All photos courtesy of Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios took a huge risk with Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014. For one, the characters were not of the mainstream comic book variety. The average moviegoer knew of the existence of characters like Captain America, Thor, and the Incredible Hulk, but someone like Star-Lord? Or Gamora? Or a talking raccoon and his trusty sidekick who is an anthropomorphic towering tree with a limited vocabulary? Avid Marvel fans would know them, but those are some deep cuts for someone who didn’t collect the comics. Fortunately, the risk paid off — big time. It was the highest grossing film during the summer of 2014 and the band of space misfits garnered a new fan base that immediately wanted more as soon as they saw Starlord unwrap “Awesome Mix Vol. 2” at the end of the first movie… and everyone got their wish with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, a wild thrill ride of a sequel that is heavily stacked with effects, characters, and humor — so much so that it almost comes toppling down. Vol. 2 may not top its predecessor when it comes to fun, but it still delivers top-notch sci-fi-laden action, emotionally driven family drama, and an adorably irresistible Baby Groot.
The entire gang (with some new additions) is back another to live up to their name and protect the galaxy from evil. Since we last left them they are still up to the same shenanigans of fighting intergalactic creatures and bickering with each other with lots of hilarious love.
In one particular job, Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord aka Chris Pratt) and the gang are hired by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), high priestess of the planet Sovereign, to protect special batteries from a disgusting interdimensional octopus-like create. After getting the job done, Star-Lord, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) meet with Ayesha and her fancy schmancy Sovereign People with gold-hued skin to discuss payment — which is Nebula (Karen Gillan).
As we all remember, Nebula is Gamora’s sister and they don’t get along AT ALL. Gamora intends to imprison Nebula for her villainous actions so all will be right in the world. As the Guardians leave Sovereign, Rocket reveals that he stole some of the powerful batteries they were protecting because, well, that’s just the way he is. When Ayesha finds out, she immediately sends an army after the Guardians and just when you think that they met their match, a mystery man in a ship that looks like an egg saves them all. And guess what? He turns out to be Star-Lord’s dad, Ego (Kurt Russell). If you are well-versed in Marvel lore, you may know who Ego is, but for those of you who don’t, I’ll let you learn on your own. However, I will say that his intentions are very questionable.
Ego takes the crew except for Rocket, Nebula, and Baby Groot to his home planet where the sole inhabitants are him and his trusty right-hand woman Mantis (Pom Klementieff), who has the ability to feel others’ emotions and project them as well. It all sounds legit, right? I mean, he’s Star-Lord’s dad and it’s a fun family reunion, right? RIGHT?! Well, as things start to unfold Star-Lord’s newfound bond with his daddy may not be exactly what he wanted.
If anything, Vol. 2 is a lateral move. Ultimately, there is nothing groundbreaking or excitedly moving about the sequel. Like Avengers: Age of Ultron, it suffers from a mild case of “Now that we know these characters, what next?” but Vol. 2 is not as labored and exhausting as Ultron. Much like Fast and the Furious, the meaning of “family” is huge with the Guardians as they travel through the fantastical cosmos. This gives the film a clear and grounded perspective amidst all the CG landscape. Speaking of, the effects and worlds created in the sequel very much border on the overzealous lavishness of the Star Wars prequels, but fortunately the performances give soul and purpose to the green screenery, unlike the aforementioned prequels which were flat and lifeless practices in heavy-handed computer generated malarkey.
Nonetheless, the movie holds nothing back with its “family” theme. Without it, the movie would be just us waiting to see Chris Pratt take his shirt off and Baby Groot do a little dance number. And although those are very nice details, the talk of belonging to a family — whether it is blood-related or not — resonates.
Vol. 2 was not only directed by James Gunn, but solely written by him as well, which is where things get a bit rocky. In the first Guardians, Gunn shared a writing credit with Nicole Perlman and the script was more finessed and cautious with the source material. With Vol. 2, it was clear that Gunn was allowed the opportunity to spread his wings and fly high with the story. He took flight and it wasn’t necessarily a soaring success.
Gunn had the task of not only balancing the core five, but also folding in more fleshed out narratives that involved Yondu (Michael Rooker), Nebula, Mantis, Ego, and Ayesha. It’s a game of spinning plates that is tricky and Gunn handles it the best he can. Sometimes it succeeds, while other times it falls flat. This would explain the many moments of expository dialogue — mainly with Ego explaining to everyone how he came to be Star-Lord’s daddy. It drags on and on with these strange CG dioramas of freaky-looking mannequins which could have been more effective as live flashbacks. Despite that, the Russell and Pratt manage to portray a very All-American father-son relationship with Ego and Star-Lord — because it has to be sellable. Ego and Star-Lord’s story arc of daddy issues is the core of the movie. It’s a common story told in many movies and Russell and Pratt do a fine job of building a familial narrative that serves as a strong foundation to a movie with well-meaning tertiary stories that end up being underdeveloped or shoehorned into the movie. The main one being sister rivalry between Nebula and Gamora — which could have been an amazing, strong female narrative in the MCU considering their father is Thanos who is the biggest baddie of them all. As much as they try to make their sisterhood a thing, it doesn’t quite reach the emotional connection it wants to. It might have if they developed this more in the first movie, but it just hits one note and stays there throughout the entire movie.
However, the bigger role of Yondu in the movie tends to pay off because, again, it has to. Why you ask? Well, I would tell you but it would spoil the whole movie for you. Nonetheless, Gunn nicely packages Yondu into the movie by giving him just enough to do — and Rooker runs with it well. Debicki’s Ayesha doesn’t do much besides be the cat chasing the mouse — but she does it well. Debicki is an absolute towering, all powerful golden (literally) queen in Vol. 2 and based on the post-credits sequence (there are five by the way), we will be seeing her again in the MCU.
The most interesting addition to the crew is Mantis. At first, her character seems a little bit demeaning because she comes off as Ego’s servant. The character is giving off some major “subservient Asian” vibes — which may serve as an indication of what kind of person Ego really is. Even so, Klementieff keeps the trope in check by giving Mantis charisma and a very innocent wide-eyed personality which clicks well with Bautista’s Drax (who, by the way, is the MVP of the movie). But it’s her ability of empathy and making others feel emotions that add an interesting layer to the rag-tag group of space cowboys. It’s a needed addition to the group that is bubbling over with snark, insults, and bickering. They can use a little bit of softness and emotion — and that’s where Mantis comes in. Now if we can just make her a kick-ass martial artist like in the comics, that would be great.
Despite some of it storytelling setbacks, Gunn’s passion and excitement for the source material shines through with tasty sci-fi eye candy and beloved characters played by a wonderful cast that work their butts off to pump humanity into such a fantastical story. With the sequel, we are more invested in the cast’s charisma and screen presence over the characters themselves — which is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that there wasn’t as much electricity and panache that crackled off of the screen as in the first installment. But as a side note: Baby Groot steals every single scene he is in. If he doesn’t make you smile every time he is on screen, you don’t deserve anyone’s love and you and your icy heart will die a lonely death.
Vol. 2 may not have the new, fresh excitement of its predecessor because it can’t — and I have come to terms with that. These characters have already been established and the sequel should give them room to grow — and Gunn does that the best way he can. The sequel is supposed to give us more insight to these characters, sometimes it does and other times it falls short, but with its jammin’ soundtrack and baby-faced Baby Groot there to make you smile, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 manages to keep you entertained in one way or another.
Running time: 136 minutes
Dino watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
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Dino-Ray Ramos | Film Critic