A Review of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

I enjoyed the first Guardians of the Galaxy because it came out of left field. Everyone thought that this film about comic book characters no one recognized would horribly bomb. Disney seemingly made it as a contractual obligation, handing it to the guy that wrote 2002’s Scooby Doo and ensuring that the most recognizable cast members would only be in the film voicing a tree and a raccoon.

The film was still successful because everyone involved wasn’t constrained by Disney. The film’s third act was a retread of the Avengers’ third act, but it featured more exciting characters and created a living, breathing world for the audience to get lost in.

That lack of constraint in the first film is why I was worried about a Guardians of the Galaxy sequel. No one expected the first film to accomplish anything so the filmmakers were given free rein. Now that the suits at Marvel and Disney know the property is a hit, I knew they would try to micromanage the thing in order to “recapture the magic” that was only there in the first place because the filmmakers were left alone.

Luckily, the cast is having such a good time that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is still immensely enjoyable. And the film still did what the first one did – creates a new, intriguing world that the audience is invited to get lost in. Still, I’m not entirely sold because I don’t quite understand what Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is doing. A good sequel is supposed to use the original film as a starting point to help us explore new aspects of the characters and try new things with the previously established formula. Superhero films like The Dark Knight, X2, and Hellboy 2 all recognized this. But Guardians of the Galaxy 2 doesn’t do that throughout the run time. It doesn’t ruin the first film and still has some amazing scenes, but I got the sense that no one really wanted to do a sequel. It felt like an obligation rather than an exciting new chapter.

The film starts out fantastically. The Guardians, now an actual superhero team as opposed to a collection of motley fools, work as mercenaries. They’re hired to defend some sacred cosmic batteries from a Cthulu like monster. But the credits sequence barely shows this battle. It shows Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) dancing after he hooks up the sound system to play Star Lord’s (Chris Pratt) old cassette.

From there we get reintroduced to the rest of the Guardians, including the hulking, dim-witted Drax (Dave Bautista), bounty hunter Gamora (Zoe Salanda), and the wily Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), who steals the very thing they were hired to protect. This actually does a good job of kicking off the main plot, which involves the orphaned Star Lord discovering his long-lost father Ego (Kurt Russell), who despite being a seemingly benevolent alien god may not be all he seems. (As an aside, Star Lord is obsessed with the Earth culture of his youth but doesn’t realize that Snake Plissken is his father?)

This journey takes the Guardians to many new places and to encounters with face old and new. The effects in this film are beautiful. Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the few Marvel movies that introduces me to a new world. I particularly enjoyed the lush paradise Ego created for himself. It’s a gorgeous depiction of paradise that’s constantly surprising us. (Especially when we see the full planet from space.) The new characters, like the psychic Mantis (Pom Klementieff). She’s presented as the foil of Drax – a woman who knows all about emotion but nothing about the galaxy. She’s given some of the best lines as she tries to communicate what she can only feel.

I also like the world the film builds and the new ways it explores the characters. People have paid a lot of attention to Yondu (Michael Rooker) and how he’s developed in this film. Not only does he get the best action scene of the film (where he uses his arrow to take down an entire army), the filmmakers build on his character from the first film. Explaining it all would spoil the ending, but Yondu is not the stereotypical villain he was in the first film.

The theme of the film is pure kiddie matinee material – you don’t have to search for your family when you’re around people who support you. But I do feel the film earns it and it leads to an emotionally satisfying ending. Comics have often relied on the most basic themes to attract a wide audience. Guardians of the Galaxy works because it’s not heavy-handed with its preaching and because I cared about most of the characters.

But at the same time, fatigue is starting to kick in for me. Some of the characters have been flanderized to the point of annoyance. Drax is particularly annoying – constantly saying the wrong thing for a cheap laugh.  Groot is barely in the film and Nebula changes from a villain to a hero with the snap of someone’s fingers. The worst is Gamora. She’s treated like an obligatory love interest, which does her character a disservice. I want the strong, confident woman from the first film back – the one who was not afraid to tell Star Lord “no.” Most ensemble pieces are not able to sustain my interest for every character. I walk away liking some but wishing they had not devoted so much time to others. One of the few exceptions to this was the first Guardians film. I could not imagine it without the entire team. This time around, the film suffers from an excess of useless characters.

I still like the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise but I haven’t had any of my concerns about future sequels addressed. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 feels like a good distraction. It has some of the best action scenes of the year and I still love the characters. It’s a ton of fun and, compared to the rest of the increasingly bloated and unwieldy “Marvel Universe,” Guardians of the Galaxy is probably the most enjoyable series they have. But maybe that’s also the problem for me. I’m worried that the second Guardians is making the same mistakes other Marvel films are – namely, useless characters. They’re seemingly only successful when the suits aren’t holding the writer’s hand and insisting they shoehorn in unnecessary scenes and characters to “maximize the appeal.” I want Guardians remain as loose and rebellious as possible, and I don’t know if Vol 2 shows that it will be in the future.

Oh, and finally, the post-credit scenes are nothing more than silly in-jokes than actual scenes. There’s one amusing little moment with a teenage Groot, but don’t feel like these are credits you need to sit through.

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