Not many could predict the meteoric success of the first Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014, with many predicting that it would be the first outright bomb for Marvel Studios. Pulling out characters from an obscure comic book series of theirs? Featuring a talking raccoon and a giant tree? Marvel and writer-director James Gunn proved that you can never underestimate their skills and they ultimately took that ridiculous concept and turned it into a gloriously fun ride, featuring hilarious one-liners, brilliant space action, great chemistry between the Guardians and an awesome soundtrack that managed to become a bestselling album. As such, it’s fair to say that the bar has been set insanely high for its sequel.
This instalment scales back on the grandeur of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to a degree in terms of its story – it focuses primarily upon Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) searching for his true lineage, which brings him to his father Ego (Kurt Russell), a living planet who invites Peter and his fellow Guardian members to hang out with him. There are a few other subplots in the film, including the Guardians being pursued by members of a group of people named the Sovereign led by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), who are angered at the Guardians after wisecracking jackass Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) stole energy sources from them, and the presence of Peter’s adoptive father Yondu (Michael Rooker), the leader of space pirate gang the Ravagers who faces mutiny due to his fellow Ravagers feeling he’s gotten too soft. However, most of the focus of the film in its first two acts is placed upon the story of Peter and Ego. At times this can become a bit of a drag due to the lack of a strong antagonistic force throughout these points – Ayesha is really just sitting around throughout all the film. This all changes in the third act where the film really ratchets into high gear and becomes the roller coaster of entertainment that we really loved in the first film.
And this is ultimately because (REALLY BIG SPOILERS HERE, DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU) we finally get a strong antagonistic presence… in the form of Ego. Most Marvel films tend to show off their villains early on, demonstrating who they are in the marketing. Not with Ego though – he’s introduced as a warm hearted father figure who’s happy to meet up with Peter once again and is excited to show Peter the powers he’s gained from being the son of such a momentous being. His perspective changes later on though as it’s shown that he needs Peter to help him take over the galaxy. Though his big plan kind of falls under the similar banner of other Marvel villains as being a little weak, Ego is still one of the stronger villains in the series as his desire for power and how he’s willing to manipulate his own son in order to get it is rather interesting, whilst Kurt Russell is able to give a very charismatic performance as both the warm hearted and fatherly and the megalomaniac and sinister sides of Ego. (END SPOILERS)
Despite the sometimes sluggish nature of the plot of the first two acts, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 still manages to fire on all cylinders throughout. Just like the first film this instalment is driven by a lot of humour and for the most part the jokes hit. There are a few instances of jokes that are repeated from the first film (like the dancing intro over the credits) but they’re given enough of a spin that they don’t feel stale – in particular, look out for the five (!) credit scenes – three of them are very funny. The action of the film is also a lot of fun, relying on glorious over the top space battles with intricate set ups, which are able to balance together the action and the humour of the film. Visually the film is a treat, with the designs of the brand new worlds being very colourful and imaginative, especially with the design of Ego’s planet that is utterly beautiful to look at throughout. The soundtrack, powered along once again by Peter Quill's mixtapes, is also great, albeit not as excellent as the first film - still, with tracks by Electric Light Orchestra, Fleetwood Mac and Cheap Trick there's little room to criticise.
Just like the first film the characters are once again a tonne of fun to be around and the performances are really the stand out part of this adventure. Chris Pratt brings his charismatic and sometimes deadpan delivery to Star-Lord and is able to balance both the silly and serious scenes with the character. Zoe Saldana as Gamora is once again the grounding of the team, chastising them for their ridiculousness whilst indulging in it herself sometimes, whilst her chemistry with Karen Gillan as Nebula, Gamora’s evil sister who has an almost childlike rivalry against her by trying to best Gamora, is antagonistic but believably like siblings. Dave Bautista was a surprise in the first film by how enjoyable he was and he’s still very fun in this film as the good natured but often completely nuts Drax, who finds somewhat of an equal with Ego’s empath Mantis, played by Pom Klementieff; her wide eyed innocence and slightly dopey demeanour plays well against the often literal minded Drax. Bradley Cooper’s sarcastic tones are once again used well as the voice of Rocket whilst Vin Diesel proves that being a tree that says few words is one of his best roles, as his performance as Groot proves. Groot once again manages to steal the show again due to being a baby this time around following his sacrifice at the end of the first film and he’s cute, hilarious and surprisingly badass for someone so young and naïve. Surprisingly the real standout performance is by Michael Rooker – Yondu’s screentime in the first film wasn’t huge and Yondu was merely a side antagonist. Here his time is promoted and he gets a well-rounded character arc, getting shunned by his fellow Ravagers for being too soft, especially on Quill, and ultimately proving himself as a worthy adoptive father figure to Star-Lord. His sarcastic demeanour throughout helps to make Yondu perhaps the most interesting character this time around.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 certainly doesn’t have the same impact that the first film had, with much of the shock value of the ridiculousness of the concept being removed. This does make some of its issues more obvious, including the somewhat slow moving main storyline that occurs in the first two-thirds of the film. However, it’s still an incredibly entertaining ride through the cosmos, with the humorous nature and great action sensibilities still right at the forefront. All of the actors do a fantastic job at bringing these heroes to life, with even the more anti-heroic characters being likeable and entertaining to watch, whilst visually it’s glorious to watch. Though it may not rank up in the highest echelons of the Marvel Cinematic Universe it’s nonetheless a testament to their skills.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – Written and directed by James Gunn, produced by Kevin Feige, starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Chris Sullivan, Elizabeth Debicki, Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell. A Marvel Studios production, a Disney film.