I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in a double-bill showing with the first one. My feeling on Guardians are actually very positive. It’s one of my favourite superhero films, and is my favourite film in the MCU. That’s not to say Guardians doesn’t have its problems; the directing is fairly basic and James Gunn does fall for some obvious traps (like failing to hide an edit where we are supposed to have the illusion of a single shot), some of the acting is unbalanced and forced and a pretty bad villain does do the film harm. But the writing, the charm of the lead cast (even at those ropy moments), the visuals, the colours, the characters and, of course, the music more than make up for such shortcomings. So, here we have a sequel from the same studio, with the same writer/director and the same cast as the original; so, yes, I was very excited for this one. This and Logan are actually the only superhero films this year that I was looking forward to. How does it fair? Let’s find out.
The story takes a backseat to the characters, as it should do, but for the sake of argument here it is. The Guardians are on the run, on account of Rocket stealing something he should from someone he shouldn’t. In their running’s they find Ego, Starlord’s father, who invites them to his planet. You see, Ego is a god of sorts, and he controls the growth of all on this planet, something that Starlord can also do being his son. However, the group is split; Starlord’s with his dad, Gamora is fighting Nebula, Drax is doing…something, and Rocket and Groot must help Yondu fight off a mutiny. Again, the story is not really the focus, and going deeper would reveal some major spoilers. All you need to know is that something bad is happening to them all.
This is a film that can be summed up in one three word sentence; it’s good, but… And that is sadly where people are really going to take issue with it. But before I talk about my issues with the film, I’m going to mention what I loved about it. The cast is great; all return, with Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper back as the Guardians, and all delivering the wit and charm of before. Also returning are Michael Rooker as Yondu and Karen Gillan as Nebula, who are again on top form. In fact the performances are actually a little better in this one. New cast members are Kurt Russell as Ego, and there is no better choice; as soon as I heard that he was cast in the film I knew it would be for Starlord’s dad, it had to be. And he doesn’t disappoint, in fact has Russell ever let us down? I don’t think so. There’s also cameos from Sylvester Stallone of all people, Ving Rhames and David Hasselhoff (who this film has a weird fixation with).
The soundtrack is also as great as ever, with some new songs that include The Chain by Fleetwood Mac. Visually it’s still amazing, and even more colourful this time around. The action is definitely improved, with some amazing moments involving Yondu and his arrow. And the film just does what a good sequel should; it takes the original and builds off it, becoming something similar yet different. The characters are all built up more here. We find out Starlord did emotionally suffer with no paternal figure as a child. We find out more about Gamora’s past, and her relationship with Nebula. In fact, that was my favourite part; Thanos isn’t in this film but we finally hear what he did to these two, and it really helps them develop as characters. It’s also the first time the films have addressed what Thanos is like, whereas before we all had to rely on that geeky friend we all have. Yondu, however, is the one who gets the most depth and character to him. He becomes so much more likable with all they tell you about him. And yes, baby Groot is as cute as you’d hope. And in the end it’s just a fun film.
So what don’t I like about it. Well, I know I said that the story is deliberately taking a seat to the characters here, but this story is really bad. The problems actually come with the concept if you think about it; Starlord meets his dad, all well and good, but what do the rest of them do? And it really isn’t much. They do that thing where they split the team and they all come together at the end (like Empire Strikes Back and Star Trek Beyond), but again they don’t really do anything. There are these golden people who are pretty funny, in that overly self-entitled kind of way, but they serve no point, except to build up a sequel. Oh not again! I also really didn’t like the direction they took Drax. Drax was one of the funnier parts of the first one, so they cashed in on that and now he is no longer that unassuming, overly-literal badass he once was, and is now just a parody of himself. It’s like watching Freddy Krueger in the first Nightmare on Elm Street and then following it up with the Freddy from Nightmare 4, it’s that much of a jump. I’m not saying I didn’t laugh, because I did, but it felt so distant from what he was before.
Speaking of the humour, this is the most comedy focused film of the MCU. It makes sense, with Guardians of the Galaxy being a staple of comic book humour, and with how funny the first one was. And there are some good laughs in here (one involving FTL jumping had me laughing harder than any film in recent memory). But my problem is that they are everywhere, and this time they feel forced. I was actually groaning at numerous attempts at humour here. And it’s not Guardians humour, it’s MCU humour. It’s just people throwing quips and one-liners at each other, and I know the first one kind of did that but they made it feel fresh.
Ultimately the film’s biggest problems are how it feels like just another movie in the MCU and how little the stakes feel. For better or worse Guardians of the Galaxy felt like a separate film from any other in the MCU, partly to do with how it was shot. This time it’s shot like just another MCU film. And I should be feeling the stakes, this time it’s not just a planet under threat, it is the galaxy. But it doesn’t feel personal, I can’t relate to the struggle at hand. It’s just a mess story wise, and that may not be as important to this one as it would for, say, Civil War, but it does drag the film down. In all honesty, it wouldn’t surprise me if the writing process was a little rushed on this one.
Again, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a good film, but it does have some major issues. If you love the first one and think it’s an amazing film then you’ll like this one. If not, I’d say that there’s still something there to warrant watching it. I do prefer this film to the likes of Age of Ultron and Iron Man 3. Maybe I am comparing it too much to the original, but I don’t think my feelings would change much. Do see it by all means, just be aware that it may not live up to that high pedestal you’ve held it by.