Guardians of the Galaxy was a definitive point for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a film entity. After making bank with somewhat recognizable names like Captain America, Iron Man and Thor, the studio took a big chance on a property few knew about. Yet, it resulted in the surprise hit of the year, making Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) household names. So… now what? How can Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 up the ante? When you have a film that odd and out of nowhere that truly surprise audiences like the first Guardians, it’s really tough to expand on that while also not repeating the same beats. There are points where Vol. 2 comes close to repeating beats, but never forgets to develop what matters; the characters.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a rare sequel that knows how to develop rather than repeat what worked the first time. Comedy sequels can be especially terrible at this practice. Yet, the jokes and the characters they come from clearly have progressed from where they initially were. Rocket is dealing with his tendency to push the few who care about him away. Groot is recuperating from his heroic sacrifice of last time to relearn life lessons while being an excited toddler again. Drax himself doesn’t have the hugest progression, but his chemistry with the anti-social Mantis (Pom Klementieff) is refreshing and consistently enjoyable as a running thread. Gamora and her adopted sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) are dealing with the ripples of their mutual father Thanos concerning his treatment of them. Those last two in particular fight with splendidly scrappy choreography, but only because they were raised to do so. That motivation gives us the audience far more engrossing stakes to their brawling, while also setting another piece for the upcoming Avengers battle royale.
Yet, this isn’t a Marvel movie too obsessed with that element of universe building. Rather, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 builds upon the more intimate. Mainly, with Peter Quill a.k.a Star-Lord finding his father Ego (Kurt Russell), a being who created a planet around himself and can form anything out of pure energy, including a human being vessel. That sounds like an incredibly dense sci-fi concept, but writer/director James Gunn wisely chooses to keep the dynamic between Pratt and Russell down to the basics. Pratt is the son struggling to trust the father who suddenly came into his life and Russell is the cool dad trying to make up for lost time. It’s a chemistry the two actors relish, but avoid settling into the more potentially maudlin traps of. The type of dynamic that Russell can charm the pants off of people with in his sleep, yet not seem to phone it in for the sake of a Disney paycheck. That effortlessness is inviting, to make his luscious paradise of a planet seem more illustrious. There are bigger reasonings behind these two meeting, but that base develops the emotional tug-and-pull which gives this massive sci-fi idea a grounding anyone can attach to.
Even Yondu (Michael Rooker), the lead Ravager thief who abducted Star-Lord in the first place, becomes a more fully fleshed out character along the way. He and Rocket have some of the weirdest moments of comedy and genuine moments of heart throughout Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Both share a gruff exterior that guards a rather fragile broken person inside. Both have a past that leaves them abandoned and unique to the point of alienation. So, when they find some kind of kinship in the mutual form of Peter Quill – whether it be as an adopted son or a genuine friend – the two try to disguise it for the sake of fitting into the box made for them by the roles they’ve grown into. The entire Ravager subplot in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a hilarious examination of the type of overbearing tough guy toxic masculinity that Yondu and Rocket have carved for themselves, giving the minor character Kraglin (James’ brother Sean Gunn) more definition as one Ravager questioning his loyalty. While the others bicker and argue to the point of chaos, our heroes try to escape through scrappy cunning and a true sense of trust. Even if that trust involves desperately trying to get Groot to perform a simple task.
James Gunn and his team really manage to step up their game in the visually arresting department. While Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 carries over the character fueled space opera vibes of Star Wars from the first film, it also mixes that in with the societal world building of a Star Trek. There’s the previously mentioned planet being, but there’s so much more. A society of gold people obsessed with maintaining royal dignity while bubbling under the surface. The larger expansions of The Ravagers and their codes, enforced by Stakar (Sylvester Stallone) who judges Yondu for his actions connected to Ego. There’s even a space port full of robot prostitutes that serve every nook and cranny. Each society revels in the varying shapes, sizes and colors of the inhabitants visually. Yet, we also get a sense of hierarchy and of culture. That this universe is even bigger than the one we got last time. And that the creatures our heroes fight are larger, yet will have the piss taken out of them just as much as the average joe in the Guardians ranks.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 truly does up the ante. Sometimes this can be a bit detrimental, mainly in trying to squeeze as much action into the climax to the point of confusing momentum in the middle of the set pieces or a few arc seem a bit haulted. Yet, while the initial surprise may be gone after the first film, the characters are never forgotten about. This is probably best displayed in the title sequence, where Groot dances to the dulcet tunes of Electric Light Orchestra while the other Guardians fight a massive monster in the background. It’s a wonderfully comic illustration of what James Gunn aims for with these characters. Where everyone is a “dancer” who carries to their own rhythms, yet still enjoy the company of a dance floor full of people they love. While world destroying stakes are involved like so many other MCU films, the main focus is an personal one. In every step, the small comic foibles bubble to the surface and reign supreme over the chaos… mostly. The emotional core of these people being a family runs deep. Even if that deepness means filleting a giant alien to get a dear friend out of its stomach. That’s what family really is all about.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Awesome Mix Tracks
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