Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 has a mammoth task. It’s the follow up to one of the most successful comic book movies of the past few years. Could the highly anticipated sequel ever live up to the hype?
Unfortunately, the film never reaches the lofty heights of the original. The plot is too busy at times, a mishmash of several interesting stories badly condensed into one over-bloated mess.
However, something interesting happens part way through Volume 2. The charm of these misfit characters, especially from Michael Rooker, carries the film to an incredibly satisfying conclusion. Like the original Guardians, this film has a strong emotional core with the themes of family, friendship, and fatherhood hitting all the right notes.
This is one of the most intriguing films Marvel has ever released. It is the ultimate example of their emphasis on character and it saves Volume 2. It just takes some time getting there.
More Isn’t Always Better
After barely escaping a messily botched job with the Sovereign race, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are discovered by Ego (Kurt Russell), an ancient alien claiming to be Quill’s father. As the Guardians try to unravel his secrets, old enemy Yondu (Michael Rooker) is close behind, hoping to settle an old score.
Volume 2 gets off to a quick start, as the Guardians are thrown right into the thick of a new adventure where Ego is introduced pretty early. However, after that introduction the plot starts to stall a bit and even loses focus.
The Guardians split up early in the film, allowing new characters and a couple returning favorites more screen time. Rooker and Karen Gillan’s moody cyborg, Nebula, benefit the most from this. While everyone needs a little more Rooker in their lives, these extra story lines add to an already bloated plot.
It’s a strange dynamic early in the film. The little side plots the characters go through are interesting and might have been successful films on their own. But they are all somewhat truncated and mashed into one, leaving you wanting more.
Gamora and Rocket are given some nice development regarding their somewhat closed off natures. Rocket’s story is especially well done. Strangely, Quill’s story feels like it’s shortchanged. This is too bad, as it proves to be the most interesting.
Pratt’s scenes with Kurt Russell’s Ego are powerful in so many ways. The two work well with each other, with Russell’s natural charm meshing well with Pratt’s growing eagerness to accept the possibility of finding his father. There are subtle moments where you see just how much the two characters have in common.
A messy, bloated story…seems like a terrible experience, right? Well, not quite. Something funny happens on the way to the third act…
“Welcome to the Freakin’ Guardians of the Galaxy!”
Throughout all the struggles of the first half, those charming misfits we loved from the first film are there the whole time. Their charm carries Volume 2 through that bumpy first half, using their fun humor to distract from the obvious flaws. The action also serves our characters well.
The distinctive rapid fire, one-liner humor returns. Not all of it hits, but when it does, it’s gut busting. Dead pan Drax once again steals many scenes and his brand of humor jives well with the naive newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Baby Groot is absolutely adorable and often hilarious. Those characters are the standouts, but everyone has their moments.
The action isn’t as prevalent as in the first one, but there are many standout moments. Rocket has a great scene showing just how dangerous he is and Yondu’s arrow makes an awesome return. The action actually serves the film, not the other way around. The sequences compliment the humor and, more importantly, the emotions.
Director and writer James Gunn may have fumbled the structure of his story, but he maintains that great emotion from the first film throughout. Make no mistake…if you cried at the first Guardians, you will again here. Gunn knows how to push the right emotional buttons with these characters. Issues of fatherhood, belonging, and what family truly is, permeate Volume 2.
By the time the film reaches its third act, you completely buy into these characters. The real world motivations may not make sense due to the first half’s narrative issues, but the emotional motivations are crystal clear. The Guardians get on each other’s nerves to the point of being enraged, but in the end, they’re family. They would ride into hell for each other. In the end, that’s all we need to root for them.
While I complained that Yondu’s expanded role was a bit too much in the first half, it pays off beautifully in the third act. He literally steals this portion of the film with a funny and surprisingly layered performance.
And he’s just one example. All of the disparate storylines, as scattered as they are, find a way to come together for the conclusion. All because they have that strong emotional theme running through them all. It’s incredibly satisfying to witness.
This is far from a perfect sequel. The problems are obvious, but if you love the Guardians and the way they came together in their first film, you will probably look them over. Part of this is due to the mad genius of Gunn.
It’s as though Gunn took on the “make it up as we go” mentality of his main character, Star Lord. That first half is badly planned and often unnecessarily complicated, but like Pratt’s quick thinking hero, he realizes something. The Guardians are the real heroes here. These characters step up no matter what.
And in true super hero fashion, they swoop in to save the day.
SCORE: 7 OUT OF 10