There’s a lot to love in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, particularly if you loved the franchise’s first instalment. That initial adventure of Marvel’s cosmic reprobates was among the best the studio has produced; a hilarious, irreverent space opera that initially looked risky and weird but wound up being a weird, thrilling and hilarious surprise with a ton of heart. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 hits all the same buttons as that first film, and while the result is engagingly weird, exciting and still very funny, a surprise success can only be so once, and this second adventure with the Guardians winds up feeling less fresh and more familiar.
Writer/director James Gunn is among the most successful of directors to adapt to Marvel’s sausage-grinder approach of cranking out films while still retaining a strong authorial voice. Part of what made the first Guardians film work so well is the fact that, while it is undeniably a Marvel film with all its customary elements, Gunn injected so much style and quirkiness that was individual to him. It’s to his credit that, in many ways, this film takes that even further, with many aspects of this film taking that heart and weirdness even farther. Gunn’s script is also surprisingly sentimental about his rag-tag crew and there supporting cast members, with the entire plot of the film revolving around the importance of family, both the ones you’re born with and the ones you choose.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 revolves around the mystery of Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) father, which in the first film was hinted to be not from Earth. While on the run from a job gone wrong, the Guardians encounter a powerful being (Kurt Russell) with a connection to Peter’s otherworldly father, which embroils them once again in a threat to the entire galaxy. Meanwhile, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is forced to examine her own familial traumas as she is relentless pursued by her vengeful sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), while Peter’s surrogate father figure Yondu (Michael Rooker) is hot on everyone’s trail.
The film boasts a number of and large-scale action set pieces that are well-constructed and executed with style and wit, never forgetting the stakes even while the jokes fly fast and furious. Gunn and Marvel aren’t afraid to allow the cosmic visuals and aesthetic to get pretty otherworldly, continuing on in their efforts to make the cosmic corner of the Marvel cinematic Universe comes across as living, messy, gorgeous, deeply weird place that’s unafraid to tread the fine line between cool and goofy. Speaking of goofy, the film also maximizes the humor that was such an important part of the first film. all of the characters that made you laugh in the first film, Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) are the best examples, will do so again in this film, particularly Baby Groot who steals the show. And yes, the idea of a tiny and cute version of Groot is a pretty naked sop to the audience (it’s like having a funny kitten as a cast member), it’s also completely impossible to resist and works exactly as well as it’s supposed to.
The success that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 manages in recapturing the spirit and tone of the first film is also what winds up being its biggest flaw; it feels extremely familiar. Although I enjoyed every joke and mix-tape song and turn of the plot, I also was never surprised by any of it. The characters, by and large, don’t reveal any new aspects to their characters, and while their quirks and bickering still entertain, they are also expected. The best way I can describe it is like your second ride on a roller coaster. While the ride is still thrilling and fun and enjoyable, you know every twist and turn and can see them all coming. The surprises were gone. Ironically, in a film series that is more rote and typical, this might matter less. But James Gunn and his cast are so good at making the world of the Guardians feel distinct that this repetition of unconventional eccentricity actually winds up being more noticeable than it would be otherwise. I’m not sure a second helping of a really enjoyable meal is all that bad, but I can’t help feeling it would have been nice to get one surprising new side to accompany the main course.
In the end, if you liked the first film, are you going to enjoy your experience with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2? Absolutely. The returning cast is all great and their snarky banter remains as funny and engaging as ever. The action and visual scope of the world is bigger, with some genuinely mind-blowing stuff that shows Marvel has really been upping their game since “Doctor Strange.” The new characters are fun and interesting, and the story wears its heart on its sleeve when it comes to the emotions at the story’s core. I’m sure the Guardians will return for a third film, and I really hope they lock Gunn down for that one, as it’s hard to imagine anyone else captaining the ship, but I also hope that the third film shakes things up a bit more.
Still, even though it walks a pretty similar path, audiences will find more than enough to enjoy the journey through the cosmos that is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. 7.5/10