When the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off in 2008, it was built around less popular characters, with only a small amount of name value, and went on to be the juggernaut that is known today. After the initial success of the those early films, everything in the MCU was pretty much guaranteed to be a huge success at least commercially. When 2014s Guardians Of The Galaxy came around, there was a great amount of skepticism as to whether these characters could succeed on the big screen. After the release of the film all doubt was cast aside, and Guardians went on to be one of the most universally well like films Marvel has put out, and surprised everybody with an action packed, hilarious, and fun film. The sleeper success of that film catapulted expectations for the obvious sequel that was to come.
That film is now here, and the aptly names Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, looks to take the admiration that people had for the original, and continue the trend upward. The sequel, once again written and directed by James Gunn, takes everything that people loved and connected with in the first film and focuses almost entirely on those element, for better or worse. Everybody loved the humor and the banter, this film has plenty of both. Many loved the large scale space battles, they are back and bigger than before. The soundtrack, just catchy and a part of the film as Awesome Mix Vol. 1, with several catchy and memorable tunes. Oh and who didn’t love Baby Groot from the end credits, well now he is small and cute and adorable the whole film. These are not criticisms, these are simply the elements on which the film is built, and while all them work towards crafting an enjoyable film, they also do not do enough to elevate Vol. 2 beyond pure fun, and fall short of the lofty bar set by the first film.
Vol. 2 starts with a prologue, and as they have done in 2 of the last 3 MCU films feature a de-aged star, which is as impressive as previous examples. The main story then picks up shortly after the last film, as the team is riding the wave of success afforded to them by saving the Nova Corps from Ronan. This sequence is one of the coolest ones in the film, as it serves as battle, an opening credit sequence, and a showcase for how adorable Baby Groot is. From there the Guardians run afoul of The Sovereign, a group that fancy themselves superior to all, and the movie then kicks off their adventure. One of the issue with the films story is that it lacks a clear villain, and say what you want about MCU villains, but at least the other films had one you could root against for the majority of the film. Guardians has its share of conflicts, and the team is clearly at odds with a few different people, but none of them really feel like a true adversary. The climax of the film has clear lines drawn, but only then does it truly feel like a real threat. After the crew manage to enrage The Sovereign, and are chased to the closest nearby planet, narrowly escaping being blown up, the real important moment comes in the form of Kurt Russell’s Ego, who as revealed in the most recent trailer, is Star Lord’s father. Russell is the absolute best choice for the character, as he has many of the same characteristics as Chris Pratt, and his portrayal of Peter Quill. The introduction of Peter’s father presents an emotional arc for the character, and sets the tone for rest of the film, which is more heartfelt than the previous film, and puts a bigger emphasis on family. With Peter then wanting to know more about his heritage the story chooses to split the team up into two separate groups, which does allow for new dynamics to form, but ultimately breaks up the chemistry that is so enjoyable between these characters. Peter, Gamora, and Drax head off to Ego’s planet with his assistant Mantis, played by Pom Klementieff, who is a particularly enjoyable addition to the cast, while Rocket, and Groot are forced to team up with Nebula, and Yondu. The second grouping is good, mostly because of how good Rocket is, but also because of how good Michael Rooker is as Yondu, especially in his expanded role in this film. The two groups have similar arcs even when separated, as all of the characters are trying to find how they fit within the new dynamic they’ve created since becoming a team, but it might have been better to watch them do this together, rather than apart. The smaller groupings do allow for characters to shine, as evidenced by how much better Yondu is, while Nebula is given more of a backstory as well. Drax is once again a stand out character, and Dave Bautista’s deadpan delivery of his lines are just as funny as they were previously, though here he is given more screen time. Not all of the jokes land, and some are pretty groan inducing, but the film is still laugh out loud funny, which continues one of the more well like elements of the first film. The set pieces throughout the rest of the film are enjoyable, but only progress the story so much, especially with the team broken up, since the Peter and Ego story is the crux of the plot. As the plot unravels there are interesting elements brought up, but nothing that sets these scenes in motion feels as impactful as they ought to be. The origin of the team coming together in the first film was interesting, and even with the heavier themes, nothing feels as compelling. This isn’t a huge detriment, but the film still feels more hollow than it should. The climactic battle is big and impressive visually, and does make up for some of the shortcomings in the story that took place previously.
The cast is once again fantastic, Pratt is once again a stellar Peter Quill, and his ability to be funny, charming, and showcase genuine emotion, makes him one of the best characters in the MCU. Zoe Saldana is showcased as much as Gamora in this film, however her arc with both Peter, and Nebula is enjoyable, and Saldana is also able to convey the necessary heart, and emotion that this film relies so heavily on. Bradley Cooper as Rocket doesn’t miss a beat from the first film, and displays the same aspects that made that character so enjoyable. Vin Deisel is once again Groot, albeit with a higher pitched voice, which makes it funnier, and cuter whenever Groot gets mad. Karen Gillan as Nebula is more of the same, though since she is given a bigger story here, she is able to exude the anger that is so essential to her character. Given this is a Marvel movie there is also a whole host of cameos both large and small from across the MCU, and comic universes, all of which are to be a true delight to long time fans.
What James Gunn was able to do with the first film was nothing short of impressive, and even though this film has more issues from a film standpoint than the last one, he still crafted an incredibly enjoyable film, that is probably one of the most visually stunning in recent memory. IMAX 3D is a true showcase as well for this film, which is vast, and beautiful in every frame. The impressive visuals boost the film, and coupled with the wonderful cast, the heart, and the humor, make for a flawed but fun film, that never feels sluggish, even with a 2hr and 16 minute runtime. Also, since its a Marvel movies make sure to sit through all of the credits, as the 5 addtional scenes are funny, and set up potential futures for the MCU. What made the first film so impressive still stands out again in Vol. 2, but the shortcomings in the story, and lack of defining villain hold Guardians back from being the best it could have possibly been.