In my opinion, the original Guardians of the Galaxy is the best comic book film ever made. It’s not quite my favorite (that honor goes to The Avengers), but it is the best. Director James Gunn, along with his co-writer Nicole Perlman and the rest of the Marvel Studios brass struck the perfect balance between entertainment and depth while also completely infusing the picture with charm, wit, innovation, and laugh-out-loud humor. It’s a rare perfect film.
And how hard is it to follow perfection? Of course, it’s practically impossible to do so and still come out looking rosy, but Gunn (with the sole writing credit, this time out), Marvel, and company pull it off with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. When you initially put out a film the quality of the original Guardians while making it look so easy, general audiences are going to have unfair expectations of any follow-up or sequel. And I think that has certainly been the case with Vol. 2. One shouldn’t go into this movie expecting that exact same level of quality. Quite frankly, one shouldn’t go into any film expecting the level of quality we got from the original Guardians. But having generally high expectations is fine and those will be met by Vol. 2.
What’s become clear with this second installment is that James Gunn simply understands filmmaking. He understands what I’ll refer to as the Sequel Paradox and he attacks it head-on in this film. The Sequel Paradox is simple: with a sequel, audiences expect something different at the same time that they expect it to be the exact same as the first installment. It’s unreasonable. It’s unenlightened. And it’s a guarantee. That’s what audiences want from every single sequel. Ever. And Gunn makes it happen.
You know all that stuff you loved about the first film? You get more of it. All of it. The humor? Check. The character work? Check. The innovation? Check. The beautiful outer space settings? Check. The large-scale action? Triple check. Part of what made that first film such a hit is that it was different from all other movies (comic book-based or not) that had come before it. Vol. 2 is very much like that first film, but it’s still different from everything else. This type of film will only exist within the Guardians franchise and, from that perspective, it’s still as unique as the original, even if it isn’t groundbreaking (ground can only be broken once!).
My favorite component of this particular entry into the series is the character work. All of the principal cast get arcs that build nicely and organically, sprouting from the foundations laid in the first film. They have each grown – or at least changed – in small, subtle ways and every bit of said growth is explored to satisfaction. Groot (Vin Diesel), of course, has changed the most and has an entirely disparate role in this film when compared to the first. Yet, he’s still very much the Groot that the world fell in love with, the first time around. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) has stepped into Groot’s role as the glue that holds the team together but that creates other problems. Rocket (Bradley Cooper) has some internal conflicts to resolve. Drax (Dave Bautista) has gotten very comfortable with his new friends – maybe even too comfortable. And Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is still struggling to find healthy coping mechanisms to help him deal with the loss of his mother. So, when he is found by his biological father, Ego (Kurt Russell), it wreaks emotional havoc and things proceed from there.
Staying consistent with the first film, the theme of Vol. 2 is family. That core concept is what turns this particular page of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Gunn concocts endlessly entertaining and moving ways to further expound upon that theme. There is as much heart here as there was in the first film, but, this time, it gets spread around. Most of it was reserved for Peter/Star-Lord in the original film, with the others getting brief moments. But, here, everyone is given equal attention in terms of screen-time, big moments, and development. That includes Nebula (Karen Gillan, doing some fantastic work) and Yondu (Michael Rooker). Pom Klementieff’s Mantis is a fun addition, as well, and you will also never forget the name of Taserface! It all blends smoothly and the entire cast has an unmistakable chemistry that makes them more relatable than many real-life humans that I know.
All of this builds to a gigantic climax full of all the excitement and fun that you’ve come to expect from Marvel Studios. The action scenes are very inventive and hold nothing back. At the same time, there’s always an extra layer or two to them, so that it’s not just a straightforward special effects extravaganza. Gunn insists that every scene, every line, and every moment exist on multiple planes so that nothing is wasted and everything contributes to the greater fabric of the film. He’s becoming more than just a filmmaker; he’s becoming an auteur.
There is one aspect that keeps the film a hair below the level of the first: the humor. Don’t get me wrong; the film is unquestionably funny. But it tries to be funny so often that the hit-ratio falls somewhat underneath that of the original film. I smiled consistently. I chucked frequently. I laughed out loud occasionally, but not quite as much as I did the first time around, even though this film tries to be funny more often than the first. (For what it’s worth, my favorite line goes to Yondu!)
To put some perspective on it, though, if that’s the worst I have to say about the film (and it is), then that’s pretty good. Most importantly, I found the film engaging, moving, and endlessly entertaining. I don’t know what else to ask for from a movie. I’m excited to see what comes next for these characters and I can say that, as much as I loved them after the first go ’round, I love them even more after spending additional time with them – especially the ones who had increased roles when compared to the original. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a total package of a film. Unwrap it and enjoy!
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