Written By: Nick Poulimenakos
2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy was the surprise hit of the year. When compared to other Marvel Cinematic Universe films, it’s different in almost every aspect. Benefiting from being almost completely separate (for the time being) from the rest of the MCU, director James Gunn was allowed to put his own spin on comic characters that were relatively unknown. What we got was a visually stunning, emotional and, above all else, extremely funny film. Guardians of the Galaxy remains my personal favourite MCU film and so, when Marvel announced a sequel with Gunn returning to write and direct, I was extremely excited. Was the sequel able to top the rock ‘n’ roll space opera that the first film was? The answer? No it does not. But is the film still great? Absolutely. Let’s see why!
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 picks up around 2 to 3 months after the first film. The film follows the team’s adventures as they travel throughout the far reaches of the cosmic side of the MCU. The Guardians work to keep their newfound family together as they uncover the mystery of Peter Quill’s true parentage.
What made the first Guardians film so great was the undeniable chemistry amongst the main cast. The performances from that film were fantastic and Vol. 2 is no different. Everyone brings their A-game. Chris Pratt had the best performance for the main Guardians team. Pratt brings so much emotion to the role as he must deal with reconnecting with his long-lost father and his newfound leadership role amongst the dysfunctional group of heroes. It is clear that Pratt completely through himself into the role. He’s funny, he’s emotionally charged, and he’s Star-Lord.
The rest of the Guardians actually took more of a back seat in this film. That’s not to say that they aren’t in the film a lot. It’s just clear that this film takes some of the characters in new directions and with that comes other characters getting slightly smaller stories than others. This happens to Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon and Vin Diesel’s Baby Groot. Both characters are a part of the overarching story, but compared to the first film, their roles are ever so slightly cut down. Both actors were still great in the film. Cooper especially brought newfound sentiment to the role of Rocket. Diesel is back as Groot but this time he’s a baby. And it’s what you’d expect… he’s cute… moving on. Dave Bautista returns as Drax and is once again hilarious. His dry, literal humor was one of the best parts of the film. Finally, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora was superb in the film. Her performances alongside Pratt proved to be some of the best back and forth moments in recent MCU films.
The real standouts of the film however, are Kurt Russel as Ego, Michael Rooker as Yondu and Karen Gillian as Nebula. When Russell was cast as the living planet himself, I was ecstatic and Russell exceeded all my expectations. He portrays Ego as this charismatic, super-dad that waltz’s back into his son’s life without a blink of the eye. Every line that Russell speaks leaves you on the edge of your seat because you want to hear more. Michael Rooker as Yondu Udonta was my favourite part of the entire film. If someone were to rank the top 10 performances in the MCU, Rooker’s role in Vol. 2 would certainly make that list. He brings so much emotion and heart into this performance that leaves the viewer craving an entire film dedicated to the character and his backstory. Karen Gillain once again proves that she is a powerhouse actress as Nebula’s part in this film was fantastic. Her performances alongside Saldana’s Gamora were terrific and it was nice to see the sisterly bond that these two somewhat share.
Similar to Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Vol. 2 opts to break up its main cast and send them off to different parts of the cosmic universe. This allows the film to hone a smaller scale story which, for the most part, actually works. This is due to writer/director James Gunn’s pairing of certain protagonists with others. Rocket becomes close with Yondu due to their similar broken past lives, Peter and Ego work towards uncovering Peter’s mysterious abilities, Drax and Pom Klementieff’s Mantis unearth Drax’s complex backstory as he mentors the young and naïve Mantis and the history of Gamora and Nebula is revealed. Vol, 2 highlights the strengths of our heroes and takes their stories, not only forward, but in a new and exciting direction that is comedic, dramatic and emotional.
Before I get into the negatives, I must mention again how fantastic Michael Rooker is. Seriously, from start to finish, Rooker remains the single greatest part of this film.
Now, despite the smaller story seemingly benefiting the film, there are some glaring negatives. The first would have to be the second act of the movie. Now, it’s not bad. It’s just much slower than the first and third act, both of which were fantastic. The second act includes lots of dialogue heavy scenes where Peter discusses the history of Ego and many moments with the Ravagers. The smaller story also relegates the film to being set on a few locations. Compared to the first film, this was a letdown because as you watch the film, you want to see the bigger universe that it’s teasing but never shown. Marvel’s villain problem is once again prevalent as Elizabeth Debicki’s Ayesha and the whole Sovereign nation wholeheartedly sucked. They have a huge connection to one of five post-credit scenes, but her role in Vol. 2 was nothing more than a filler villain. Legendary actor Sylvester Stallone also happens to have a role in the film. Why is he in the negative section you ask? There’s wasn’t enough of him! Seriously, he’s great in the film but he’s only in it for maybe 6 minutes. I need more of his character in future films.
Probably even more anticipated the film itself, Vol. 2 is set to the backdrop of Awesome Mix Vol. 2. In my opinion, this soundtrack is on par with Awesome Mix Vol. 1. I listened to both soundtracks trying to figure out which is better but they are equally incredible. From The Chain by Fleetwood Mac to Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra, Awesome Mix Vol. 2 brings you right back to the golden age of music and will have the songs playing back in your head for days.
Tyler Bates also returns to score the film and once again demonstrates why Guardians of the Galaxy has the best musical scores in the entire MCU. Bates creates a thunderous, emphatically fun musical score and knocks it right out of the park. The intense, emotional and lighthearted compositions will have viewers humming the melodies long after they leave the theatre.
Visually speaking, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is phenomenal. It’s vibrant, it’s exciting, it’s colourful and it really captures Gunn’s vision of the cosmic side of the MCU. Every scene has eye-popping visuals that blend practical sets with beautifully done CGI.
All in all, it’s not Guardians of the Galaxy. The first film was an out of the box, auteur-driven superhero film that stepped away from the common tropes of the superhero genre. The second film does all this but to a lesser extent. This however, does not hinder how much fun Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 truly is. The film is an absolute blast from start to finish. Despite a muddled second act, Vol. 2 still feels remarkably different, thanks to enthralling performances, a fantastic soundtrack and score, stunning action sequences and beautifully crafted CGI backdrops. The film reminds audiences why they fell in love with these characters the first time and is a welcome return for Marvel’s obscure big-screen superheroes.
Nick’s Rating – 8.5/10
Mathew’s Rating – 8.5/10
Artur’s Rating – 7.9/10
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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 flies into theatres on May 5th, 2017