Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is predicted to do around $150 million at the box office this weekend, which would be a pretty nice improvement over the original’s $94 million opening. Such an improvement would be well-deserved. The Guardians are a known quantity now, routinely ranked at the top of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (personally, it’s my favorite MCU film).
The whole cast is back, along with director James Gunn who marshals his impressive control of tone to make this film sizzle with energy, laughs and action in all the right spots. (There’s a game of catch that could’ve gone very badly, but Gunn makes it work. It’s almost magic.)
I had a couple of minor quibbles with the film (I’ll discuss them below), but this is a fantastic movie. Certainly, if you enjoyed the first film, you’ll love this one.
Spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 after Gamora
The title sequence of the film embodies most of what’s great – and occasionally not-so-great – about Vol 2.
1. Most of the time, problems are solved by everyone shooting everything.
I get it. The characters are the focus here. The action grows out of character interaction. Which is how it should be. But pretty much every problem in this film external to the group dynamics was a hail of bullets that was pretty hard to follow. What makes the Avengers films great is that they can all do different stuff. Watching that first NYC battle was magical. The airport fight in Civil War had my audience squealing with delight.
2. We get it. There’s a sweet soundtrack.
One of the best aspects of Vol 1 was the killer soundtrack that was almost its own character in the film. From that first moment Star Lord turned on his walkman as he went Infinity stone hunting, we knew this was something special. And when he discovers “Awesome Mix, Vol 2” at the end of the film, we knew the second film would hold more of the same.
But a couple of times in this film, the soundtrack intrudes in a way that felt forced. Rocket asks the Ravagers if “anyone has a copy of Quill’s old music” (but how did they have Vol 2 if Quill didn’t even know he had it?).” Accuse me of picking a nit, but the movie tried its best to make me believe the songs fit organically. I didn’t need that, and it became distracting a couple of times.
3. Yes, we did see (and enjoy!) the first movie. That’s why we’re here.
Remember how hilarious it was that Baby Groot danced at the end of Vol 1? Well so does this movie. In fact, it’s clear from start to finish that Vol 2 is a big fan of Vol 1 (aren’t we all?). Easter eggs and self-referential metahumor are totally subjective. It worked about 95% of the time for me. But I rolled my eyes pretty hard at another Howard the Duck cameo.
4. Don’t Split Up the Team!
I know, I know. We had some character work to do with Yondo and Rocket (character work that – spoiler for later in the review – totally works). But some earlier parts of this movie dragged a bit, and the film just pops when everyone is together.
So what works so well in Vol 2?
Short answer: the characters. Longer answer: the Guardians became a defacto-family after the adventures in Vol. 1. (Insert Vin Diesel-centric #family Fast & Furious jokes here.) This film is all about how hard it is to be a family. Though Quill has to resolve some daddy issues and Gamora and Nebula resolve a sibling rivalry, the real arc of the movie belongs to Rocket.
Early in the film, Star Lord asks, “Is your goal to make everyone hate you? Because it’s working!”
That is Rocket’s goal. The “angry puppy”, as Mantis calls him (who is “so cute I’ll die!”), doesn’t know how to receive love, so he pushes everyone away. It’s only through his interactions with Yondu, who sees himself in Rocket, that the raccoon is able to receive his place in the Guardians family.
That’s not the most profound insight any film ever had, but Vol 2 doesn’t need profound to be true.
To no one’s surprise, Ego only sought Star Lord out to use him for Ego’s own ends (duh he’s called Ego). And Yondu turned out to be Peter’s true father, going so far as to sacrifice himself in a gut-punch of an ending. It all works because it is driven by the characters themselves.
I loved that after Star Lord “sees eternity”, it’s not his team that has to talk him back from the edge. Because he’s always loved his mom and his Guardians family. He’s not the kind of character who would be tempted by unlimited power. He’s always only wanted a place to belong, and he already had that.
One more thing: the movie looks amazing. Stunning, beautiful, seamless effects. Wow.
Okay, two more things: favorite new characters were definitely Mantis and teen-Groot.