Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2.
Here’s some context before we dive in. Guardians of the Galaxy was my number one movie of 2014 and is one of my favorite movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. To match, or even surpass, the original would be a hard feat. Can this sequel manage the impossible?
Just months after the events of Guardians of the Galaxy, we rejoin the crew as they are basically paid mercenaries to defend and protect. This crew is led by Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), the alien assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the oafish brute Drax (Dave Bautista), the wise-cracking raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and the tree-alien who is now in its toddler stage Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). They encounter an alien race who they offend somehow, led by gold-skinned Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). They also cross paths with someone claiming to be Star-Lord’s father (Kurt Russell) and his enigmatic sidekick Mantis (Pom Klementieff). We also see the return of the space-pirate Yondu (Michael Rooker) and the unhinged sister of Gamora, Nebula (Karen Gillan). There are also a few other notable folks, that you should discover for yourself.
Everything that we loved in the first Guardians is still here.
The movie is visually fascinating and really builds up the “cosmic” side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We see all sorts of outlandish places and mythology is set up that can spin off into entire movies. Director James Gunn has an incredible vision and it all works perfectly. The movie is bright and colorful and always interesting to watch.
That wouldn’t matter if the characters weren’t solid though. This is really Star-Lord’s story and Chris Pratt delivers, absolutely convincing in his role as a man just looking for his father. I don’t think this movie has quite the same emotional punch as the first, but it’s close. The other standout for this movie is Yondu, the blue-skinned red-finned pirate. Yondu not only carries some of the most emotional scenes in the movie but his action sequences are jaw-dropping. What they’ve done for this character here is astounding and a huge leap in the right direction.
The new additions to the cast are all welcome as well, most notably Kurt Russell and Pom Klementieff. As Mantis, Klementieff provides a new dynamic and is just quirky enough to be absolutely believable side-by-side with a talking raccoon and a tree. I can’t wait to see their dynamic together in future movies.
Everything is ramped up here, for better or for worse. You thought the epilogue of Guardians was cute, with the dancing Groot? Well, just wait. You thought Drax was hilariously oblivious? Just wait. It doesn’t always land with the same precision, but you will laugh nonstop, feel a couple really great emotional moments, and enjoy a crazy adventure through and through.
If you see Guardians 2, stay all the way through all of the credits.
What doesn’t work?
When I say this movie lacks the same precision, it feels like there’s a shotgun approach here. There are so many jokes and one-liners thrown at you, that most of them are bound to work. But that means you’ll get the occasional joke that feels flat or inauthentic or poorly timed.
This movie tried to give all of our characters more heart as well and that approach didn’t always work either. I still had a problem with Gamora (Saldana) and Nebula (Gillan) here, which were also the weakest links in the first film. Their attempts here at sentimentality felt forced and awkward.
Lastly, the gold-skinned villains in the movie lacked depth. They just show up throughout the movie, hellbent on revenge, but they’re never really a threat, so you keep wondering when it’ll cut back to the storylines that you actually care about.
This movie is great. It’s incredibly funny, has some great heartfelt moments, and generally is a fun ride. However, there are always balances, so there are jokes that miss, emotional moments that feel forced, and a few storylines that don’t really pay off. It’s a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially in terms of expanding the “cosmic” side of things, but I think it falls just short of the original.