It’s hard to think that there was a time when a Marvel Studios film could be seen as a risky venture, but that was the case with the first Guardians of the Galaxy. The cosmic team at the center of the film weren’t the most familiar characters in the Marvel Universe and James Gunn wasn’t a proven commodity as a blockbuster director. It didn’t matter much because Guardians of the Galaxy was a massive, crowd-pleasing hit that turned its heroes into household names despite the fact that few had read their comics beforehand. Now comes the highly anticipated sequel with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which brings back Gunn and his talented cast and continues the comically cosmic adventures of this team of A-holes. Vol. 2 delivers exactly what fans of the first want with ample action and laughs in service of a story that is both bigger in scope and much more personal for its characters. Simply put, there’s a reason that it has already been announced that James Gunn will be returning for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 before the second has even opened.
After a brief flashback opening, Vol. 2 opens with Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) preparing to battle an interdimensional beast. The Guardians have been hired by the Sovereign, a race of golden genetically modified people, to protect these valuable batteries and the credits roll as the camera follows Baby Groot dancing along to “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra as his teammates battle the ghastly creature in the background. It’s a wild and comedic piece of action filmmaking that establishes the tone of Vol. 2 from the start and the thrill ride is just getting started.
Having successfully defeated the creature, the Sovereign’s leader Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) pays them with Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora’s adopted sister whose villainy has made her a valuable fugitive. When leaving the Sovereign’s planet, Ayesha sends her warships to kill the Guardians when they realize that Rocket has stolen the very batteries they were hired to protect. The Milano is severely damaged and crash lands on another world but they’re given assistance by mysterious ship that obliterates large numbers of the Sovereign’s ships. That mysterious ship is helmed by Ego (Kurt Russell), the father of Peter Quill, and his companion Manti (Pom Klementieff). As Rocket stays with Baby Groot and the captured Nebula, Gamora and Drax will join Peter Quill to travelling to his father’s home world to learn about his secret lineage.
Meanwhile, Ayesha hires the group of Ravagers led by Yondu (Michael Rooker), once friends and allies to Star-Lord and the Guardians, to hunt them down and retrieve the batteries. While they track down Rocket, Groot, and Nebula, a munity is happening within their ranks with Taserface (Chris Sullivan) seizing control from Yondu with the help of Kraglin (Sean Gunn) and the rest of the Ravagers. Neblua is cut loose by the new Ravager leadership and Rocket and Yondu are imprisoned together while poor Baby Groot is tormented by the crusty Ravagers.
Just to be clear, the previous was simply a summation of the film’s setup. There were no spoilers in there. And if it seems that the story might be a bit over-packed, fear not as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an out of this world piece of entertainment that embraces all of its exuberant elements of fun while retaining a surprisingly strong emotional aspect.
What’s really impressive about James Gunn’s screenplay is the way that he splits up his team while still providing each character with their own story arc. The audience learns more about these characters as they learn more about themselves. As the roster of the Guardians expands and there’s not a single character that is underserved in this world-expanding sequel. And of course, there’s plenty of Gunn’s irreverent sensibilities on display ensure that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is constantly entertaining with multiple scenes that are absolutely hilarious, perhaps even funnier than the first film.
The theme that runs throughout Vol. 2 revolves around family and it’s something that Gunn touches upon with each of his characters and the dynamics that emerge between the characters. Of course, there’s the central story of Star-Lord becoming acquainted with his father. That’s not where it ends. One of the more fascinating character dynamic to emerge from the sequel is the one between Gamora and Nebula, a sibling rivalry that dates back decades to their childhood. Another dynamic that becomes central in Vol. 2 is the contentious relationship between Yondu and Rocket, one that gets beneath the harsh exterior of these characters. Meanwhile, Drax and Mantis form a surprisingly close bond of friendship despite Drax’s tendency to bluntly say unflattering things about his new friend. All these dynamics pay off in a surprisingly effective emotional conclusion that challenges every single character in the story, especially Star-Lord as he’s forced to question everything he’s thought he wanted.
Gunn is even more confident as an action director this time around, leading to a number of great action scenes that are eye-popping and thrilling. Because Gunn has created all these strong character arcs, the action means something and we’re invested in what happens. When it comes to the action-packed finale, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 takes some really surprising turns that break the Marvel mold and have a strong emotional resonance.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a bigger sequel that doesn’t sacrifice what worked in the first film in order to expand its scope. It may be bigger in scale but there’s still a heart underneath all the colorful CGI that builds these galactic landscapes. The soundtrack this time around isn’t as solid (just a matter of personal taste) but that may be the only element of this sequel that could be considered underwhelming. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 contains what Marvel fans have come to love and expect from this particular brand of comic book movies, with ample Easter Eggs, cameos, and a sense of fun that’s front and center. Thankfully, Vol. 2 is very much a standalone story that isn’t overly concerned with future Marvel movies so its focus is always on the story at hand. James Gunn has pulled us in closer to this team of A-holes in an absolutely entertaining sequel that stands as one of Marvel’s finest. Be sure to stay through the credits as Vol. 2 features multiple mid-credits sequences, some of which tease the future and others that are just downright funny.