It’s become all too common to hear about sequels that don’t live up to the original. After creating a film that felt refreshing in the Marvel catalogue thanks to its vibrant colours, constant laughs, and multiple memorable characters, Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn had a lot of pressure on him to repeat the magic of the first movie in Vol. 2. And while most elements of the 2014 blockbuster hit have been turned up a notch, it doesn’t necessarily lead to a better movie.
In the first film, we saw a group of misfits bond over their respective unfulfilling situations and become a family. But like any family is bound to do, they start to get at each other’s throats. We re-join the Guardians doing what they do best: saving the galaxy while always having a well-timed quip on hand should anything go awry. But from the outset, cracks start to emerge in their friendship, which leads to somewhat of a disconnect in the group.
The film plays heavily on the importance of family, with the crux of Vol. 2 being the developing relationship between Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord, and his mysterious newly-found father, Ego, played by Kurt Russell. Ego is a living planet, with the power to create almost anything his mind can conjure, where even the human form that we see him as is a conception of his abilities. Being his offspring, Star-Lord is also able to tap into this skill. This creates internal conflict for him and eases the distaste he has for his father for abandoning himself and his mother. He wrestles with childhood trauma and must come to terms with whether he can trust Ego, and this enables Pratt to show off his rarely-seen emotional range to great effect.
The father-son relationship is just one example of the great character dynamics we see, and it’s in these moments that the movie shines. Rather than focusing solely on the Guardians, more attention is given to the supporting characters, which makes the film even more of an ensemble piece than its predecessor. Newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empath assistant to Ego, plays off well with Drax (Dave Bautista) and their shared emotional ineptitude create not only some great laughs but some sincere moments as well. Michael Rooker’s space pirate character, Yondu returns in Vol. 2 and his role is upgraded. His character transitions from a basic secondary antagonist to a conflicted man, held down by past decisions as his humanity begins to break through, and it makes for one of the most engaging elements of the movie. He strikes up an unlikely rapport with Rocket (Bradley Cooper) when they realise they have more in common than they originally thought.
And then of course there is Baby Groot. Other than a small scene at the end of first film, there wasn’t a chance to show off the miniature sentient tree prior to this instalment. The sequel wastes no time putting him front-and-centre, with Baby Groot being featured prominently, dancing in an oh-so adorable way to Quill’s new mixtape as the opening credits flash by. It serves as a knowing wink at the audience that says, “we know this is what you wanted”. As Groot is no longer the physical behemoth he was, he must stay in the background of the battles for the most part, hiding away for the fear of being hurt. By reducing his action scenes, the times where Groot is given the opportunity to join in the action become even more entertaining, as we see him let off his leash and enjoying himself.
However, not all the characters are quite as entertaining as a twig with a limited vocabulary. For example, the continued sibling rivalry between Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) makes for some of the duller moments. While we get more insight into their childhood, the drama between them feels quite forced and their grievances with each other are normally aired out by screamed expository dumps. A gold-covered, high-society race called the Sovereign are introduced early on and they appear consistently throughout the movie, following our heroes and providing a persistent sense of danger. Although they never really seem to be much of a threat, they’re more like a fly that keeps following you around no matter how much you try to swot it away. Their presence only seems to serve as a nuisance, for both the Guardians and the audience, and is a show of the film trying to include more sub-stories than it needs.
This is the real problem with the movie. It tries to expand upon what came before it while keeping all the components of the first Guardians of the Galaxy, and it spreads itself too thin. Reading up to this point, you may be unsure as to what the film is about exactly. The loose description of plot provided above results from the fact that it is severely lacking in that department. While some films blossom thanks to the unpredictability of their stories, this is not one such film. By putting the emphasis on their large cast, both old and new, the narrative of Vol. 2 falls by the wayside. However, it’s made up for by a strong, more focused second half that makes for compelling viewing, but before that point the film seems to meander aimlessly, jumping from one joke to the next.
By no means is this a bad movie. The laughs are still there in great volume, albeit they don’t hit as often as you’d like. It’s clear no expense has been spared in the CGI department with the visuals having been stepped up. We seamlessly venture from one sweeping vista to the next which portrays the galaxy as vast, varied, and stunning. And once again, the cast really do have an incredible chemistry with each other, making it easier for us to invest in these characters. Ultimately, Vol. 2 is a good, if not slightly underwhelming, follow up to its predecessor.
by Jay Fernando