Obviously, the first Guardians of the Galaxy was a bit more than a ‘surprise hit’. Chris Pratt as Peter Quill went from a funny fat guy to bona fide leading action hero. Zoe Saldana as Gamora was just as good covered in green paint as she was normally. Dave Bautista as Drax was a wrestler turned actor who could actually act. Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper voiced a tree who could only say three words and a racoon with a machine gun, respectively, yet it still worked. To quote director James Gunn: ‘If I had a penny for every time someone said making a Marvel movie with a talking raccoon was dumb and that Guardians was going to bomb, I’d probably have just about the amount of money Guardians has made so far.’ So Vol 2 had sky high (star high?) expectations and lacked the advantage of surprise. No, it’s not as amazing as the first, though if we’re honest, it would never have lived up to those kinds of expectations. It’s still charming, funny and hits the right beats where it counts – and I daresay a few other movies could learn a thing or two from it.
Two months after they saved the galaxy, Quill, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Racoon and Groot, who has been reincarnated as a baby, are working as semi-legitimate superheroes for the highest bidder. They manage to stave off an attack on the priceless batteries of the easily offend Sovereign race, in exchange for Gamora’s adopted sister and bounty target Nebula (Karen Gillan) but Rocket decides to steal some of the batteries on his way out, leading to the group being targeted by the entire species. The Guardians survive their initial attack and go into hiding, leading to the Sovereigns hiring Yondu (Michal Rooker) and his Ravagers, a gang of space pirates, to find and exterminate the Guardians.
They end up seeking refuge with a mysterious fellow named Ego (Kurt Russel) and his companion Mantis (Pom Klementieff) an alien woman how can sense and feel emotions. Ego claims to be Quill’s real father and has been searching for him for years, which he can prove if Quill comes with him. Despite the rather dubious claim, the Guardians they stay on his planet for the time being. Literally, Ego is an ancient being so powerful he actually became a sentient planet, before also using his psychic abilities to create a humanoid body as well. Drax asks if it comes with a penis. It does, apparently, along with a digestive system and everything else. Most of the mothers who brought their kids to see this were pondering that plothole and were very grateful to have it filled in, I’m sure.
All that is only just the first half. You probably gathered from that summary that the film starts a bit too quickly. Compared to the first Guardians, the opening sequence and indeed most of the first act is quite rushed and it feels a bit juvenile at times. For example, despite being the main threat that starts the plot, the Sovereigns barely feature and are basically an extended joke on video game nerds. They’re arrogant, petty, implicitly all virgins, spend their time shut indoors shooting things on screens without a sense of consequence and are rude to everyone, including each other. It’s a fun idea and a fresh take on what a self-proclaimed ‘genetically perfect’ race could be, since the last thing we need is more Space Nazis. But it’s more of a background giggle that goes nowhere. In many ways, that’s the problem with most of the films bad jokes. A mutinous Ravager named Taserface (Chris Sullivan) has the same issue. His takeover from Yondu for being too ‘soft’ and his execution of those still loyal to the former leader is surprisingly brutal. If they built on the darkness he could have been an unexpectedly effective villain. Instead, he is there purely for use as a specific threat in the second act and for a name everyone can laugh at. ‘It’s a METAPHOR!’ he claims. No, my grossly disfigured friend. It’s a running gag that was fairly weak the first time.
Yes, the first act was, overall, actually quite disappointing for this reason, though the fun factor and the spectacular visuals never make it outright bad. The second act thankfully isn’t nearly as fast but almost goes too slow. It at least gives us time to see a better side of Rocket, Yondu and especially Nebula, whose evolution from a secondary villain to a prominent anti-hero is actually quite well done. We do also get a nice moment between Mantis and Drax, as she shows empathy for the big dumb warrior who hides a lot of his pain inside. Aside from this however, the Guardians themselves are surprisingly pushed to the side in favour of secondary characters. It’s a bold and not unwelcome take, it just feels a little unfocused, especially considering the title. Then comes the third act and the film more than redeems itself. Now we have an epic fight, a strong theme of what it means to be a family, some shining performances and best of all for a Marvel film, a main antagonist who is actually really compelling. The last 30 minutes makes the movie and are make all the misfires worth it by a long shot. I daresay that if the whole film was of the same quality, it would have surpassed the first Guardians.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is not flawless. Its flaws are actually more prominent than most Marvel films. It tries a bit too hard sometimes and I think it got a bit of a rough edit at other times. I would say it’s more than worth giving it a chance all the same. For all the talk of how much fun the movies are, James Gunn knows how to do dark and he certainly knows how to do emotional. I would advise him to take that and run with it in the inevitable Vol 3, without being too worried about making a joke straight after the heavy stuff in case things get a bit too much. Finally, before I forget, yes. Baby Groot is adorable. Everyone’s interaction with him is adorable and he just seems to look ready for hugs whenever you see him. I want one.