Remarkably untethered to the greater MCU, the sequel expands the first although doesn’t rise above it.
Running as heroes for hire, the Guardians of the Galaxy find themselves in trouble from all angles: a client, The Sovereign, want them dead, as do the mercenary outfit The Ravagers. But for 80s junkie and all around space hero Peter Quill things are about to get personal, as an alien going by the name of Ego claims to be his father.
2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy was a riotous success and broke the MCU into grander and bigger possibilities than those restricted to Earth and the Avengers. Director James Gunn had exclusivity and free reign with the otherwise unknown Marvel property, and made it his own: a punchy, lovable and instantly gratifying space adventure that Hollywood had mostly forgotten how to do.
So the sequel was on easy street, and Gunn and the cast were raring to go. The only real concern going into it was Marvel Studios’ greater MCU, persistent narrative and desire for cameos needlessly complicating what could be a film-unto-itself in the MCU. Amazingly, cheekily titled Vol 2 does not succumb to this narrative strangulation and is definitely all the better for it.
But to address the flaws first, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 writing feels a little drab at times. Only at times. There are heady moments of awe and otherworldly concepts brought to their knees with excessive exposition, as if fearing to lose the audience. This is most apparent with Peter “Starlord” Quill’s introduction to his father Ego; the film over-explains and even includes weird visual aids (think gigantic porcelain statues). In fact this entire middle act drags; the introduction of Mantis, a fragile shut-in working with Ego is nothing more than a long-winded explanation of what telepaths and empaths are. Where’s the punchy, witty GotG writing!?
There’s also a lot of CG. A lot. Like, James Cameron Avatar levels of CG. Not a huge issue, but it was noticeable amounts of computer effects.
However none of this stops Vol 2 from being a lot of fun and actually, to swerve away from the “all Marvel movies are just fun” argument, it is emotionally weighted too. James Gunn has crafted possibly the most emotionally fueled MCU film, taking risks and telling a character driven story more than any other Marvel film yet. It does take until the end of the film to appreciate it, but boy does it have gravitas.
The characters are all still just as good as they were. Dave Bautista is having a riot as Drax, who has developed a sassy, blunt sense of humour. The weakest of the guardians in their first outing, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) has more to do here besides being Quill’s potential conquest with the return of her estranged sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). These two tussle and fight continuously, Nebula bringing some Whedon-esque writing as a supervillain dragged along for the ride. As well as Nebula disrupting the team dynamic, the film probably has the MCU’s best villain so far.
There’s some really unique design work and creativity in the visuals too, from The Sovereign’s multi-planet world, to a “quantum asteroid field”, this film is full of concepts that will be like catnip to sci-fi fans.
And the strong, quick-witted writing is still there. A particularly fun moment is Rocket and Yondu imprisoned together and relying on the little Baby Groot to free them.
While it isn’t quite as fast-and-loose as the first film, which never asked the question why, Vol 2 is still a lot of fun and has heart not seen in most MCU movies. Rejoice, we still get Marvel films that don’t need to reference the greater MCU!
Additional Marshmallows: Why was Sylvester Stallone in this film? Seriously.