The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become a movie-making juggernaut and the poster child for the creation of an extended universe since 2008. It has been so successful that the studio found a cinematic hit with some of its more obscure characters in 2014 with the massively entertaining “Guardians of the Galaxy”. The long awaited followup had a lot to live up to and has been one of the year’s most anticipated films. The final product is, to use a single word, “awesome”!
“Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2”, which I will call “Guardians 2” for the sake of space from here on out, takes place mere months after the first film with the Guardians serving as heroes for hire. After the actions of Rocket the Raccoon put them at odds with the race of Sovereigns, led by Elizabeth Debicki’s Ayesha, the Guardians are rescued by a mysterious figure named Ego, who claims to be Star-Lord’s long-lost father. With the crew split in two, the film explores the deeper emotions and character traits of Guardians both new and old while Star-Lord bonds with his father, learning a dark secret that could put every plant in the galaxy at risk.
The same crew of lovable characters returns with Chris Pratt as Guardians leader Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Dave Bautista and Drax, Vin Diesel as Baby Groot, and Bradley Cooper as Rocket. Old favorites like Michael Rooker’s blue-skin Ravager Yondu and Karen Gillian’s Nebula, Gamora’s estranged sister, return as well with new faces like Pom Klementieff’s empathic Mantis and Kurt Russell as Star-Lord’s father Ego, the living planet, joining the fun. The first thing I noticed about the film is that the chemistry is still very much alive in this second Guardians adventure. The characters, and the actors frankly, seem much more comfortable with themselves and their roles making for a seamless reentry into the world the Guardians inhabit, which itself stands apart from the more grounded realities of Marvel’s other MCU heroes.
The humor and banter is also a bit more crude this time around. Adult humor, including references to male genitalia and a LOT more swearing, litter the script making this feel like a much more “real” film than other Marvel projects, which tend to veer more towards pure family-friendly and child-friendly content and language. It was unexpected and actually very amusing to see the MCU produce a project that is probably as close to “Deadpool” as Marvel’s MCU will ever get without going over the edge. All that dirty humor actually feels like it belongs in this story. We expect it from these characters and while some of the jokes and references might be a stretch to try and grab some extra laughs from the audience, for the most part every joke works with the content of the scene and what we know these characters to be. The humor also doesn’t overshadow the action or the deeper stories at play, which is a plus.
Another thing that impressed me is that this film does a great job standing on its own without conforming to normal superhero tropes. We get a good amount of time to understand the plights of each of the Guardians separately and the story makes an impressively seamless transition to bring everyone back together for the final battle, which in itself is unlike anything we’ve seen in the MCU before. Obviously the MCU is no stranger to focusing on multiple characters at once with two “Avengers” films and “Civil War” now under their belt. Director and writer James Gunn continues that trend by allowing each of the Guardians a chance to flourish and while the main story focuses on Star-Lord, there’s plenty to go around in terms of every other Guardian as we learn more about what makes each one tick.
The movie also doesn’t shy away from going darker and deeper at times, showing us emotion and the impact of loss, especially as Star-Lord comes to grips with finding his father and having lost his mother. We get a little more insight into Drax’s feeling after losing his wife, the complex relationship between Gamora and Nebula, and even a few touching moments between Yondu and Rocket as the two find they can relate through their mutual upbringing and lack of connection with the world around them. Even Ego gives the audience something to think about as he ponder the purpose of his own existence and presents some very compelling existential questions for viewers to consider, even if we may not agree with his own conclusions to those questions at times.
“Guardians 2” also looks fantastic. While we don’t get to see as many worlds and characters as we did in the previous film, something Director James Gunn warned us would be the case, we still get some great special effects and set designs that fully support the out-of-this-world setting without simply being a rehash of the brilliance of the first story. The characters end up on Ego’s actual planet, which looks like a paradise nearly untouched by any other living being and is kind of what you would expect from a being who has seen nearly every world and calls himself Ego. It gives us something new to look at while calling back to the colorful backgrounds fans became familiar with in the original adventure.
I do have to fault the movie for a few things. My first big issue with “Guardians 2” is that like it or not it will be and is being compared to the first film and while it matches the humor and style of the original movie, the second adventure lacks a bit of the charisma the first film provided. There’s a slight lack of energy and brilliance about the film as a whole compared to its predecessor that takes it a step back, even on a very minor scale.
That being said, my second issue is that “Guardians 2” doesn’t up the anti. Sure its final battle and villain are a real threat unlike anything the MCU has seen before, but overall “Guardians 2” took the winning formula of the first film and matched it to near perfection without really building on top of it to create something even more epic and enjoyable. While we haven’t seen ALL of this before, the film stays very safe within its comfort zone which works, but leaves a bit to be desired for the future. I kind of feel like the filmmakers settled for what works rather than trying hard to explore new ground with this film and while that makes for an epic and amazingly entertaining adventure, it leaves something to be desired from the already announced third film which, as you may see if you stay for the numerous end credit scenes, promises to bring another epic character to the MCU in a big way.
“Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2” is entertaining, it’s fun, it’s unapologetically humorous, and it takes everything we loved from the original film and duplicates it to perfection. It’s a winning formula that wins once again. While it lacks a bit of the creative touch I personally would have liked to see, “Guardians 2” lives up to the promise of its spectacular predecessor and builds on a cast of characters that could have easily been lost in the shuffle. Not only is it funny and epic, it’s moving and thought provoking at times as well and continues to promote some the more unique aspects the MCU has to offer, even if it doesn’t really offer much of anything new on its own.