BWW Review: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL 2 is Marvel at its Comedic and Emotional Best
Every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes with sky-high expectations, but perhaps no set of expectations has been higher for an MCU follow-up than GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL. 2, with perhaps CIVIL WAR being the only exception.
In 2014, the original GUARDIANS turned the Marvel, and superhero, world on its ear with its snarky blend of humor and dazzling space settings. While ANT-MAN was already in production at that point, and Ryan Reynolds had been working on a DEADPOOL movie for over a decade, it is hard to imagine their delightfully goofy tones would have been possible had Star-Lord and crew not already blazed that trail.
So as I settled into a screening of VOL. 2, it was with a twinge of nervousness that the sequel would not live up to the original's greatness and impact. While I doubt that GUARDIANS 2 will do much of anything to reinvent the now familiar narratives of silly superhero movies, in many ways, the follow-up improved upon the original.
In fact, because VOL. 2 steered more into the familiar, as well as the familial, the movie found an emotional resonance that you don't often find in stories about half-human/half-god thieves turned galactic superheroes. There are, undoubtedly, parallels to be drawn between the second GUARDIANS film and the second STAR WARS film, but VOL. 2 centers less on a surprising reveal, and more on well-earned personal relationships that are tested and revealed through a near apocalyptic event. But, don't let that fool you, GUARDIANS 2 is just as absurdly fun as the first.
In the original GUARDIANS, we learn that Star-Lord, a.k.a. Peter Quill (played by the wonderfully multi-faceted Chris Pratt) was fathered by an alien and left on Earth with his mother until she died of cancer, when he was beamed into space by Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) and trained to be a space thief.
Early on in VOL. 2, Quill is introduced to his father, named Ego, played by Kurt Russell (if that's not the most "Chekhov's gun" name in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, I don't know what is). Ego is literally a god, but more accurately, he is a god planet. The human form that he takes is an avatar that allows him to travel to other planets on a quest to interact with other life forms.
After Russell gets Marvel's patented de-aging treatment, and father and son have a sentimental FIELD OF DREAMS-style catch, it becomes obvious that Ego has more in mind than just a long overdue father and child reunion.
Though Ego's plans are massive and galaxy encompassing, GUARDIANS 2 is in many ways a smaller and more personal movie than the first. While many superhero films attempt to use family and romantic ties as a shorthand to generate cheap emotions, writer and director James Gunn has built a multi-layered narrative that not only capitalizes on Quill's longing for his father that was established in the original, but a number of other new and well-established relationships as well.
The romantic subtext between Quill and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) comes more into focus, but is secondary to the relationship between Gamora and her adoptive sister Nebula, played by Karen Gillan. While Nebula wants nothing more than to kill her sister and then their father Thanos, Gamora just wants to turn in her fugitive sister and collect the accompanying bounty. However, the threat of a planet (with the powers of a god) bent on destruction forces the two to work together.
Also pulling on heartstrings is Yondu's tough love with both Quill and Rocket (the "raccoon" voiced by Bradley Cooper). However, Gunn does a masterful job of weaving the more touching and powerful storylines in and out of a massive, glorious intergalactic action film, full of perfect golden beings, vengeful space pirates, and Sylvester Stallone... no really, Sylvester Stallone is in GUARDIANS 2.
In addition to the beautiful space setting and epic battles, the humor fans expect after the first GUARDIANS is in the sequel in spades, specifically, the dim-witted Baby Groot (voiced in theory by Vin Diesel) and Dave Bautista's easily amused Drax the Destroyer.
Drax's earth-shaking belly laugh is nearly enough to entertain for the movie's entire two hour and 16 minute running time, but when combined with the socially awkward empath Mantis (played by Pom Klementieff), the former wrestling champion has come into his own in the MCU.
GUARDIANS 2 also has great supporting performances from THIS IS US star Chris Sullivan as Taserface, Elizabeth Debicki as High Priestess Ayesha, and GILMORE GIRLS regular Sean Gunn (the director's brother) returning as Ravager Kraglin.
In addition to another outstanding soundtrack, Director Gunn has also subtly (and not so subtly) incorporated countless easter eggs for the video game and comic book diehards, and as always with Marvel movies, make sure you stick around for all five of the post-credit scenes.
So while it is unlikely that the second GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY installment will revolutionize the genre as the first one did, on its own merits VOL. 2 is a more focused and heartfelt story of discovering what exactly family means, no matter how many alien species are involved.
Check out the trailer for GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL 2:
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL 2 starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Sean Gunn, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sylvester Stallone, and more opens nationwide today. The film is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content.
Banner Image: Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillian, Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, and "Rocket" (voiced by Bradley Cooper). Photo Credit: Marvel Studios