Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Directed by James Gunn
Sequels are not an easy thing to pull off in the world of Hollywood tent poles, at least critically. Financially they’re almost certain to get as much if not more money than the film that came before it just off of buzz and familiarity alone, but rarely do we get sequels that areas critically beloved as the original film, provided of course the original was great to begin with. For every Dark Knight we get, there’s a Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Terminator Genisys, Batman v Superman, and The Dark Knight Rises. As great as Marvel is at churning out success after success from their cinematic universe, they aren’t immune to this either with Iron Man 2 and Thor 2, while both very watchable films, being low points for the company… at least until Iron Fist, but I’m ready to forget that ever happened if everyone else is too. Can they manage to avoid those pitfalls with the sequel to the riskiest movie the studio has made date, or was the goofy and offbeat success of the first one truly a case of catching lightening in a bottle? Let’s find out!!
After the events of the first movie where these five misfits managed to save the Galaxy through the power of Friendship (I hear it’s magic!), the newly formed Guardians of the Galaxy began taking odd jobs around said galaxy in order to cash in on their reputation. The job that movie starts out on is a bit different though as the payment they are after is not money but Gamora’s sister Nebula (Zoe Saldana as the former and Karen Gillian as the latter) who was left for dead after the Xander incident, and Gamora plans on taking her to the Nova Corp to face justice. Of course with five screw ups in the team, one of them is bound to do SOMETHING wrong and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) inexplicably robs their employers who are quick to find out and start hunting the Guardians down. Fortunately, The Most Interesting Man in the Universe, though you can call him Ego (Kurt Russell), manages to save them all and reveals that he is in fact the long lost father of Star-Lord (Chirs Pratt)! Well isn’t THAT convenient!? He offers to take them to his home planet while the ship is being repaired, so Star-Lord, Gamora, and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) go with dear old dad while Rocket and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) stay behind to fix the ship and watch over Nebula. Of course, things are never as simple as they seem, what with Ego’s assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff) who appears to be hiding something or the fact that the planet the Guardians burned go ahead and hire Yondu (Michael Rooker) to hunt them down. Can the Guardians escape their own demise once again and somehow find a way to smooth all this over? Will Star-Lord accept the father who was never there for him his entire life, and how will that affect the life he’s built without him? How awesome is it that this is the SECOND movie this year that Kurt Russell is in, alongside a wrestler, which will CLEARLY make a billion dollars!?
And the final verdict is… drumroll… it works! In fact, it works so well in certain areas that I’m tempted to say it’s even better than the original; not to say that it’s flawless (or even any less flawed than the original), but it also avoids most of the pitfalls that bad sequels tend to fall into. Too often, sequels to blockbusters can be boiled down to “it’s the same but BIGGER” which is an approach that CAN work (*cough* Fast and the Furious *cough*), but the problem is that you need to put in twice as much effort for half the reward if you’re focusing on pumping up what was already there instead of expanding on the characters and world. This movie is fully aware of that for both good and ill and while it’s CLEARLY straining underneath the Marvel Cinematic Formula for their Universe (or should I say… the MC FU!?), it succeeds to an extent that no other DIRECT Marvel sequel has before except maybe Iron Man 3; bearing in mind of course that The Winter Solider was completely different from the first film and that I’m not a huge fan of Civil War.
What this sequel does, and the reason why I think it might be better than the last one, is that it switches directions completely and makes a VERY small film in comparison; letting the characters take center stage instead of whatever evil it is they’ll inevitably have to fight. Oh, there is DEFINITELY a big bad in this movie to be sure and the crew has to deal with a few smaller scale threats along the way (think the smugglers Han screwed over from The Force Awakens), but none of it feels intrusive in the same way Ronan was in the last film. Honestly, the best way to describe this movie is as a two-part Star Trek episode or whatever your sci-fi TV show of choice is, in that there’s definitely a sense of scope to everything, but more so it’s a chance to resolve hanging threads; whether it’s Star-Lord’s daddy issues, Rocket Raccoon being a TOTAL prick, or whatever the hell Yondu is up to nowadays. Seriously, if there was one thing I was not expecting here, it was giving Michael freaking Rooker a chance to act his ass off for a blue alien dude who now has a tragic backstory.
Now how they decided to do this in terms of pacing is that the first two thirds of the movie are jam packed with everything you’d want to see as far as developing these characters. There’s a lot of room for everyone to have extended and often humorous moments to themselves as well as shenanigan filled set pieces that don’t do much to forward the plot but are incredibly entertaining. Because of this though, everything involving WE HAVE TO SAVE THE WORLD/GALAXY/EVERYTHING is crammed into that final third, and… it’s an interesting choice. I’m willing to say that it ultimately works and was probably the best option for a movie like this where characters are so paramount, yet still has to find a way to deliver the spectacle. I have problems with that final act which I’ll get to soon enough (there will be some spoilers there), but it’s still kinda bold of them to completely forgo big scale spectacle for most of this to instead zero in on the humor and the characters. Now there are some spectacularly shot scenes throughout the movie and not just in the final third, but they aren’t scaled up to the point that the characters are lost in the shuffle which is the problem that a lot of these movies run into when the goal is to one up the last film (*cough* Age of Ultron *cough* Civil War *cough*).
If I were to have the slightest bit of criticism about the first two thirds, it’s that the movie is VERY indulgent with everything. Now normally in sequels this manifests as BIGGER ACTION and FLASHIER SPECTACLE, but as I stated earlier this movie managed to avoid that and focus in on characters and tone instead. The seventies and eighties tracks are much more prominent this time around, Rocket Raccoon snarkiness is brought up to eleven as well as the Groot hijinks, and they even throw in another Howard the Duck cameo. Hell, they even go so far as to be SUPER indulgent in the way its cast as some of the new people feel like they were ripped right out of the same era as the soundtrack. I knew about Kurt Russell, but I had NO IDEA that Stallone was gonna show up in this in what looks to be his old uniform from Judge Dredd; not to mention a rather odd cameo they throw in that I won’t spoil here! Stallone unfortunately is not in this movie long enough to effectively use him and feels like some sort of fan service for either Marvel fans or Rocky fans, and even if the goal here was just to set him up for future Guardians movies (I THINK he’s someone from the comics), they still could have stood to have him do SOMETHING of note or to at least have him in for more than two scenes; both of which are great, but way too brief to feel like he adds much overall.
Now if you want to talk about the REAL issues with this movie instead of some undercooked ideas or slightly unnecessary gags, then we’ll need to get into the third act which also necessitates a SPOILER WARNING. I’ll try not to give away TOO much, but we’ll need to get into some of the characters and their motivations which are kept secret until towards the end of the movie, so if you don’t want to know anything about that, you should skip ahead to the next hilarious and wittily captioned screenshot.
We good? Okay, so the bad guy in this movie is obviously Kurt Russell as Star-Lord’s long lost father who has evil plans involving his son and his burgeoning super abilities that he’s inheriting from said linage. Basically, he pulls a Darth Vader by the end of this and the big action showcase involves the Guardians trying to stop him. So what is my issue with this part of the movie? Honestly, I don’t really HAVE a hug issue with it because as far as Marvel ho-hum third acts go, this is one of the better ones! There are so many characters that the movie has spent building up that it’s exciting to see them go full on action badass against KURT FREAKING RUSSELL who’s perfect as the deliciously evil yet super charming bad guy. The problems I have are with the transition to the third act, and then some personal preferences that are much more opinion based than the former issue. Now as far as the transition, it makes sense that it happened this way because of how the movie is structured. The tradeoff of not (or just barely) leading into the third act beat-em-up with scenes peppered in the first two acts is that the third act has to be kicked off right away, though I think it could have been handled a bit better than it was here. I understand WHY Kurt Russell does what he does that flips the switch on everything (turns out the guy who’s named Ego has one the size of a planet), but it still feels VERY stupid of him to do and comes off more like a scripting shortcut than a genuine arc for the character. Now the other problems I have are just… well how the whole Star-Lord Daddy Issue story is resolved. See, this is why I don’t write screenplays (other than being woefully unqualified) because I tend to want to have my cake and eat it too. Where the ending of this may be the PERFECT ending for all the thematic elements in play… I can’t help but wonder how much better Guardians of the Galaxy 3 would be if they didn’t make… certain and irreversible choices to get us to that point. It’s a REALLY good ending which is why I won’t hold it against the movie, but for me it feels like they cashed a check in regards to certain characters that MIGHT have been better used in a later film.
What little I have to say against this movie is certainly more pronounced in other MCU films, and this’s best moments surpass pretty much everything else that Marvel has put out up to this point, so while it’s far from a flawless sequel (even if it avoids the OBVIOUS problems, it still has a tiny bit of sequelitis in it), it’s still one of the best films we’ve gotten from the MCU. You’re all gonna go see this anyway as Marvel film release dates are inching closer and closer to being declared international holidays, but this one really kicks things up a notch and I can only hope that the next Avengers film can manage to do with their team what was done here in this (comparatively) much more low key movie. Then again, the next Avengers film is supposed to have the Guardians in it, so I don’t know how they plan on juggling TWO gigantic teams of characters unless they make us sit there for five hours. I actually wouldn’t be opposed to that by the way, as long as Drax gets enough screen time!