The galaxies biggest bunch of a-holes return, can it live up to the original?
Have you ever found yourself wanting to listen to a very specific song? A song that reminds you of a moment in your life when everything was simply fun and nothing more. Your face was demonstrating something akin to a genuine smile and all around you was as you wished it to be. There’s always a single song for everyone which you can link to a specific memory that you don’t want to forget.
For me, rather wonderfully, it’s Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr. Blue Sky. I won’t divulge why this song means so much to me, but when it kicked it at the beginning of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 I was absolutely thrilled, giddy with anticipation about just what the next two hours had in store for me. I couldn’t be more delighted.
The big question then is can Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 live up to the original? A film that, seemingly out of nowhere became everyone’s favourite Marvel movie. A movie that on paper should never have worked, and yet it really, really did. It was majestic in all the right ways and, unbeknownst to us at the time, was the beginning of a whole new trilogy of bewilderingly entertaining space operas that feature a walking talking tree and a Raccoon that shoots lasers. Guardians of the Galaxy, despite being a hugely important part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is in a complete world of its own.
The answer, at least for me, is a resounding yes. Vol. 2 is simply more of the Guardians doing whatever the hell it is they do and doing it at a blisteringly entertaining, accelerated rate. You have to hold on, lest it leave you in its dust. If you’re paying enough attention you’re never going to blink.
Vol. 1 established this unconventional dysfunctional group of mercenaries, and now we get to have a whole lot of fun in their company once again.
As ever, the Marvel blueprints are present and correct – a group of heroes must take down a nefarious villain who has the intent to take over the universe – along with an absolute smattering of humour that it would seem only the Guardians can get away with. They’re a tad more sweary than the Avengers, a whole lot more unhinged and far more entertaining as a result. As previously mentioned, the Mr Blue Sky sequence will remind you all over again why you fell in love with this series in the first place, dutifully playing on the overall Guardians aesthetic with ELO blasting in your ears. Director James Gunn understands why we love these characters so much and immediately gets to work blowing away expectations. It’s probably the best opening sequence there’s yet been in a Marvel movie, which is already a pretty high bar to reach.
The ‘Marvel way’ is very much stuck to here, yet Gunn is given room to also tear the building down and remodel it anyway he dictates for the benefit of the viewer. It’s assuredly the best looking Marvel film. An avalanche of colour and lasers and slow motion and beautiful CGI character creations bring to life a universe that sees a rainbow, blows it into a million pieces and scatters its ashes across each scene. To say I’m looking forward to watching this in 4K at home would be an understatement.
The story kicks into gear pretty early on, the Guardians are hired by Ayesha (The Night Manager’s Elizabeth Debicki) the leader of a race called the Sovereign to blast that enormously vile monster you’ve seen in the trailers outta the sky for good. Elsewhere, the origin story of Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) begins to take shape as we’re introduced to his father, Ego (Kurt Russell, enjoying the hell out of his new job). Does everything go smoothly? Well no, not exactly. The Guardians end up on the run and find themselves surrounding by ravagers led by Vol. 1’s Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Gamora’s ne’er do well sister Nebula (Karen Gillan).
It’s quite remarkable how James Gunn has managed to sew all of these plot points together. At times, it can be a little overwhelming but the film does a great job of explaining itself, even if there is maybe a bit too much exposition spewing from everyone’s mouths. It’s easy enough to get your head around, there’s just so much being thrown at the screen at once it may be hard to know which story strand you’re supposed to be focusing on at any given moment. Fortunately, the film is cast so darn well you don’t mind being away from the Guardians in certain scenes, if it is only for a few minutes here and there.
Clearly there’s a beating heart running throughout Vol. 2, and the exploration of family is something which the film doesn’t shy away from. Whether it be Star-Lord’s relationship with Ego (including a scene that was just far too gushing and vomit-inducing in its sweetness) or Gamora’s murderous but loving intentions for her sister Nebula (who has a much bigger role this time round and is terrific to watch). It’s a soap opera disguised as a space opera.
Talking of space opera, there’s absolutely no question this sequel is bigger in scale than the original. From doing warp speed jumps to every nook and cranny of the colour spectrum to enormous space battles you won’t see bettered this side of a galaxy far, far away, Vol. 2 is a sensory explosion, yet has enough core emotional moments for it all to make a lick of sense.
Away from Star-Lord’s daddy issues, the rest of the Guardians all have a chance to shine with a veritable smorgasbord of character development. Gamora, as mentioned above is dealing with the return of Nebula along with fighting with her feelings for Star-Lord. Her strong demeanour is broken into several times throughout the movie, allowing the viewer to see a far more delicate side to Zoe Saldana’s walking talking weapon of mass destruction.
Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) meanwhile has taken on the responsibility of raising Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), a job that is shared by the Guardians crew with Rocket at the centre. His story here is perhaps one of the most emotional in the film, as we learn more about Rocket’s origin along with his own battles of his place in the world and in the Guardians. He still doesn’t really believe in Star-Lord to be the leader of the gang and will fight to get his own way throughout. A terrific voice performance from Bradley Cooper along with motion capture by Sean Gunn bring Rocket to life with aplomb, and allows him to feel deeper than he has done in the past.
Then there’s Drax, played once again tremendously by Dave Bautista. I left my first viewing of Vol. 2 proclaiming that Drax was my favourite part of the film and I still stand by this notion after my second. Drax’s literal viewpoint of the world (being seemingly unable to understand sarcasm or metaphors showcases Bautista’s comic timing with aplomb). Here he’s absolute gold with some cracking one liners that you can’t help but laugh at. He’s never being cruel, he just doesn’t know any other way to express himself. Being around Drax is wildly entertaining. His interactions with Ego’s sidekick Mantis (Pom Klementieff), a character perhaps more earnest than Drax in terms of social interactions, of which she’s had very little in her lifetime.
Drax doesn’t carry the entire comedic weight though, with Gunn sharing some great sequences between all the Guardians and their friends/foes. Baby Groot of course, is a creation of such complete comedic genius you’ll be rooting for him from the very second he arrives on screen. And boy, is he cute.
I’ve done my absolute best to keep this review as spoiler free as possible, and I want to keep it that way. Look out for some glorious cameos (though the official soundtrack release may have spoiled a brilliant one), the film leads into Infinity War and even Thor Ragnarok very nicely, and gets us even more excited for what’s to come.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is my favourite Marvel movie of all time. Its comedic beats along with a pumping heart throughout bring up plenty of questions about family, loyalty and friendship, and has a tiny talking tree causing havoc with a Raccoon. The pacing certainly slows down a tad in the middle but you can’t help but smile all the way through regardless.
It’s so damn good to have the Guardians back and I’m giddy to see where they go next.
Mary Poppins y’all.