Naysayers worried about “the big risk” of making a movie with a talking raccoon and his companion, a talking tree with only one scripted line. It was the comic-book movie projected it to fail — a potentially huge failure to launch that had Hollywood analysts holding their heads in fear of the impending collapse of Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe.
But Guardians of the Galaxy soared despite being one of Marvel’s lesser-known comic book titles, and viewers were treated to the best Star Wars movie of this generation (Rogue One included). That raccoon and talking tree became the talk of the town, and merchandise sales added more to Disney’s coffers. A sequel was inevitable — failure, or no — and thanks to the successes of the first, the onus to get audiences to buy in has been tabled and replaced with the freedom to build up and off characters, settings, and major threats.
Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 kicks off just as Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), and company get ready to fulfill their latest job — inter-dimensional pest-control. Buoyed by their success in taking out Rohan the Accuser, the team has become the go-to group for solving galaxy-sized problems.
Now, you’d probably expect an intense battle to follow the sudden appearance of a hulking alien battery-eater, but director James Gunn is up to his usual and brilliant tricks. The intro sequence purposefully ignores most of the chaotic battle sequence to follow Baby Groot’s dance routine across the platform. What we can’t see becomes all the more interesting, and if you can sit through it without smiling — you have no soul.
With a messy victory, the Guardians receive payment from the hoity-toity Sovereign. Gilded, golden, and pretty perfect to an annoying degree, the Sovereign pay the Guardians by releasing Nebula (Karen Gillan), sister of the Guardians’ Gamora (Zoe Saldana). Nebula has a huge bounty on her head, and the strained relationship between the sisters won’t keep Gamora from cashing in.
When Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) throws shade at the Sovereign’s Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) and pilfers a few batteries, the entire race sends their ships in pursuit to clap back. That sends the Guardians crash-landing onto a strange planet, though they’ve been saved by a mysterious stranger who dispatches the other pursuing ships.
The stranger reveals himself to be Ego (Kurt Russell), an alien being who claims to be Quill’s father. Hoping to learn more and possibly reunite with his long-lost father, Peter ventures to Ego’s planet and finds out his father is the planet — a powerful Celestial with tremendous abilities.
But everything seems too be good to be true — which means it is. While Quill and his planet-side team try to figure out how to rid the universe of a galactic threat, the away-team deals with the Ravagers who are now under contract by the royally-enraged Sovereigns who won’t stop until the Guardians have all been destroyed.
On paper, the film seems like a blast, and it is for the most part. The trademark humor and characters are all there, and the visuals are the best of any Marvel movie.
But the overall critique is that movie feels less novel than the first and in need of some polish.
Take, for instance, the soundtrack and how it’s incorporated. Where the first Guardians of the Galaxy had a perfect blend of multimedia that felt expansive and encompassing, inlaid with a gentle hand, the second movie lacks an equal effect. Musical cues feel forced, as if Gunn is less about moving the film forward and more about showing off his record collection.
That and more plague the first 30-minutes of the film, which start off rocky and worrisome. There’s a lack of coherency on almost all fronts — the acting is wooden, scenes end with jokes that don’t always land, and there are just too many characters thrown into the mix.
But once the plot is righted, it takes off. New and old characters start to shine after the big-bad is revealed and conflicts are solidified.
Pom Klementieff’s sensitive and considerate Mantis is a great foil to Dave Bautista’s Drax, who is about as honest and blunt as a 10-ton hammer. Drax is no longer the serious literalist — he spends most of the movie LOLing like a douchier Nelson Muntz from the Simpsons. The chemistry — or complete lack of one — develops nicely over the course of the film as each character, acting like two very extreme sides of the same coin, give us varying perspectives of what’s happening.
Michael Rooker’s Yondu is, by far, the film’s best character, and Rooker nails down every scene he’s in. Yondu goes from hardy Ravager leader to outcast, setting up some new relationships that carry the film all the way to its final and emotional note. As one of the first film’s antagonists, Yondu’s development into one of the Guardian’s most important members is a tribute to his character in the comics who was one of the original Guardians of the Galaxy.
Were it not for the unfortunate start, the movie would been one for the Marvel ages. For now, it will reside in a spot somewhere between #6 and #10 in the MCU’s top movies. As its own movie, it’s a great starter for the summer slate. It’s action-packed, emotional, and hilarious — at points.
But compared to its father, this one has a little bit of growing up to do.
And I will be waiting on edge for the next Guardians of the Galaxy, which will hit theaters not soon enough.