When the original Guardians of the Galaxy came out back in 2014, I was one of the few people that I knew that was eagerly anticipating the release. My enthusiasm had nothing to do with any great familiarity or affinity for the source material – I’d never read the obscure comics – but out of the sheer potential of what might be. I was a big fan of Chris Pratt’s from his time on Parks and Recreation and knew that if he found the right platform he could probably become a real star. I hoped that Guardians would provide that for him. But mostly I was excited for a movie that featured a talking tree and raccoon as two of its main characters. I figured this could play out one of two ways: either these characters would be wonderfully weird and be endlessly entraining or the execution would be so bad that the movie would be fun to make fun of. I was rooting for the former, but was prepared for the latter. Up to that point Marvel hadn’t really let their freak flag fly with their film adaptations, so it was possible that Guardians was going to be too corporate and over managed to be much of anything. Thankfully, they totally nailed Guardians of the Galaxy and the movie about superhero characters no one had ever heard of became a really big surprise hit. It was easily one of my cinematic highlights of the year and now that Guardians is on regular rotation on basic cable, I still find myself stopping to watch it – especially if it is the opening sequence with Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord boogieing down. I even have not one, but two, figures of Groot in my office. Obviously, I was buying what Guardians of the Galaxy was selling.
I have been anxiously awaiting the sequel, but with a slight bit of trepidation. I loved Guardians of the Galaxy so much that I was skeptical if they could pull it off a second time. One of the things that made Guardians so fun was that it was such a surprise; it was an unexpected delight, unhindered by any expectations. While Guardians of the Galaxy was charming and fun, how much of its appeal was because it seemingly came out of nowhere? Would the sequel crumble under the weight of heightened expectations? While the bar was set pretty low for the success of the first film, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is being predicted to be one of the big runaway blockbusters of the summer. Could they recapture that lightening in a bottle and live up to the hype?
The good news is that if you liked the original Guardians of the Galaxy, you’ll have a very good time at Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. While a lot of the sequel is more of the same stuff that people loved in the original, for the most part it all still works. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is still charming, funny, and unexpectedly sad, all set to a soundtrack of hits from the 70s and 80s and shot in a visually interesting way. And frankly, in my humble opinion, the opening credit sequence with baby Groot is worth the price of admission alone. My baby nephew is still the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, but baby Groot gives him a run for his money.
Guardians Vol 2 picks up with our favorite band of misfits doing their thing – Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and the aforementioned baby Groot (still voiced by Vin Diesel) are guns for hire, blowing up bad guys and bickering the whole time. Along the way, they manage to pick up Gamora’s estranged sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) for bounty and piss off Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), leader of the Sovereigns. The latter sets off all the remaining action of the story as this puts Yondu (Michael Rooker) on their tail, but more importantly, Star-Lord’s absentee father Ego (Kurt Russell) finally reunites with abandoned son. While there is a lot of action in Guardians Vol. 2, this film is also focused on filling in a lot of the back story of many of these characters. In some ways, Guardians Vol. 2 borrows a page from the Fast and the Furious franchise and explores ideas of what it means to have a family – both biological and the one that you have chosen for yourself. If you cried a little during the “We are Groot” scene in the first movie, have some tissues ready for Vol. 2; I was wholly unprepared for some of the emotions that swept over me toward the end of the movie.
That is not to say that Vol. 2 is a sad movie; for the majority of the viewing experience, it was pretty joyful, even if some of what they are doing isn’t as fresh anymore. The jokes still work, even if it sometimes feels like everyone involved is straining a little too hard to hit a lot of the same beats of the first film. Occasionally you can almost feel them checking off the requisite boxes in scenes – use soft rock from the 70s as the soundtrack to a battle scene, Drax has no social skills, etc. – but it manages to not feel completely formulaic, in part because this stuff is still fun. One of the more interesting things that the film does is sideline Star-Lord from a lot of the comedy and leans more on Drax and Rocket to help fill the void. The daddy issues that Star-Lord is dealing with keeps him from interacting as much with the rest of the group as he did in the first film, but I thought that mostly worked.
The cinematography is also great in Vol 2 and I appreciate the creative way that they decided to shoot some of the scenes. If you see every Marvel movie like I do, the fight scenes often tend to blend together after a while, since they are all kind of organized chaos. Vol. 2 mixes things up a bit and finds fresh ways to frame the action and make it visually interesting. Director James Gunn is very creative and stylized in how he approaches these scenes and I think it greatly improves the Guardian movies. This is evident in not only the great opening credits, but scenes with Yondu and Rocket.
Some other random thoughts:
- Stay comfy in your seats – there are five post-credit sequences.
- As someone who has always had a weird fondness for the song “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl” by Looking Glass, Vol. 2 was definitely made for me.
- I’m going to be very disappointed if “I’m Mary Poppins, y’all” doesn’t become a catchphrase.
- I didn’t spring to see this in 3-D, but I heard it looked pretty great.
- Be forewarned – between the bazillion trailers before the movie and the slightly long run-time of the actual film, I was in the theater nearly 3 hours. The film itself is slightly too long – if they could have carved about ten minutes off the run-time, I think it would have been a leaner and meaner film.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a fun movie that isn’t quite as good as the first movie, but dodges the curse of the sequel by providing a very fun movie. Watching Vol. 2 is mostly a delightful experience, even if some of the movie feels very familiar and covers all the things that you liked about the original. When Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 inevitably drops, I think that they are going to have to mix things up a little bit to avoid disappointment and diminishing returns. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was a thrilling ride that captures a lot of the spirit of the original. There’s a lot of big blockbusters coming down the pike this summer, but I’d be hard-pressed to think of any of them that are as much fun as Guardians Vol. 2. If you liked the first movie, you won’t be disappointed.