James Gunn returns with his team of A-Holes in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and while after a first watch it feels like a middle of the pack MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) film, future watches might help elevate it as a rather unique entry into the MCU.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 follows our same group of heroes from the first film, opening with them on a for hire job protecting a battery supply for a species called the Sovereign. When Rocket steals a handful of these batteries, the slight puts the Sovereign on the group’s tail, shooting them down on a planet only to be found by a man, Ego, claiming to be Peter’s father and his aide Mantis. Peter, Gamora and Drax decide to go with Ego to his planet, while Baby Groot, and an imprisoned Nebula hang with Rocket as he repairs the Milano. Outside the Sovereign priestess, Ayesha, recruiting Yondu to track down and capture the betraying Guardians, there isn’t much more to the film plotwise. And that is where the uniqueness of the film comes in.
All of the MCU films, even the origin stories, are almost primarily plot first films with shades of character either stacked at the beginning with some sprinkles of epiphanies dropped along the way. This is by no means a bad thing, I don’t think there is a bad film in the MCU, but we’ve been programmed after 15 films to expect that formula. Now, I’m happy the formula seems to be wavering a bit to be more character focused (both of the MCU’s previous efforts, Civil War and Doctor Strange, are some of the most character driven stories in the franchise), but Guardians is almost entirely introspective with a dash of action sprinkled here and there. And, I was caught off guard by this.
After the opening set piece (Baby Groot dancing to Mr. Blue Sky, while the mayhem unfolds in the background is an all timer MCU moment) the characters just really start talking to one another about their feelings and motivations and it felt a bit unnatural and foreign to those aforementioned expectations of what an MCU film is going to give you. In the moment I was a little restless with the clunkiness, the editing jumps back and forth between stories with not the greatest of ease, and I think I was really missing seeing this whole crew together. The original five members of the team are all completely separated from one another for the majority of the film’s runtime.
But, it all pays off in the end and everything is brought together quite beautifully by James Gunn. The writing and emotional beats all pay off and he does it all against the backdrop of a fun and gorgeous set piece. He even finds a way to make the adorable, but mostly useless (to the characters, not the film, he’s one of the best parts of the movie, again), Baby Groot the essential piece to the final set piece. The last thirty minutes of this film stacks up against both Civil War and the Avengers films top-notch finales in the MCU. To say I was conflicted on my overall reaction to the film would be very accurate. Though, in hindsight, all of the character work really paid off, and was interesting, and elicited some emotion out of me, and Gunn made it all pay off, so I think a second viewing could really help this film in my eyes. Curious if the editing feels more natural, though.
The returning cast is all as good as before, with Gunn’s script really turning into Drax’s best elements to give Dave Bautista the most improved award; and he was already pretty good in the first film. Nebula’s roll is expanded and made even angrier, and Karen Gillan handles the part with ease. She gives a character that could be so one-dimensional a ton of depth. Michael Rooker also really steps up to the plate and flexes his acting skills in a much beefed up part for Yondu. He is the anchor of the film, but you don’t really realize it until things are almost over. Pom Klementieff’s Mantis is also a delightful addition to the cast and is an excellent partner to Bautista’s Drax. The two have a wonderful back and forth that I hope we get more of in the future. Kurt Russell is fantastic as well, as always, and he actually really holds the middle of the film together. A less charming and affable actor might have let a lot of his exposition heavy material land with a thud, but he nails Ego’s arrogance and selfish charm.
Gunn’s filmmaking also can’t be ignored, as this is another gorgeous film from the director. His shot composition, his action choreography, his handle on the film’s tone, it’s all fantastic. His soundtrack selections also reflect the film’s tone, and while it might not be as fun and toe tapping as the first film, it fits perfectly with the more introspective film he’s made this time around. This is might be a revolutionary entry into the comic book genre, I just might not have noticed while I was watching it.
Also, Baby Groot is amazing.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a pretty good MCU film that might actually be really good. It’s finale is almost on par with the best the franchise has to offer and has more character work than many of the franchise’s films put together. Hanging out with these guys is just so damn fun, I just need another go with it before I can say if the filmmaking actually works as well as it seems in hindsight for that middle chunk. You’re going to see it, I’m not going to try to stop you. Marvel keeps batting a 1.000.