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First thing’s first. Since we’re talking about Guardians of the Galaxy, I’d like to quickly divert your attention to this post I made all the way back in 2014… I never did make that review, which was a huge regret of mine for years now. So, in a weird way I’m really glad I get to at least fulfill that old promise by reviewing its brother 3 years later.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I was extremely excited for this movie. Not only is this the sequel to one of my favorite movies of the past decade, but this film also marks one measly year until our favorite Bunch of Jackasses finally meet Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in Avengers 3. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ve been so invested in the trailers and news surrounding the film; my mind racing with what this film would be about and how it’ll try to match the surprise hit that was the first Guardians of the Galaxy. Did it succeed in doing that, or did it just fall short of greatness? Only one way to find out.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the sequel to the 2014 superhero team film of the same name, and the 15th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Taking place in 2014, shortly after the Attack on Xandar and defeat of Ronan, the Guardians —Starlord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and (Baby) Groot — are now a for-hire bounty team with high notoriety across the galaxy. After one of their missions, involving an advance race of aliens called the Sovereigns, goes haywire, the team runs into an ancient being called Ego. Ego tells the team that he’s Starlord’s real father and invites them to his planet, where he will teach Starlord about who he is and what abilities may lay underneath. Meanwhile, old enemies also cross paths with the Guardians as well and may have to join forces in order to stop a great threat.
Before I start, it’s safe to assume that this is not the first review of this movie you’ve seen. That means you’ve probably heard much about how the film is inferior to the first film, and how that’s mostly due to the writing. To a Marvel fan who has been looking forward to this movie for a long time, this may be a shocking and even concerning or confusing thing to hear, but allow me to give just a little insight on those criticisms. While I can’t honestly tell you that those critics are totally wrong, it’s not about whether the film has problems. It’s about whether those problems will bother you.
With that said, let’s begin with what the film does really well, because there is a ton to love about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The film’s core story and idea, for starters, is really enjoyable. While the first Guardians film was made to establish the group and create a basis for the characters, the second film serves to flesh out those characters, as well as expand our understanding of the cosmic side of Marvel. To that end, those moments of pure story progression are what really makes the film shine. Sure, it can be said that not much really happens in the grand meta-narrative of the MCU, but it doesn’t have to. That’s not this film’s purpose. All that was required was to tell an interesting, pleasing, little tale that simply exists to answer some longstanding questions.
It should also be said that this installment still brings the comedy even more than the first one. Let me tell you, I was dying in the theater last night along with everyone else that night. I’m talking one joke after the other without missing so much as a beat. A good 90% of them land perfectly and the comedy is even balanced out with the actual story elements before it could become too much. At least it wasn’t too much for me. There are some who may find the comedy a bit overkill, and I can see why. There’s only so many times you can laugh before your body gets tired. So, your mileage may very when it comes to the comedy.
Then there’s the actual character development I mentioned earlier. This is where we start to run into the film’s issues, but also some of the film’s more underappreciated strengths. On the one hand, the character development is a welcomed addition to this franchise that, up until now, hasn’t gone too deep into the backstories of these characters. In the first film, we were simply given enough information to empathize with them, and some were given more development than others. So, now that we’ve been introduced to them, learning even more about who they are and why they do what they do is the next natural step. And to that end, it does a great job at providing those answers left over from the first film. Why didn’t Yandu turn Peter over to his dad? Why is Rocket so snarky? Why does Nebula hate Gamora? If Peter could survive holding an Infinity Stone, what else can he do? Those answers, as it turns out, are fascinating and serve to make the team feel more organic than before.
These are all great things for any sequel to provide, and under most circumstances that would be the final word. However, there is a problem on the other hand: the execution. There comes a point where long conversations about the characters goes from proper development to exposition. That point becomes drawn when said development scenes interrupts the flow of the story; when the movie unnaturally halts in favor of long, deep conversations. Such is occasionally the case with GOTGV2. This wouldn’t be the case if it weren’t for the placement of some of these revelation scenes or even the way they discuss it. Sometimes, the answers are unnecessarily repeated one or two scenes later as if you didn’t believe it the first time it was said.
This leads us to an interesting spot, then. Is this problem enough to sink this movie for you personally? That will heavily depend on your tolerance for exposition, but I personally saw passed it, because I felt that for every time it didn’t work, there’s 2 or 3 instances where the development worked fine. Plus, those affected scenes aren’t really bad. Maybe it’s a bit sloppy, but far from bad.
One other downside before moving on is that the Sovereigns are for the most part pointless. However, I’ll address them and the other characters in the Acting portion.
I dare anyone to deny that the most visually pleasing movies in the MCU are the Guardians films. The first one looked great, but this one looks even better. The colors are so much more vibrant and deep compared to the other MCU films, which is appropriate since this movie takes place away from Earth and involves much more creative liberty in terms of effects. This is all thanks to this film’s switch to the Red Weapon 8K camera, the first in the MCU to do this. This change allows for a more defined color pallet that really makes the movie pop out, particularly when your on Ego the Living Planet or the Sovereign headquarters. The glow, the gold, the deep reds and blues. Everything’s beautiful here.
Also beautiful are the CG animated environments, namely on Ego’s Planet. The paradise and beauty of the setting is unmatched, and you can tell the artists had fun creating every inch of it. The floating bubble stuff, the grass, the sky, Ego’s main area, and even a random cave nearby was breathtaking to watch and discover. Even places like the Ravagers’ ship or the Guardians’ ship look really nice this time around.
By the way, you know that the CG characters like Rocket and Groot look great as always here. I’m also sure the designer for Baby Groot got paid handsomely.
Some may notice how the action scenes are more a feature this time around and not a profound part of the movie, at least compared to the first one. The film contains 4 fight sequences (1 less than the previous film) — the first 3 of which are actually pretty short and at least 1 of them is mainly done for laughs. That’s emblematic of the kind of story this film is trying to tell, and yet the action still manages to leave an impact despite this. This film has gorgeous and exciting action scenes to say the least. I believe this film shows the Guardians really coming into their own as a force to be reckoned with. Whereas the original kinda came off as 5 individuals who happen to have the same goal, this film felt much more like a team working as a whole. Their final battle almost felt like an Avengers action scene, almost to give us an idea of how their style differs from and can mix with the Avengers style… Oh, how that thought makes me happy. Just one more year, guys. It’s gonna be great!
First of all, huge props to the casting directors here for bringing in such kickass celebrity cameos. I wish I could tell you guys about it, but I’ll leave that for you to discover. All I’ll say is this: one was badass, one was sneaky, one was hilarious, and the other was just plain awesome.
With that said, let’s move on to the film’s main actors: Chris Pratt as Starlord/Peter Quill, Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer, Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon, and Vin Diesel as Baby Groot. As anyone would expect, these guys are just as fantastic as they were before. All of them bring their A-game once more and solidified themselves as the definitive versions of these characters. There’s really not a whole lot more to say that you wouldn’t already pick up from the first film, except that it was fun to see Vin Diesel play a cutesy character for once; and even more frightening to see him succeed. Also can we all just agree that Drax was the best this time around. He has the best lines in the film hands-down. The only ones that come close to matching him are Rocket (who’s way better here than ever) and Yandu.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about Yandu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), who also return for this film. Both get expanded roles this time around as the two join the Guardians side semi-unofficially, which involves a great level of emotion and relatability compared to last time. Thankfully, they both succeed in their own ways. Yandu is actually less wisecracking this time around as he portrays a level of weakness and vulnerability. It’s not an overstated amount of vulnerability, though (this is Yandu we’re talking about here). It’s demonstrated more through what he says instead of what he does, appropriate for a bounty hunter with a ton of layers. Meanwhile, Nebula gains a ton of empathy this time around. With the revelation presented about her here, she seizes to be the headfirst, foolish, petty sister of Gamora and is instead seen as a tragic character who could’ve easily became Gamora under the right circumstances. Like Yandu, that doesn’t change the characters mannerisms at all, but is seen through what she says. Both characters become more compelling as a result.
There are also 3 new characters in this movie. One is Pom Klementieff as Mantis, a socially awkward alien with the power of telepathic empathy. Now, this is a chatracter I didn’t know how to feel about in the trailers as not much is said about her. Luckily her character grew on me almost instantly, mainly due to her interactions with Drax. She’s awkward and odd, yet also sweet and well-meaning, and that comes across all the more better by Klementieff’s great performance. She could use another movie to really drive the character home, but so far she’s a pretty good addition to the team.
And of course, there’s Kurt Russel as Ego, Starlord’s long-lost, all-powerful dad. In a way, it’s kinda hard to talk about his character without giving things away, but what I can say is that he does what Kurt Russel does best. He’s charismatic, tongue-in-cheek, wise, and passionate about his place in the universe. His character only gets really good towards the end, but his character before is, if anything, a charming well of information.
Finally, let’s discuss Elizabeth Debicki as Ayesha, the High Priestess of the Sovereign race that hunts the Guardians down. I alluded earlier to the fact that these characters come across as pointless and boring, though that’s of no fault of anyone but the script. Despite this, Debicki does a pretty good job with what she was given, turning her otherwise throwaway character into a holier-than-thou, conceited perfectionist of sorts. She gets one or two really good scenes, but unfortunately the character wasn’t given enough substance for her to make the character anything more than what she and the Sovereign race were: pointless enemies who look cool but ultimately aren’t.
How can you talk about Guardians of the Galaxy without mentioning those funky 70s & 80s tracks. You have to love it when awesome space battle shit is accompanied by the sweet sounds of The Jackson 5 or Blue Swede. With Peter’s “Awesome Mix Vol. 2” in hand, you get a few pretty good tunes to accompany the action this time such as “Mr. Blue Sky” or “Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang”. Only time will tell is this placement is much better than the original, but right now, I can still recall 2 or 3 good musical moments (at least from the soundtrack portion).
The score for this movie, though? Wow! This may be my favorite score of any Marvel movie yet. Composed once again by Tyler Bates (who also did the score for 300), these pieces are magnificent at times, and I’m not just talking about the main Guardians theme (which is only slightly inferior to the Avengers theme). I think my favorite one comes at the very climax of the film which I won’t say the name of since it references one of the best jokes in the movie. Simply brilliant orchestral work.
My main hope with this review was to help those worried about not liking the film get a better idea of why some people aren’t taking to it as much, as well as know that just because these things bother some won’t mean that they’ll bother you personally. I say this as someone who recognizes the flaws, but ultimately still loved the movie. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 won’t go down as one of the best in the MCU, but it’s still far from the worst. It’s still a great time in the theater with great characters, a great score, and a great sense of humor. It could’ve been better, but I still walked out with a smile on my face, fully satisfied by what I just saw. And I think most of you will feel the same way.
As I said, the problems of this movie won’t bother everybody, but it may disappoint a decent number of people. That’s why I’d warn people to try and level your expectations a little if you plan on seeing this film. Try not to expect to be blown away, so that you’ll be pleasantly surprised. At the very least, you won’t walk out disappointed. The only people I see flat-out hating this movie are those who didn’t like the first one, don’t like Marvel movies, or don’t find this brand of comedy funny. If you haven’t seen the first one you probably should do that before seeing this, or else the character revelations will probably bore you. You don’t have to see every Marvel film. Just that one. Otherwise, kids will love it, adults will love it, and most other people will love it.
I’m very interested in knowing what everyone else thought of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Did you like it? Did you not? What were the highlights and downsides of the film for you, and are you looking forward to more Guardians in the near and distant future? Let me know in the comments so we can discuss it together.
Now, I gotta go find a bunch of jackasses and stand with them in a circle.
I’m SBox180. Thanks for reading!