*Warning: Potential Spoilers*
Marvel now thrives on sequel after sequel, putting out each movie to connect to the others in the hopes that this wide universe that they’ve created is enough to keep us coming back, no matter how annoyed we get at the tantalizing hints and wink-wink-nudge-nudge in-jokes that only the nerds will know. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the MCU, but sometimes it just gets exhausting. It gets even worse when they put out a film like Guardians of the Galaxy, because it just reminds us that they can make something this good and they don’t let their other movies take notes on how the Guardians amuse and delight us. Just as Vol. 1 was, GotG Vol. 2 is a cool refresher in the convoluted sea of Marvel, and it amuses just like its predecessor. Sure, some bits and pieces that are better, and some are worse, but overall it is the break in the universe that both geeks and regular moviegoers will appreciate.
Three months after the original film’s antics, the Guardians of the Galaxy are now heroes for hire, working for anyone in need of their services, including the golden race known as the Sovereigns. Their payment comes in the form of Nebula (Karen Gillian), the assassin who was “adopted” by Thanos as a child like Gamora (Zoe Saldana). The Guardians are set to return her to Xander when Rocket (Bradley Cooper) steals from the Sovereigns and attracts their enmity. The Guardians are saved by Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) long-lost father. As Quill follows his father to learn about his heritage with Gamora and Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket and Groot (Vin Diesel) are left to deal with the gang of Ravagers lead by Quill’s old mentor Yondu (Michael Rooker), who are out to prove themselves after other Ravager factions declare them disgraces.
Back when the Guardians were first introduced to the MCU and the wide-viewing audience, most people didn’t know what to think about them – none of the five main characters had introductory stories, as all the Avengers originally had, and the group itself wasn’t widely recognized by anyone but those already very into the comic universe. This meant that everything that Guardians of the Galaxy ended up being was a complete surprise to the audience. Was it possible for James Gunn to pull this off a second time? Surprisingly, the answer was yes. Vol. 2 knows the line between funny and serious and when to draw it – Quill can make all of the oversized Pac-Men he likes and Baby Groot can misunderstand everything he is told, but the laughs are paired with shocking moments like Yondu’s crew floating outside their ship. The large cast is also handled with grace, something that many other Marvel movies have struggled with. While the cast was already eight strong, the introductions of the new characters Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Ego not only provide interesting new additions but also give the existing characters a chance to grow, both in themselves and their relationships with each other. There is also plenty of time to tie up a few loose ends from the original film. The ending throw-away line about dropping Quill off at his Dad’s leads into the entire plot, and we start to gain a little more insight into the life that Gamora and Nebula faced at the hands of Thanos. And, thankfully, no one felt the need to force a romantic relationship – they hint at it, maybe it’ll happen and maybe it won’t, but now two movies have built it up and it’s not a thing yet, and it works all the better for it.
There are some elements that have taken the backseat since the original Guardians film. The development of certain characters is not prioritized or even hinted at in face of solving the mystery of Quill’s heritage. For example, Drax has been delegated to almost pure comedic relief in this film, which almost seems like a downgrade from the angry, grieving father he portrayed in the original who was comedic almost by accident. Though a few months have passed, it seems as though all of Drax’s past has been wiped from his mind when he is laughing at Mantis’ powers, hanging off the back of a spaceship to shoot things, and enjoying himself when the ship crash-lands and he gets to bounce off all the trees they hit on the way down. He jokes and he laughs, and basically carries the comedy of the movie himself. This was something that even Bautista seemed to have issues with, but Drax was given one of the most powerful moments of the film to make up for it – one of Mantis’ powers is to feel whatever the person she touches feels, and she she puts a hand on Drax, she breaks down sobbing, saying she’d never felt pain that great, and Drax is stone-faced. He showed no emotion, so all of that pain and sadness from the original films hasn’t gone away, Drax just buries it. Though it stings a little that the majority of his screen-time is superficial, that one moment shows the depth of the character in a way that does not detract from the film’s fun but shows the real work put into each person’s story. The other underwhelming element – surprisingly – turned out to be Baby Groot, who is adorable, yes, but hardly inspires the same love that came with his adult version, which was capable of being both adorable and kick-ass at the same time.
So why is it that Guardians of the Galaxy is so much easier to swallow than any other Marvel film? Why is it working when the other movies – arguably just as quippy and theoretically that make just as much sense – that audiences are far less hard on the Guardians for their other superhero counterparts? Arguably, Guardians takes itself far less seriously. It’s a fun movie, almost a time-suck, and it has always known that, so it doesn’t try to be anything else. The other MCU films try to get serious and dark (and they have ever since The Winter Soldier (2014)), just with some quips and witty banter thrown in to make us feel like we’re not drowning in this super dark world of superheroes questioning their actions. Guardians has fun with itself, and that allows for us to have fun because we don’t take anything they say too much to heart until we absolutely need to. They have also always known how to pick their music – the soundtrack of Vol. 2 boasts the same high-energy, fun-loving amusement that it’s predecessor brought to us. If the fact that the trailers featured “Fox on the Run” by The Sweet didn’t convince you, Baby Groot’s opening dance sequence to “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra will put your fears at ease for the other twelve songs. Guardians also knows how to handle their larger casts, keeping everyone interesting enough to have around but also giving everyone the time they need to be important, and making sure to only introduce a few characters at a time to make sure we don’t get lost. Basically Guardians has no faith in its audience to know the material (which most certainly didn’t at the time that the first film was released) and so the audience can never be disappointed.
4 / 5
The new Mary Poppins could be a lot more interesting if Michael Rooker comes through for us.