When the first Guardians of Galaxy was released in 2014 it felt like a very odd choice for Marvel to make following the success of The Avengers; a sci-fi series featuring a talking tree, a psychotic raccoon, the tubby guy from Parks & Rec., and directed by a guy from Troma? Never should’ve worked. And yet, $770 Million and worldwide praise later, the film did work and serves as one of the highlights of Marvel’s cinematic universe, so no pressure on the sequel.
To get it out of the way quickly, Vol. 2 doesn’t live up to the first, only because the first film had no expectations of it, it came from nowhere, and blew everyone away. While the sequel had the unfortunate luck to come second, it’s still a burst of color and fun, while one of the best standalone MCU films to date.
Picking up a short time after the first film, The Guardians are living it up as heroes for hire and have been hired by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), high priestess of the Sovereign race. She has the Guardians defend a station of highly powerful batteries from an inter-dimensional beast in exchange for Nebula (Karen Gillan) who the Sovereign have prisoner. The deal goes off without a hitch until Rocket (Bradley Cooper) decides to steal the batteries for himself, forcing the Guardians to flee, being saved at the last minute by a mysterious man calling himself Ego (Kurt Russell) and claiming to be Peter’s (Chris Pratt) father.
From there the Guardians split in two, Peter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista) go with Ego and his assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff) to his homeworld where Peter can learn about his birthright and what comes from being part god. Meanwhile, Rocket, Groot (Vin Diesel) and Nebula are found by Yondu (Michael Rooker) who is struggling with a mutiny within his Ravager group led by Taserface (Chris Sullivan). However, when he learns that Ego has found Peter he agrees to help Rocket and Groot because of the very good reason he never delivered Peter to his dad in the first place.
And that’s all I’m going to say, the trailers have done such a good job at hiding what the film’s true story is that to go into details would ruin the surprise. Suffice to say the theme of family weighs heavily, but never uncomfortably so, Peter’s relationship with his father versus his relationship with the Guardians comes into play as well as perhaps the best mother reveal since Civil War. There’s a little bit more meat to it than the last time which works since there’s no longer a need to introduce everyone.
Speaking of which, everyone is back and just as good as before, Pratt makes the biggest impact as Peter, after his career exploded following the first film, it would’ve been very easy for him to just do the same thing again and to an extent he does that. Quill is still the 80s pop-culture referencing loveable oaf that danced his way into our hearts with his pelvic sorcery three years ago. Pratt has lost none of that charm, but what sets him apart this time is the dramatic notes that he just nails. The third act has to contend with some pretty heavy scenes, even for a Marvel movie, and he just hits them all. The aforementioned ‘mother’ scene is a big moment and Pratt’s reaction is so genuine and so in character that it’s hard not to think that this is probably his best performance yet. As much as this is a team piece, it’s absolutely Pratt’s film and he takes it without breaking a sweat.
While Gamora does have the unfortunate luck to be the only person on the team with a vagina, forcing her to keep her wits about her and play mother to a group of man-children, Saldana is never bad in the role. In fact, her being the only reasonable one allows her to play a strong straight man role which gives credence to her main plot line with Nebula. The two sisters have a great back and forth as they try to out-match the other in a constant one-ups-man-ship that still ties into the film’s main theme of family. It’s nice to see Gillan back as big, blue, and bald and even nicer to see her playing off Saldana in this way.
Dave Bautista is just as funny as Drax here as he was last time, I was worried they’d overdo him since Drax ended up one of the film’s most popular characters. They utilize him well, his metaphors aren’t quite so literal now, but there’s still plenty of misunderstandings and things lost in translation. Like Gamora, Drax now has someone to play off, in his case Mantis, who shares his inability to read expressions and inflictions of tone. Drax’s idea of helping Mantis’ social anxiety by constantly insulting her is funny enough in it’s own right, but it’s a joke that never gets old.
Rounding out the Guardians is Rockey and Baby Groot. Cooper is still a lot of fun as Rocket and his manic laughs whenever his contraptions work is always fun to hear. Rocket even gets his own standout scene when taking on a group of Ravagers. While Rocket is separated from the rest of the group for some time, his team-up with Groot and Yondu give him some strong material. Yondu in particular due to the two of them sharing a love of thieving and lying. Groot, now in baby form, is goddamn adorable and his first scene of dancing through the opening credits to Mr. Blue Sky is sure to become a franchise favorite, part of me does think Groot was better in adult form simply because he had more to do. However, at the same time I’m happy that they never overused Baby Groot because he is goddamn adorable and already a fan-favorite from just the trailers, so using him sparingly was the better choice.
A big surprise for me was Rooker as Yondu who carried some great work here, we learn a little more about his backstory which ties into Stallone’s character. Comic fans will get a kick out of who he’s playing – we see him at his weakest looking back on the mistakes he’s made, the selfishness that’s casted him alone in the universe, and conversely we see him at his strongest. Including what might be the best scene in the film, where he takes violent revenge set to a 60’s pop song. It’s surprising how much Yondu actually fits into the film’s main narrative, but he does, and I honestly couldn’t imagine the film without him.
Finishing up the film is Ego, the living planet, and the film manages a great job at making this very strange and very confusing aspect of the MCU’s cosmos actually make sense. I won’t go into too much detail, but Kurt Russell makes a big impact as Ego. You can see the swagger and confidence that Peter exudes and Russell plays well off Pratt, but going deeper into the film as he manages to capture a very real depiction of what it’s like to be a god. Let’s just say ego becomes an appropriate word. I’m very happy to see Russell join the MCU and even happier that he fits right into the madness of it all.
James Gunn also returns to the director’s chair and once again proves why he’s one of Marvel’s MVP’s despite this only being his fourth feature. Guardians literally takes up half his resume. It’s nice to see Gunn back because I don’t think anyone else could match his anarchic styling that fits into the Guardians universe so well, this is a film which includes both a very trippy scene of inter-dimensional travel gone wrong and a goddamn turd joke. There are no rules when it comes to the Guardians. That’s to it’s credit though because Gunn has such a vivid imagination that comes across in every frame. The colors alone set this film apart from nearly anything else in the MCU, I think only Doctor Strange or the first Thor come close, it’s pretty damn gorgeous at times with Ego’s planet being a major highlight.
The film also comes loaded with great set-pieces that capture the humor and the action that made this franchise such a hit. The opening battle showcases the Guardians ability to work as a team albeit a very dysfunctional one, a chase through an asteroid field pits a rivalry between Peter and Rocket for control of the ship with no winners on any side. Gamora and Nebula have a very North-By-Northwest moment when Nebula ambushes Gamora leading to the two of them squaring off in a sisterly rivalry. Yondu’s previously mentioned revenge scene is an extension of his arrow scene from the first film, but on a much bigger and better scale. And that’s all without even going into the final 30-40 minutes of this film, not only do you get two big 80’s cameos, but you get a level of Holy-Cosmic-Wonder-Batman not seen since Intersteller, and that didn’t have planet sized god-creatures with intergalactic powers.
To finish off this review let’s touch on the soundtrack, admittedly I think I prefer the original, the songs there were a little more iconic and fitting. I mean nothing can come close to the opening beats of ‘Come And Get Your Love’ for the opening credits or Peter distracting Ronan to the tune of ‘Ooh Child,’ but there’s still plenty to love here. The two standouts are Mr. Blue Sky for dancing Groot titles that start the film on a high note and Yondu’s big scene set to ‘Come A Little Bit Closer’ by Jay and The Americans fits so terribly perfect that I’m surprised never to have heard the song before. While Fleetwood Mac’s epic ‘The Chain’ is used a couple of times to great effect, sadly not the iconic finale which personally I think would’ve been perfect for the second use. Brandy ‘You’re a Fine Girl’ becomes one of the more important songs of the film for how Ego interprets the lyrics and relates them to his relationship with Peter’s mother and Cat Steven’s ‘Father & Son’ is used to the best effect I’ve seen it since ‘The Boat That Rocked.’ The context for this film carries so much more weight, arguably the most tear-inducing moment of the whole MCU.
Looking back I think my only problem with Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is that it’s Vol. 2. That first movie hit like a lightning bolt and still holds up as one of, if not Marvel’s best movie to date. Vol .2 has to follow that with a ton of hype behind it and everyone wanting more. Make not mistake, while I’m grading this film under it’s so close to the first that there’s no conceivable way that anyone will be disappointed by what’s on show here. Bring on Vol. 3.
Oh, and speaking of which, stay through all the end credits scene, there’s five in total, most of them are funny little scenes with no real place in the film, but there’s a couple of hints towards what’s next for the franchise including confirmation of a very big comic character.
I will give Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 a 4 out of 5 Hairpieces!