Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Going into Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I knew it would be difficult for the film to live up to the standard put in place by the first film, but James Gunn still managed to blow me away with a film that not only takes some of the best parts of the first film, but attempts some new things that makes this film feel fresh in a constantly staling Marvel Cinematic Universe. In some ways Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 feels exactly the same as the first film, and at the same time it feels new, exciting, different, and personal. The director, James Gunn, clearly wanted to avoid a formulaic repeat of the first film, and there are some moments when he succeeds, but there are also some moments when those new elements fall flat. But even those weaker moments provide promise for the recently announced third installment in the Guardians of the Galaxy film series.
This film picks up shortly after the events of the first film. The Guardians have been hired by a race of aliens called The Sovereign to protect some fancy batteries from an inter-dimension octopus with teeth. There’s a lot of the same bickering, humor that made the first film so funny as Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) attempts to play some music while the team fights off this beast. I don’t want to spoil the entire opening sequence, but it’s very funny, and harkens back to the first film while also being new and visually exciting. After fighting off the beast, the team is reunited with Nebula (Karen Gillan) whom they are taking to Xandar to answer for her war crimes (from the first film). On the way they are attacked by The Sovereign because Rocket stole some of the important batteries they were hired to protect. The battle forces the Guardians to crash land on a nearby planet where they “coincidentally” run into Star-lord’s (Chris Pratt) father, Ego (Kurt Russell). The team is then separated as Rocket, Groot (Vin Deisel), and Nebula stay behind to fix the ship, and Star-lord, Drax (Dave Bautista), and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) travel off with Ego to learn more about Star-lord’s heritage. All of this while being hunted by The Sovereign and Star-lord’s old team, The Ravagers.
The difficulty with a film like this is how much setup comes from the first film in the series. Many of the events would be difficult to understand without having seen the first film since a lot of the story arcs in this film are continuations of things that happened in the first film. However, this film, unlike the first film, is not a slave to the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe’s plan and contains no connections to the Avenger films. This meant that James Gunn was given more room to explore the characters and their relationships, which is exactly what he does with this film. By splitting up the team it gives the characters time to delve into their pasts and explore why they act the way they do and what it’s like to be a team, or a family. It’s this deeper character exploration that sets this film apart from the first one, but it is also what makes this film slightly weaker in its execution. Some of the conversations between character’s feel contrived. Instead of events transpiring to push the plot forward, the film has events happen to bring characters to places where these conversations can take place. Theres a clear through-line of emotional connections in the film to these conversations taking place, but the plot is almost a slave to this through-line, and at times it is almost detrimental to the pacing.
Since James Gunn decided to make this film more personal, he uses this opportunity to introduce more characters and relationships within the greater Marvel Cosmic Universe. There are plenty of easter eggs to make a nerd like me pee his pants. Gunn manages to make all of these introductions in a way that doesn’t feel forced or take away from the film. In traditional Marvel fashion, a lot of these easter eggs or setups to the next film in the series take place during one of the five end credit scenes. It’s clear that Gunn wants to move the franchise into a new direction; one away from the rest of the main Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I like the direction he is going in. On the one hand I want Marvel to explore more of the cosmic side of things, but at the same time I like how untouched and foreign that side of Marvel still is to a majority of fans and film goers. That being said, it was nice to see James Gunn maintain a cohesive story without trying to shoehorn setups for future sequels.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, is by no means a perfect film, and neither was the first one. Because this universe is so foreign to a majority of film goers, and even regular Marvel fans, both Guardians of the Galaxy films are riddled with overdrawn exposition in order to explain the universe to the casual film goer. It’s enough to be distracting from the rest of the events taking place, and there were a few instances that in hindsight, James Gunn could have saved for the sequel and added a sense of mystery to this film. There are even some jokes that may have been funnier without some instances of exposition.
James Gunn has managed to stamp his name on a franchise of unknown characters that have since become icons for excellence within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 dispels a lot of the formulaic nature that has become a plague on the rest of Marvel’s films. Even this film, which was just as enjoyable as the first film, manages to be better than the best of the Avenger films. There are some instances of weak storytelling, but it doesn’t come as a result of slaving to setup a sequel. Hopefully the next film will improve on these weak moments and give Marvel another film to truly be proud of.