If you haven’t already committed to the opening weekend, then our Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 review might help you decide whether to spend more time with Peter Quill, Rocket Raccoon and the rest of the crew. The original film was well-received by critics and the public, although it did have some notable detractors. And after becoming the third highest-earning film for Marvel, the sequel was always going to have a similar feel.
The first Guardians of the Galaxy film established the team led by human Peter Quill. Adbucted by a group of alien space pirates known as the Ravagers, Quill steals an orb which can destory the universe. That leads him into being chased by assassin Gamora, the adopted daughter of Marvel uber-villain Thanos. And also encountering the cybertnetically modified raccon Rocket, the tree-like humanoid Groot,and socially-inept warrior Drax. The group band together due to the threat of both fanatical Kree villian Ronan and the other daughter of Thanos, Nebula.
In a sci-fi tradition since a Galaxy far, far away, the second film in the trilogy of Guardians films already confirmed sees a slight change of pace. The comedy is as present as ever, but it follows Peter Quill’s discovery that he is only half human. The revelation that Quill had non-human powers is expanded when his father turns up after 30-odd years to whisk him away for a weekend of getting to know each other. Obviously in any film sequel, the paternal relationship turns out to be a bit more complicated than it appears.
Around that core, other members of the Guardians some chance for screen time. Family is obviously also integral to the daughters of Thanos, and the source of their bitter sisterly rivalrly is explained. Meanwhile wise-cracking Rocket also gets the opportunity to bond with Ravagers leader Tondu Udonta.
Obviously there’s still a need for action, adventure and space battles, so the film introduces the Sovereign race. Due to the typical behaviour of Rocket, the Guardians go from hired heroes to thieves, which means war with a race of genetically-modified beings.
Guardians for the Young?
The recent boom in comicbook movies has followed a similar pattern to their print sources. Years ago, both ink and celluloid comic heroes were aimed at kids. But over the last 20-30 years, audiences and cash have come from adults who never stopped enjoying the genre.
Although that vacuum has allowed for new independent titles, and for comics based on various animated series, it’s created an interesting challenge within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While many of the films range from 12A-15 ratings (with the obvious exception of Deadpool), they’re not always appropriate, or quite silly enough, for pre-teens.
Aside from possibly Ant-Man, the Guardians series are the most child-friendly of the Marvel films. There may be the occasional sexual innuendo, but after the inital death of Peter Quill’s mother in the first film, the losses are limited to aliens. Which I’m reliably informed is less of a deal-breaker for a young child than cuddly animals in Ant-Man, or relatable human characters in The Avengers for example.
And while it can be occasionally risque, most of the Guardians jokes are painted in broad, visual strokes. Particularly when it comes to the embodiment of a cute character in Baby Groot.
Having turned a large and powerful character into a twig for the sequel, it turns out Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) is one of the highlights of the film. Obviously he’s innocent, naive and cute. Which lends itself to a range of gags throughout the film. But he also provides more of the family dynamic for the Guardians which has been referenced in both films so far.
That’s in contrast to Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Drax (Dave Bautista). The raccoon hero (played on set by stand in Sean Gunn, who appears in the film as Kraglin), is still great to watch in action, and generally his wisecracks continue to raise a laugh. But the attempt to give him more emotional depth and bond with Ravagers leader Yondu feels forced and unnecessary. The same can be said of Drax, whose tragic story in the first film is largely papered over with turd jokes and insults to new character Mantis. Rather than learning how to interact with the rest of the group, it’s almost as if Drax has regressed to become more one-dimensional.
Fortunately Chris Pratt continues to shine as Peter Quill/Star-Lord. The leader of the Guardians may have finally become known throughout the Galaxy, but he’s still a relatable character. As a fallible half-human, he’s someone we can identify with, but still manages to be just cool enough to be a superhero. And the film also benefits from more screen time for both Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). After largely being relegated to villainous sidekick in Volume 1, now we can see that Nebula is much more of a force to be reckoned with.
Of the other characters in the film, Yondu (Michael Rooker) remains an interesting rogue, with more of his Ravager backstory and crew becoming apparent. That leads to a number of cameos, including the much-hyped Sylvester Stallone, and the uncredited Miley Cyrus, along with Ving Rhames, Michelle Yeoh, and distinctive Sons of Anarchy actor Tommy Flanagan.
The casting of Kurt Russell as Ego fits to some extent, although the younger CGI-version in the films 1980s flashback is a little disconcerting at best. It’s not the most nuanced role, even as we discover more about the character, his motivations and the ultimate objective he has carried for years. And Russell’s comedic skills haven’t necessarily improved since Big Trouble in Little China. But he does the job adequately, which is also true of Pom Klementieff, whose time and role is limited in her initial outing as Mantis.
One flaw with the film is that with so many interesting characters, it does feel a little like there are too many people crammed into the running time. That’s true of Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), the leader of the Sovereign race, who seem to have been included purely as a plot mechanism to create three specific moments. They feel like a gold-painted version of the Nova Corps from the first film, without the benefit of Glenn Close, John C Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz.
A Guardian Not?
Writer and Director James Gunn has once again managed to cram in a lot of action and plenty of jokes. And largely it works, although there are some lowbrow misses (Generally involving Drax). As a sequel, the film does move the cast and storyline forwards, although by including so many characters Guardians Vol 2 does feel a little overblown. It’s still an enjoyable confection, but resembles a box of chocolates filled out with too many cheap treats.
Having said that, it’s still an extremely enjoyable film. The pace of the jokes mean the misses are soon forgotten in favour of some genuine belly laughs. And there are some very memorable moments, particularly including Rocket and Baby Groot.
It’s obvious to everyone involved that the true joy of the Guardians of the Galaxy is witnessing how the group bounce off one another. Hopefully the already confirmed Vol 3 will strip back a little of the expansive cast list (which is as true of the comic source material as Vol 2), and allow some of the characters to evolve a little more before they can become tired. With the likes of Thanos and plenty of other notable villains in the Marvel universe, perhaps we can ditch the likes of the Sovereign as deus ex machina to keep things going.
Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is good enough to satisfy anyone who liked the original film, or fancies some superhero silliness without the limits that more serious comic films place on the rapid one-liners. It’s enough to keep the heroes in your heart until the next film, particularly Baby Groot, who will be going through his teenage years when we see him again.