One of the big success stories for the grand vision of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. A comic series that was barely known even among avid fans became the must watch movie of the year, and proved that when everything clicks the MCU could make anything work. Fast forward to 2017, and the sequel is on everybody’s radar. Can the quirky band of outlaws team up to produce another fan favourite?
For fans of the first movie there’s a logical progression in story this time around. After a nice little reintroduction to the cast, we’re quickly thrust into the focus of the story where Star-Lord meets his supposed father, Ego, played by Kurt Russell. The true details of Peter Quill’s ancestry has been hinted at but here the full extent is revealed, and the natural progression of trying to trust and reconcile forms the crux of the main story. The secondary and tertiary arcs kind of feel like they’re there just to ensure everyone gets their due screentime at first, although it does tie together fairly nicely with the main arc towards the end of the movie. That being said the story this time around lacks the cohesiveness of the first, which is partly because the main band is split in two, and for over half the movie the team dynamic that worked so well is lost a little here.
It’s not just the main core that are back, they’re joined by both Yondu and Nebula. There’s a nice mix of character time here, giving everyone a chance to be comedic, a chance to be badass and a chance to drive home some emotion and character development. For the most part this works rather well, though Nebula’s arc falls a little short, likely due to a paint by numbers progression and character constraints from the first movie.
The highlight here is Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer. In the first movie all these great new characters stopped anyone (bar baby Groot) from asserting themselves as the highlight, but on the second go round he dominates every scene he’s in, thanks in part to his incredibly infectious and over the top laugh. His blunt delivery ensures every line hits home, and he’s given some great material to work with even though as a character he doesn’t actually do much.. Bradley Cooper’s Rocket also stands out, with some smart and logical character progression in between movies that serves as a catalyst at several moments. He gets some great moments, and doesn’t feel as constrained to his buddy Groot as he did in the first movie. And yes, Baby Groot is damn adorable.
It’s not just the old cast that return, but several new characters step forward to add to the world. The aforementioned Kurt Russell works well as Ego, providing some intrigue for the story to build upon as well as a grand performance worthy of the role. That being said, the CGI to de-age him for a scene or two veers heavily into the creepy uncanny valley that Rogue One similarly had to deal with. Pom Clementieff’s performance as Mantis was also surprisingly strong. It’s an awkward character to have to play within the world of the Guardians of the Galaxy but it’s handled well, and provides a great mix of humour and suspicion depending on what is required, although there is a little questionable leap in logic that you kind of have to handwave. Her interactions with Drax are provide arguably the funniest moments in the film.
The world crafted here is also absolutely gorgeous. There is a clear intention to harken back to the old pulp sci fi stories of yesteryear, and the settings really help to play on that otherworldly feel that Guardians of the Galaxy nailed so well in the original. There is so much colour and vibrancy that everything pops, giving your eyes plenty to feast upon. It looks great on the big screen, and as expected it is accompanied by an equally fantastic soundtrack, following on with the theme of the first and acting as more than just a backing track but a character in of itself.
Believe it or not one of the biggest issue that Guardians of the Galaxy 2 has is its humour. This is a very funny movie, with the jokes flying at a consistent pace so you’re always ready for the next chance to laugh. The problem is that this continues even when the movie is trying to be serious and poignant. Throughout the first half of the movie whenever any moment starts to strive for emotion, they break the moment with a blunt joke. The movie is essentially conditioning the audience to laugh when they should be becoming invested. So when the movie ramps up the emotion in the key final scenes, these moments don’t have the same impact they should because they’ve spent the previous hour or so undermining these very moments. And as light hearted as the movie is for three quarters of its run-time, there are clear points in which it wants to impact the viewer. It’s a shame, because this tonal dissonance stops this good movie from becoming a great movie.
The action is also a bit underwhelming, due in part to the nature of the scenes themselves. Some of the space fights are fun, but the climactic scene feels a little all over the place and there are also some serious moments of plot invincibility where characters are put in unsurvivable situations without a care in the world, which only adds to the lack of investment when the movie needs you to be locked in. It’s part of being a superhero movie, especially one as wacky as Guardians of the Galaxy, but there are limits, especially when it wants you to care for the safety of its heroes at one point in the movie it can’t be treating danger like it’s nothing in another scene.
At the end of the day Guardians of the Galaxy is a fun movie. There are plenty of laughs to be had even if not all of the humour lands, and it is an enjoyable experience. However there are some serious dealbreakers to be found, and depending on what you want out of the movie they might barely affect your overall enjoyment or they could have you leaving a little disappointed. There is a clear attempt to ramp up everything that worked in the first movie, but Volume 2 simply isn’t as strong as the original, and in many ways feels pretty inconsequential as a grander MCU movie as well. Still fun, but nothing more.