The most surprising film in Marvel Studios’ catalog was 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” A film with low financial expectations from everyone, including Marvel Studios, “Guardians of the Galaxy” turned out to be an unexpected hit, smashing critical and financial projections.
The follow up, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” thus had large shoes to fill. Even though by films end it’s not as entertaining as its predecessor, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is still an immensely fun experience.
“Vol. 2” picks up fairly recently after the events of the first film, with Starlord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the rest of the Guardians helping solve a problem for the uptight and hypersensitive race of aliens called the Sovereign. After one of the members, Rocket (Bradley Cooper), steals from the Sovereign, the Guardians race across the galaxy with the Sovereign in pursuit.
This chase leads Starlord into finally meeting his father, Ego (Kurt Russell), while also splitting the team into two groups. What follows is a story less concerned about narrative progression and more focused on overarching themes.
I guess I’ll start with the story. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” has an atypical story, so speaking about it in too much detail will result in spoilers. Conventionally speaking, “Vol. 2” doesn’t have a traditional story. In terms of set locations and the advancement of significant plot points, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” doesn’t have many of them because the story seems less interested in conveying an accustomed form of storytelling and more focused on trying to make the audience feel.
This is well represented through the introduction new character, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empath who has served Ego for her entire life. Throughout the film, Mantis uses her ability to feel the emotions of others, and that seems to be a representation of the broader story director and writer James Gunn wants to tell.
If the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” told a story about motherhood, then “Vol. 2” is undoubtedly about fatherhood. The theme of fatherhood and what it means to be a father are explored wholly throughout the film. This is where the real strength of the film derives. In the third act especially, the film was able to emotionally connect with me in the way it intended.
The type of storytelling and the themes impressed upon by James Gunn may only fully land with people who’ve lived in homes with absent or divorced parents. That said, many people growing up today know what it’s like to live in that environment, and I feel the themes pursued in “Vol. 2” will resonate with many who watch the film.
Another strength of “Vol. 2” is the attention to the characters involved. James Gunn puts more focus on character and less on story. That has its positives and negatives, but one of the positives is that we get a better and fuller understanding of the extremely well crafted characters from the first movie.
The motivations, fears and desires of the main crew are examined and presented, giving each character a more complex background that makes them even easier to empathize with and understand. The guardians aren’t the one-note characters that characters in other ensemble films tend to turn into. They’ve experienced growth from the last film, and that makes them even more actualized characters in “Vol. 2.”
The two characters who experience the most growth between films are Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Drax (Dave Bautista). Drax has evolved to be more than the vengeful warrior incapable of understanding sarcasm and nuance. He still has his moments, but that only plays into the development his character is still able to achieve. Drax is funny but also continues to live for the memory of his fallen wife.
Yondu is my favorite character in “Vol. 2.” His motivations and character traits from the first film are deeply explored and dissected in this film. He keeps a lot of things close to the chest, but more about his character is revealed in “Vol. 2.” Michael Rooker, giving the best performance of the film, is able to convey those revelations in remaining true to Yondu’s personality while also providing more depth to him.
What made “Guardians of the Galaxy” so great was the comedy. The ability to make the audience laugh turned “Guardians” from some good-looking sci-fi film into a great science fiction film that wasn’t afraid to take risks and laugh at itself. The comedy in “Vol. 2” is good, but it’s not as well executed as it was in its predecessor.
About a third of the jokes didn’t land for me, but the ones that did were really funny. A few times I laughed so hard I thought I was bothering other people in the theater, but it turned out they were laughing just as hard as I was. I think the reason that some of the comedy wasn’t as good was that a lot of jokes were in the film just to be in there. They were jokes for jokes’ sake, whereas in the first film almost all of the jokes were in service to the story.
With a story as fairly unconventional as this one, it makes it harder to do that. Many of the jokes that landed in “Vol. 2” were in service to the first movie, and that was good. It made the films feel connected, but not many jokes could be connected to this story. At least not as many as was possible in the previous film. The film is still pretty funny, but some of the humor doesn’t feel as integral to the story as it should be.
As for other negatives, the story takes a while to kick in. The unconventional nature of this story has its negatives, and a big one is that if you remove most of the jokes from the first two-thirds of the film, there isn’t all that much substance. That’s not to say it’s bad, it just isn’t all too interesting, and the story in the first part doesn’t have all that much to say.
Once the film enters the last third, everything comes together, and the film becomes great. That tends to be an underlying issue for the film, where some aspects are partially great while others are pretty ordinary. This goes for the story, comedy, soundtrack and visual effects.
By film’s end, I really enjoyed “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” It came off more as a comic book one shot than an integral cog in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The first Guardians film was a huge risk, and I appreciate that James Gunn and Marvel Studios decided to stay faithful to the original film and take a risk with the storytelling in this film.
Not everything landed as well or was as expertly executed as in the first film, but it was going to be hard to reach the bar set by its predecessor. With all of that, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2” ends up as a distinct and different entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that is pretty refreshing.
I give “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” 8 / 10