Believe it or not, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is not only the 15th Marvel movie to date, but the first of three Marvel movies in 2017. If this particular sequel is the standard for this year’s Marvel features, then it set a high bar for Spider-Man and Thor to live up to.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 reunites the titular group of misfits for yet another cosmic adventure. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) team up once more to deal with multiple problems, including but not limited to: the vengeful Ravegers under Yondu’s (Michael Rooker) command, the spiteful Sovereign People, and Star-Lord’s father, Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russel).
Given how I’m not the biggest fan of the original Guardians movie, I was hesitant about Vol. 2 because the trailers promised more of the same. Thankfully, the sequel delivered a Marvel movie at its best, despite awkwardly tripping along the way to its lofty heights and expectations.
Galaxy Questing on Factory Settings
As a sequel to one of the most popular entries into the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Vol. 2 had the obligation of giving audiences exactly what they wanted before doing anything else. This leads to the movie’s clunky first half, where it prioritized repeating itself over doing something else.
Because the first movie had a sense of humor, Vol. 2 ramps up the jokes and one-liners. Since its predecessor had lots of action scenes, Vol. 2 crams in as many ludicrous fights as possible, such as the skirmishes between the Guardians’ lone ship against an entire fucking armada of golden arcade players. The first Guardians was littered with references to ‘80s pop culture, and you can bet your ass that the sequel nearly drowns itself in this self-indulgent nostalgia trip, bordering on the pettiness of an entitled hipster who was totes born in the wrong generation.
For the first hour or so, Vol. 2 felt as if it were going through the motions. The once-organic banter between characters now feels rehearsed, with the shoe-horned romance between Star-Lord and Gamora being the worst. Their “romance” was already forced to begin with, but Marvel tries and fails to play matchmaker for a love-team that has as much chemistry as a pair of chairs trying to fuck. The Guardians work as a dysfunctional family because of their clashing personalities, not because of a shitload of characters who are burdened by backstories and a romantic subplot that only adds to a growing mess.
Granted, director James Gunn brings order to this chaos. But when Gunn and the Guardians finally get past the contractually obligated explosions, clichés, formula, and set-ups for future cosmic Marvel movies, Vol. 2 comes alive and delivers what almost every other Marvel sequel failed to bring onscreen.
If the first half of Vol. 2 felt like every cookie-cutter Marvel sequel at its most generic, what this predictable fare builds up to is the exact opposite.
Despite being set in a galaxy filled with special effects and computerized aliens, Vol. 2 is actually a lot smaller than its predecessor, but only because the stakes are much more personal this time around. Sure, the galaxy needs to be saved again, but the fate of the nameless billions only comes second to the main characters’ struggle with emotional baggage and old wounds – which they deal with while trying to save the galaxy at the same fucking time. Though the moral dilemmas that could have been played with are never fully delved into, Vol. 2 manages to hit its emotional beats, giving everyone in the cast equal time to grow and earn the audiences’ emotional investment.
Where sequels like Civil War quickly reverted to the status quo despite the implied stakes or where Iron Man 3 proudly shat on audiences’ faces and said “Fuck You” for expecting a better movie, Vol. 2 emphasizes the human tolls of loss, loneliness and betrayal by showing how fucking painful these are for the characters at hand. As far as Marvel sequels go, Vol. 2 is almost on par with Capt. America: The Winter Solider (aka the best Marvel sequel so far) in terms of properly building-up previously established characters not by giving them bigger toys to play with, but with bigger personal problems to overcome.
This dramatic second half was unexpected, resulting in the film’s major tonal issues. The transition from campy to emotional was jarring to say the least, because Vol. 2 has a problem with balancing Gunn’s intent to bring the Guardians to more serious territory and the annoyingly comical audience-friendly Marvel formula that demands stupid quips every five minutes. Thankfully, this problem wanes by the time the second act kicks into full-throttle.
Guardians In Imperfection
On a technical standpoint, Vol. 2 isn’t as well-balanced as the first movie, but it’s more creative, daring and visually batshit insane than the previous Guardians. While certainly not a bad movie, the first Guardians of the Galaxy was a corny, by-the-numbers, live-action Saturday Morning Cartoon that I couldn’t care about because I simply wasn’t a part of the movie’s intended age group. Its sequel, on the other hand, thankfully grew up and showed that a superhero movie can bring outlandish characters and stories to a mature level while never losing any of the entertainment value.
Not only does it stand out among the repetitive Marvel sequels thanks to its calculated but mostly effective emotional punches, but Vol. 2 convinced me to give a shit about what the Guardians will be up to in Vol. 3. It may be flawed, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an improvement of the first part and a satisfying ride with surprising depth.
And like its titular heroes, the chinks in its armor only add to the sequel’s personality. At least you know the movie took the risk and tried something new, instead of retreading a tired story or revealing the overall antagonist to be a stupid fucking junkie who probably reeks of alcohol, wasted character development, and disappointment.
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