol. 2. Characters like Rocket were fun to watch in the first film, but they didn’t get fleshed out too well. This sequel gives them the chance to shine. Rocket, Gamora, and even secondary characters like Nebula and Yondu are all explored in greater depth. (Yondu in particular stands out above the rest.) By the end, audiences have a much richer understanding of who these characters are, and they become more than just fun to watch. They become an emotional investment. Making this a character driven story was definitely the way to go, and it’s what makes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 perhaps Marvel’s most heartfelt movie to date.
Aside from writing an entertaining and stellar script, Gunn also returns to direct in a beautifully original fashion. It’s clear that the success of Guardians of the Galaxy earned him more creative freedom with the sequel. He goes big, has a lot of fun with it, and it pays off yet again. As gorgeous as the visual effects were in the first film, in Vol. 2 tops them. The set pieces are bigger and almost hypnotizing. And, in true Gunn fashion, this is a surprisingly violent film. There is a lot of death. Not in Marvel’s typical “collateral damage” way either, but in a flat out “this is a murder spree set to ‘Come A Little Bit Closer’ by Jay & The Americans” way.
The main actors all return and recapture the essence of their roles for a second time. Going with the “bigger” theme, they really roll into what made their characters popular the first time around. Bradley Cooper’s Rocket is more sarcastic; Dave Bautista’s Drax delivers more blunt, dry humor. However, the real credit in this film goes to the supporting Guardians. Karen Gillan gives a powerful performance as Nebula, someone who seemed somewhat one-note the first time around. Michael Rooker is the true star here though; his second turn at space pirate Yondu is something to be remembered. He not only supplies some great laughs, but he’s sympathetic and sometimes downright heartbreaking.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a very joke heavy script, so prepare for that. They often break even the most serious moments with a joke. Then of course there’s Baby Groot, who steals whatever scene he’s in. There are a lot of viewers out there who take issue with Marvel’s use of humor, so this might be the film’s biggest detriment, but honestly it works perfectly fine. The jokes flow naturally and never feel forced. These are characters that can always get away with laughing when faced with certain death.
Let’s talk music. When “Awesome Mix Vol. 2” dropped online, it was notably different than the first soundtrack. There are a lot more deep cuts this time around, songs that you may not recognize from name alone. However, Gunn uses them brilliantly in the context of the story. It ends up being just as addictive to listen to as its predecessor, so fans won’t be disappointed in the least.
Die hard comic fans will not be disappointed when it comes to Easter Eggs, cameos, and obscure references. Just like soundtrack, there are some serious deep cuts here, right through the credits. There’s a very notable actor that appears in a couple of scenes who hasn’t been promoted in the marketing, and his character is sure to make old school Guardians of the Galaxy fans squeal with glee. Then of course there’s Stan The Man Lee’s patented cameo. This may be his greatest one yet, and again it’ll make true fans’ heads explode. There’s plenty of nerd candy here to be enjoyed is the point.