2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy was a surprise hit the summer it came out. Though most audiences were unfamiliar with its Marvel Comics source material, the film’s fresh combination of Star Wars-style visuals, endearing characters, raunchy humor, and a retro 60s/70s soundtrack won them over in droves. More broadly, in addition to being another feather in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s cap, by being a pulpy space adventure, as opposed to a straight up superhero story, it showed that the MCU could successfully expand into new frontiers. It wasn’t long until we learned that a follow up was in the works, and now, in the tradition of the early May big Marvel release, comes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
I’ll get this much out of the way up front: this movie by and large works. Returning writer/director James Gunn and producer Kevin Feige seem to have largely understood what people liked about the first movie, and they have given it to us again here. And while it understandably doesn’t feel quite as fresh this time around, it never the less still adds up to an enjoyable experience. So as with the original, we have a film that is both fun and funny; one that boasts a good deal of visual eye candy with a strikingly beautiful, saturated color palette; and whose soundtrack offers a healthy selection of older standards.
Most importantly, the characters we came to love in the original are back in fine form here. The heroic-yet-goofy Peter Quill/Star-Lord, the sword-wielding-no-nonsense warrior Gamora, the always-speaks-his-mind Drax, the sardonic-yet-lovable Rocket Raccoon, and everyone’s favorite tree-man with a three-word vocabulary Groot are all a treat to see on screen, and they are ultimately what makes this picture work. All the performers who play them do a terrific job with the material. Chris Pratt as Quill and Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon bring a great, over-the-top enthusiasm to their parts; Zoe Saldana gives wonderful authority and power to her role as Gamora; Vin Diesel makes Groot as adorable as ever (even if the character’s vocabulary is, shall we say, limited); and Dave Bautista steals the show as Drax (he also gets the best lines in the movie, in my opinion). The new additions to the cast are also enjoyable on the whole. This includes Kurt Russell, who plays Quill’s mysterious, long-lost father; he brings his unique brand of charisma to the role and is clearly having fun on screen. Pom Kelmentieff, who plays an empathic being called Mantis, also won me over through the sweet innocence of her character.
The plot, such as it is, is a more personal tale that centers around Peter Quill finding his aforementioned father, whom we learn is a very unique being in the universe. Along the way, he and the other Guardians fight giant monsters, visit alien worlds, partake in sweeping space battles, and even get split up for a while, having to go on separate adventures. I wouldn’t call it the smartest story ever put to celluloid — it’s kicked into motion only because one of our heroes decides to act like a belligerent fool against obvious warnings; and the rest of the story has notable narrative plot holes and inconsistencies — nor is it quite as effective as the last film (the finale, as an example, isn’t as strong this time around). On the other hand, it also never dips long enough for you to focus too much on that. The picture packs on so much visual and sonic spectacle and so many big, dazzling set pieces (it supposedly cost around $200 million, and every dollar of that is visible on screen) that it effectively covers up most narrative issues.
If there is an area where I would say this film is lacking, it’s actually with the humor. Don’t get me wrong, there are many funny moments in this picture. However, many jokes also fell flat for me. At times there is an over-emphasis on toilet humor, profanity, and male anatomy, which I found off putting. Other times, a joke is clearly stretched out far too long as a way to stall for time. Additionally, during key moments when the picture is actually trying to be slightly more dramatic, bits of humor spring out at seemingly inappropriate times, and it undercuts some needed emotion. Speaking of inappropriate humor, not to discuss the specifics of the plot too much, but there’s a particular scene in the film that I found somewhat disturbing: one of our heroes, after escaping imprisonment by his mutinous crew members, proceeds to murder them in a scene that is depicted with over-the-top comedic glee, which just feels wrong somehow. It could have been handled better.
Also — and this is admittedly a minor nitpick — while I did enjoy the soundtrack in this picture very much, I think there actually are a few too many songs in the movie. It feels like every scene has a song in it, and I think this might have been one of those instances where less would have been more.
The problems with humor and, to a smaller extent, a less effective story, mean that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is unfortunately not quite as good as its predecessor. Never the less, the entertaining characters, outstanding visuals and set pieces, and music make this an enjoyable picture on the whole, and I would recommend seeing it if you haven’t done so already. Also, I’m definitely excited to see the Guardians meet up with the Avengers in next year’s Avengers: Infinity War, which is supposedly going to happen.