After the success of Writer-Director James Gunn‘s 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy, there was no doubt that a sequel would follow in short order. However, is Volume 2 an upgrade over the original or have these Marvel heroes already peaked?
The second chapter in the cinematic adventures of the Guardians of the Galaxy opens about six months after the first film. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his team have been hired to protect some pricey batteries for The Sovereign, a near-perfect race of beings that has no problem condescending to others. At the conclusion of the job, The Sovereign High Priestess, Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), gifts the Guardians with Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana) sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan). Also, once it’s discovered that Rocket (Bradley Cooper) pilfered some of the batteries, The Sovereign make it their mission to destroy the Guardians. Their attack disables Quill’s ship, which leads him to cross paths with Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Quill’s father. Ego requests that Peter come with him to his planet, so that he can reveal his heritage to him. The team splits as Peter, Gamora, and Drax (Dave Bautista) go off with Ego and his assistant, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), while Rocket and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are charged with repairing the ship and babysitting Nebula. Undeterred, The Sovereign hire Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his Ravagers to find and capture the Guardians. Yondu has problems of his own, though, dealing with a disgruntled crew, the offended party led by the unfortunately named Taserface (Chris Sullivan). Will Peter accept what Ego has to tell him about where he comes from and will he leave the Guardians behind in order to embrace the destiny his father has laid out for him?
Even though that description looks pretty dense, Guardians 2 is fairly light on plot. Gunn takes an interesting tack and focuses more on character with this installment and it works for this particular cast. The film, while certainly less original than the first—but that happens with all sequels—feels more like Guardians of the Galaxy 1.5 as in the story, almost no time has passed since the last film and Gunn throws the audience right into the story with no build-up or lead-in. Because the plot is thin, this movie feels like an extension of the first film as opposed to a separate adventure. The whole film is built around all these different character arcs, some working better than others.
Peter Quill’s story is clearly the main one and while it plays out nicely for the most part, I would have liked to have seen a bit more complication with it. Everything in Peter’s story feels like it happens a little too fast and too easy. Drax’s story focuses mainly on his connection to Mantis and the odd friendship that develops between them. Gunn mines that one for plenty of comedy. Another big source of comedy is Baby Groot, who is an adorable ball of energy as he works on growing back up into Big Groot.
Rocket’s story is, technically, Yondu’s. It’s no secret that Yondu is a real son of a bitch and has been throughout Peter’s life. Well, Volume 2 shows him trying to get back to at least being decent. However, even when you realize that Yondu’s story is basically Rocket’s, it still feels like it comes out of left field. Also, while I appreciated the sentimentality at the end of the film, I didn’t completely buy it. Like I said, Yondu was not a good guy in the past and suddenly, everyone forgets what a bastard he was. It didn’t jibe. It felt like an arc that should have continued into the third film. All that being said, Yondu’s story is the plot that is missing from the rest of the film. That’s not me saying the film is bad—not at all—I just would have liked a little more going on in the main story. Han and Leia didn’t immediately go to Cloud City after leaving Hoth—just saying.
The arc that I had the most trouble with, though, was Gamora’s. This is mainly due to the fact that the arc really belongs more to Nebula and Gamora’s realizations feel very tacked on at the end of the film. Also, while Saldana and Pratt definitely have chemistry on screen, I feel like Gunn is trying to force the romance angle. In the first film, Quill is a lothario who will seemingly sleep with anything female, but all of a sudden, Gamora is his end all be all. It feels like a case of, “She’s the girl, so she has to hook up with someone,” especially when Gunn recreates the dancing scene from the first film. This time, though…Gamora still doesn’t want to dance. Of all the characters, Gamora still feels woefully underdeveloped. I’m hoping that changes with the third film.
Like the first film, the soundtrack is dynamite, however, I felt that some of the ways Gunn works the songs into the film are a little awkward. The opening sequence—which is fantastic—is a great example. The characters go out of their way to get the music into the scene and it feels forced. Again, despite that, the scene, which features Groot having a little party while the Guardians fight a monster in the background, is hilarious and precious. Speaking of being hilarious, that goes for the entire film. I didn’t keep count of the laughs, but this film might be funnier than the first, which is quite a feat. The film has wall-to-wall laughs and despite all the gripes I have with the movie, it is immensely enjoyable.
But, there’s one more gripe I have to lodge, and this is kind of a big one. I know most of these characters are super-powered, but no one gets hurt in this movie. Also, the action is wholly unbelievable—even for a comic book movie—especially when you watch Nebula shoot at Gamora with a ship’s cannon multiple times and not even nick her! It sucks all the tension out of the film. The same goes for Yondu’s arrow. It looks very cool, but it is virtually unstoppable and that’s a complaint I had from the first film that was just made worse in this one.
The cast is absolutely fantastic and keeps the film humming along through all the bumps. Pratt continues the transformation of Peter Quill from a man-child into a man and does well with the emotional scenes. Saldana is good as Gamora, but again, I don’t think they’re giving her enough to do for her to really shine. A character is due to appear in the third film that has a strong connection with Gamora in the comics and I’m hoping that gets Saldana a strong storyline in the next film. Cooper does great voice work as Rocket and the little homicidal maniac is just as enjoyable in this film as he was in the first. The star of the film is easily Baby Groot. He’s unbelievably adorable and is extremely lovable. A close second is Bautista as Drax. In Bautista’s hands, Drax has become a matter-of-fact joke machine. That kind of undermines his comic book roots as “Drax the Destroyer,” but Bautista is an absolute delight in the role. Russell brings all of his charisma to the role of Ego and does fine work here. I also enjoyed Klementieff as Mantis. She brings a childlike innocence to the role, even though she also doesn’t have a whole lot to do but hold onto some information until the script tells her to reveal it. Rooker is great as Yondu, even if I didn’t completely buy his trek to the realm of the good guys. Also, a big kudos needs to go out to Sean Gunn—James’ brother—who plays Yondu’s right hand man, Kraglin. He also serves as the on-set reference for Rocket and he does a great job here. Gunn is just naturally funny and the little arc he goes on in this film is both humorous and bittersweet.
I really enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but while I love the Guardians themselves, I’m not sure that I loved the movie. Sound familiar? It’s pretty much what I said about the first film. The stories just haven’t been up to snuff for these films, but the other aspects of the film—action, characters, soundtrack, comedy—all make up for it to create a fun summer movie ride. The series doesn’t have the epic gravitas of something like, say, Star Wars, but it’s not supposed to. Guardians of the Galaxy is pure cotton candy and it is well made and intelligent as opposed to something like the Transformers movies, which are insufferably stupid. It would be nice to have some more meat on the story’s bones, but I enjoy an injection of sugar every so often, and Gunn has the formula for this confection almost perfected.