I initially left theater contemplating on whether I can call Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 a good movie. The first film is my all time favorite Marvel Studios production, and I didn’t find myself with that initial wow that I left the theater first time around. That was until I realized that I was laughing hard from beginning to end, probably even more than I was in the first film. Given a few more days to process the film, my opinion has now strengthened into something more definite of a wholehearted recommendation.
All you need to know is that the Guardians of the Galaxy are composed of the half-Earthling and half-unknown alien Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), the green skinned cybernetic assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the relentlessly funny and near clueless berzerker Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), the wisecracking and brilliant raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and a small walking and talking tree Baby Groot (Vin Diesel…apparently). The Guardians run afoul of a genetically cloned race who have hired Star-Lord’s old mentor, Yondu (Micahel Rooker), to hunt them down when the crew are unexpectedly saved at the last minute by a man calling himself Ego (Kurt Russell) who also claims to be Star-Lord’s long lost father. But while Star-Lord wants nothing more to believe he’s found his father, he’s still hurt by the fact Ego had abandoned him as a baby…but the other Guardians are also suspicious of his motives.
Curiously, the sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy opts not to tell a higher-stakes tale like The Winter Soldier or make the same ill-fated attempt at universe building that doomed Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World, but rather the director simply wanted to explore the characters themselves and how they fit into their new dynamic as a dysfunctional family. Huge props are owed to James Gunn for not making a “bigger is better” kind of sequel or even a retread of the first film’s events with a bigger budget, but rather a “what happened to these characters next” kind of sequel. It feels more natural from a story-telling perspective and allows the filmmakers to explore themes and plot details that were only introduced in the first film, while expanding how huge and seemingly infinite the rest of the lore can be.
But what makes this work as well as it does is an emphasis on character development, and each of the six returning characters from the last film (excluding Baby Groot) get a chance to explore their past, present and future both as persons and as members of this ragtag group of mercenaries. Star-Lord might seem like the person who gets the most focus out of any one in the group, considering how integral his story plays into the climax of the film, but the film curiously doesn’t spend as much as time as you’d think they would. This has served as a major point of criticism between critics I like who argue this move as a brilliant step to flesh out multiple characters or a weak decision that leads to a lack of focus with the plot.
Acknowledging that the plot isn’t as laser-focused as the first, i.e. the separate characters aren’t all coming together to work to single goal, I was reminded this tactic of seeing various characters work out their own individual issues in different parts of the universe worked gangbusters in one of my (and several other people’s) all time favorite films, The Empire Strikes Back. That film featured our main protagonists being split in half across the galaxy with Luke and R2-D2 learning about the mysteries of the Force while Han, Leia, Chewie, and C-3PO are busy outrunning the Empire in hot pursuit, but the two stories converge on Cloud City where major revelations are made and huge events occur that affects the lives of several characters. With that description in mind, it’s kind of funny how things play out in Guradins Vol. 2 because it’s eerily similar only with unexpected character developments.
And this, children, is where I have to give James Gunn’s latest all of my applause. Because he took a gambit with a method of storytelling that works incredibly rarely and demonstrates that it only functions well when you have characters that you give a shit being put through the ringer. They deal with betrayal, revelations, heartache, happiness, realizations, and even sorrow. You might think that this doesn’t sound like the fun romp the first one was, but oddly, the sequel manages to be FUNNIER than its predecessor.
Relying on cartoon physics and farce straight out of the Looney Tunes playbook, while also having some of the sharpest character banter I’ve seen outside of Joss Whedon ensemble, Guardians Vol. 2 ups the comedy in surprising ways. I’ve got several lines that I’ve been quoting constantly for the past two weeks since I’ve seen the film, and I’ve giggled to myself on more than one occasion upon recalling an absurdly chaotic moment in the film. Even the soundtrack plays a big part into my enjoyment of the film with some classics I have honestly never heard of or ones that I recall from a distant memory in my childhood while my dad would crank the 70s or 80s station on the radio. Certain song choices fit perfectly with what’s happening, and one in particular gets discussed at length by two of the characters that makes you really think about the content of such a breezy song while also dropping major revelations regarding certain characters.
All this goodness, and I didn’t even need to talk about the action once. Because as I mentioned in my Civil War review, the mark of a great action film is in caring so deeply about your characters that you show concern for them when trouble befalls them. Blending a series of monster fights, starship battles, and a fight against an entity that I guarantee you’ve never seen before on film, the movie satisfies in all the right ways despite the fact it’s heavily reliant on computer generated effects. Pretty much all of the backgrounds and feats would not be possible without the benefit of modern technology, and yet I didn’t think about that fact ONCE during watching this film.
My investment in the characters was too strong that my brain wasn’t focusing on the illusion presented before me, and as a result I enjoyed the film a hell of lot more. Oh yes, and before I forget, Baby Groot was a definite treat throughout the film. He’s the center of attention of maybe three scenes tops, and it’s a combination of well timed slapstick against characters cracking solid jokes. Do I know if Vin Diesel voiced this character? Hell if I know, and nor do I care if he did. His focus was comedy, and the fact that he entertained me as much as he did without grating on my nerves like the Minions from Despicable Me, should be awarded on itself. And yes, it’s nice to be presented with such a wonderful array of colors and be able to keep my eyes focused on what’s happening on screen without getting mixed up with what’s happening. See Suicide Squad, turns out you didn’t need to cover your action in absolute freaking darkness (come on, you know damn well I won’t pass up an opportunity to dunk on a DC film).
What strikes me most about this sequel is that my attachment to Star-Lord, Drax, Gamora, Yondu, Rocket, Groot, Nebula, and newcomer Mantis all comes from these films. I never read any of these comics, nor I have ever seen them in cartoons growing up. And yet, I still care about what happens to each of them. I get sad when terrible things happen to them, and my mood improves greatly when they succeed. They are absolutely perfect film characters that I want to see again and again, so the reason I care about them is not because I have some sort of bias towards one company or another (as certain raving morons of fandom like to believe critics do), but because the storyteller behind them is weaving something together that I thoroughly enjoy.
I’ve tried to keep this as spoiler fresh as I could because I want each and every person reading this to know you need to see this film. Because Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a solid…