The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a wondrous feat of creative design, regardless of how one may view the movies themselves. Most certainly, there have been a few MCU movies that have been not so great (Iron Man 2 and Thor come to mind for most people). But in general, most of the movies from the MCU have been of consistent quality, and more importantly they have been building a connected narrative spanning now over a decade of films finally converging into Infinity War next year.
After a few successful films, however, Marvel began to have a problem with too many of the movies in question feeling like “more of the same”, and critical response followed suit. Then, in 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy came out of nowhere, a project helmed by a relatively unknown director with an ensemble cast of B-List comic book characters that charmed its way into the hearts of pretty much anyone who went to see it. Completely breaking from the Marvel formula up to that point, Guardians of the Galaxy was a fantastical space opera that followed a group of morally questionable yet oddly endearing rogues across the universe (the galactic portion of Marvel’s mythology not having been touched up to this point in the MCU) that proved Marvel had more than just one trick up its sleeve. Following this success, a sequel was of course inevitable, and Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 released in theaters last week. But does it live up to the hype?
The film picks up with the main cast of the first film (Star Lord, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Raccoon, and a smaller infantile Groot) currently in the midst of a contract given to them by a galactic civilization newly created for this sequel. Almost immediately, everyone is thrust into a big flashy battle as the title sequence begins. The tone is immediately set as quirky and tongue-in-cheek, and it feels like the visual effects department was simply told to go nuts with whatever ideas they felt like displaying in the opening sequence. There’s jetpacks, a giant tentacled monster, and interdimensional rainbow vomit. Furthermore, just like the original film, the soundtrack composed entirely of hits from the 60’s and 70’s is pushed to the foreground to complete the familiar Guardians of the Galaxy aesthetic.
Following this initial battle, we are given some humor and conflict before meeting the two most important additions to the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, the characters Mantis and Ego. From here, the film makes the odd choice of splitting its cast of characters into two separate groups (for most of the movie anyway), and putting its focus less on an encompassing overall plot, and more on individual character development. This is because rather than deciding to be a story about the heroes traveling from point A to point B to defeat the bad guy (although there is eventually a villain, don’t worry about that too much), Guardians of the Galaxy relies on a theme of “family”. As established in the first film, all of the characters, in one way or the other, come from distinctly lonely backgrounds, and have grown to see each other as a ragtag family.
Because of this, there is a much more expansive amount of screen time given to personal encounters between the characters as they grow closer and begin to understand each other better. As the movie progresses, Nebula and Yondu from the first film are once again brought into the fold, and their relationships are also explored (Nebula’s sisterhood with Gamora, Yondu’s pseudo-paternal relationship with Star Lord respectively). Oddly enough, it is in the performances of the characters that were either new or not from the original primary 5 that were the most impactful to me. Pom Klementieff portrayed an adorable and curious Mantis, a character who has never before had interactions with any other sentient living being besides Ego. Nebula, a characteristically stoic character, is still shown by Karen Gillan to have a vulnerable side buried deep within her. Arguably however, for reasons that are too full of spoilers to list, Michael Rooker’s Yondu stole the show when it came to displaying a wide range of emotion and personal struggle.
As a consequence of the focus on individual character driven moments however, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 does suffer quite a bit from lulling in a few places. Without the push of an overall goal for a large portion of the movie, the viewers may find themselves a little bored in a few places waiting for something to happen. This is not too significant a problem, as the film’s distinct humor (which by the way is slightly more vulgar than the previous film) can carry it through these sections, but it does prevent it from feeling as exciting as the first film. Another category where the sequel does not quite surpass the original is with the soundtrack. Don’t get me wrong, the music is still fun and decidedly fresh for its genre. But I feel it isn’t used quite as well as it was in the first film, and none of the songs stuck in my head after I walked out of the theater. For context, I still sing “Hooked On A Feeling” to myself from the original movie pretty regularly. That score was infectious.
On the upside though, as mentioned previously, the visual effects team really outdid themselves with this sequel. Every second of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is filled with a stunning array of bright colors and wonderful science fiction concepts that pop, sizzle, bounce and explode. Honestly I would take the liberty of describing this movie as visual effects porn, it is legitimately that pleasing to look at. I want to meet the VFX team at some point and shake their hands. Possibly hug them. Either one works. They manage to pull off even the most ridiculous comic book renderings on the big screen, and that is definitely not something every comic book movie has been able to do (looking at you Amazing Spider-Man 2).
All things considered, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is a wonderful sequel. Sure, it might have a few faults in comparison to the original, and it doesn’t have the “new and fresh” factor either simply because of its nature, but that doesn’t detract too much. In fact, I suspect that when the third planned film in the franchise comes out, it will be even better in retrospect due to its dedication to character and world building. It’s fun, full of wit and energy, and does pretty much what everyone expected it to do.
P.S. There are a whopping 5 end-credit scenes. Do not leave the theater until the screen stays black.