James Gunn’s excuse to subject all to his old mix tapes is back with its second instalment!

DIRECTOR: James Gunn

WRITER: James Gunn

PRODUCERS: Kevin Feige

GENRE: Science fiction Fantasy

INITIAL RELEASE: May 5 2017

RUNNING TIME: 136 minutes

STARRING: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillian, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell

 

The original Guardians of the Galaxy was in my opinion (and still is) the crown jewel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A wonderfully fun, vibrant, and imaginative space opera that had heart, wit, and an excess of humor and charisma all of its own, to say nothing of Dave Bautista’s fantastic break-out performance as Drax. Guardians of the Galaxy was the definitive proof that “comic book movies” don’t always need to be “comic book movies” to be successful- Guardians was strong enough to stand alone from its contemporaries. So naturally, the bar was set pretty damn high for me for its sequel.

Guardians Vol. 2 sees our oddball heroes get themselves into some deep shit with a pretentious and stuffy race of gold-skinned aliens known as the Sovereign after Rocket ganks some of their batteries for no real reason at all. Pursued across space, the Guardians wind up crashing on a planet, where Peter Quill encounters none other than a man claiming to be his father, portrayed by my glorious lord and saviour Kurt Russell.

The key problem that so many of the more recent Marvel films seems to have is maintaining forward momentum- when you have all these interconnected movies, how do you keep things moving forward meaningfully? Well Guardians Vol. 2’s answer to this question is too basically just ignore all the MCU stuff and just double down on some really wonderful character work and character development while shifting gears to a slight smaller and much more personal story than the first film more familiar-feeling “super hero origin story”-esque stakes- and it works an absolute treat. Of course, this is exactly what made the first film work so well as well, so given the circumstances this could be seen as saying it more of the same- which is true to a point.

James Gunn’s scripts have always been sharp and clever, and Guardians Vol. 2 was no exception to that rule, offering as much amazing dialogue and moments as the first film. Character-wise, things feel a little more balanced in the amount of time everyone gets on screen, with some exceptions- Drax’s role in Guardians 2 definitely has a “sequel-itis” feel to amount of zingers and dialogue he gets- not that that’s a bad thing at all. What was really great was seeing some of the more neglected characters from the first film getting a lot more screen time and meaningful material to work with- Gamora (Saldana), Neubla (Jacobs), and Yondu (Rooker) all have pleasantly expanded roles that make their characters feel much more fleshed out and compelling than the first film. This is especially true of Yondu, who actually ended up really surprising me by almost being the main emotional core of the film beyond the more central relationship between Quill and his father. That said, newcomer Mantis (Klementieff) felt a little under-ultilised throughout, and some of her scenes with Drax particularly, while often hilarious, do start to border a little bit on the side of excessive after a certain point. Unlike in the first film, it feels like every major character really gets a moment and a plot thread, and I was pretty impressed by how easily and effortlessly Gunn balanced all these elements in making Guardians 2. Really, the only character who felt really redundant and pointless was, of all characters, Baby Groot, whose character in this movie actually feels devolved from the first. Baby Groot really just seems to be in the movie to be the adorable mascot character more than anything meaningful, and it was disappointing that his character felt so aimless the entire film.

Visually, Guardians 2 is almost as bold and exciting as the original was. Of course, with sequels comes familiarity, so the surreal and vibrant science fantasy locales don’t have quite the same level of charm or novelty to them, and in terms of some of the weirder stuff in the first film, Guardians 2 feels a little more toned down. Oh sure, there’s still some pretty trippy locales, but nothing like the giant hollowed-out skull of some all-powerful alien demi-god…though there is a place in Guardians 2 that gets pretty close to that.

I think for me the biggest appeal that both this Guardians as the previous holds is how self-contained both films are, and just how much individual identity they both bring to the table, Really, were it not for the Marvel branding ahead of the film, you really wouldn’t have any idea that Guardians ties in to the MCU at all. Not that it would be a bad thing that they did, but the fact that Guardians 2 doesn’t need to rely on drawing from other Marvel movies makes it feel much more like a complete film- a self-contained adventure with incredibly likeable characters.

Of course, I think what stood out most to me with Guardians 2 wasn’t so much those elements- as I was already expecting that going in- but rather the story, which was surprising in all the right ways. Given the grandiose “fate of the world” stakes of the first film, it’s interesting that Guardians 2 goes in a very different direction and offers a much smaller story. Granted, there’s still those big stakes, but the real story underpinning these stakes is an oftentimes genuinely touching exploration of families, especially estranged families. Of course, the original Guardians had its own thematic focuses, but the need to follow the typical origin story plot meant that there wasn’t as much time to explore those ideas or its characters, a problem that Guardians 2 didn’t have to deal with at all in telling its story, and that aspect definitely elevated the film significantly for me.

On the whole, Guardians 2 is a more than worthy follow-up to the original film. It takes everything that worked about its predecessor and cranks it up by just the right amount, while adding in some more involved characterization and a kind of story that feels a bit different from the usual fare we’ve come to expect from Marvel movies. Assuming there’s more Guardians films (which is pretty much given), if they keep going in this kind of direction, then I am supremely excited to see what they’ve got to offer.

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