The Guardians of the Galaxy have returned, but were they able to top their original effort? And how does it stack up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
*****FULL SPOILER DISCUSSION AHEAD*****
Zac: The first Guardians of the Galaxy really hit on all cylinders for me from the get go, where I found Vol. 2 to feel quite clunky at times for the film’s large middle section. It felt choppy in pace, very expository and was not the fun ride of the first film. Everyone is really sad it turns out in this film, and they talk about it at length with one another while no action unfolds. Not a bad thing, I just wasn’t prepared.
But, ultimately, it all pays off in the end. All the emotional beats are brilliantly woven together into an action packed and emotionally satisfying final thirty minutes, or so, that was as successful as just about anything in the MCU. So, after the five credit stingers rolled (more on those later) I felt a bit conflicted, in that I think I might have been missing the point of the earlier parts of the film and my overall feeling of the film wasn’t quite a fair assessment of the film. This is a long way of saying I think it will play even better on a second viewing.
Ben: I see your point about the middle feeling clunky, Vol. 2 definitely felt a little odd once the team split. Although, seeing them come back together at the end added even more oomph to the already great finale.
Rocket’s journey wasn’t as enjoyable as I would’ve liked, and some of the Gamora/Nebula scenes weren’t as interesting or fun as the ones with Quill/Ego or Drax/Mantis, but it paid off for me in the end with some surprisingly strong character development. I was taken aback by the bond that grew between Yondu (MAJOR props to Michael Rooker) and Rocket, while Nebula explaining how Thanos took her apart piece by piece for every “failure” was fantastic. I didn’t really care too much for Nebula (in either movie) until that scene, which totally justified her constant anger.
Zac: Rocket’s journey isn’t supposed to be enjoyable, is it? He’s a jerk who can’t embrace those that embrace him and he has to figure out how to be loved. Rocket is going through some shit here, and while he is a good dad to Baby Groot, he really has to shed some walls. It takes Yondu’s sacrifice for him to see what he’s missing.
I also have to push back on the Gamora/Nebula scenes, as they gave both characters a ton of depth while also covertly building up how awful Thanos is at the same time. Nebula is this tragic figure, kicked around her whole life, and it’s sad that she is probably going to die with zero fanfare as she tries to kill Thanos. I’ll be heartbroken if she is swatted down like a fly to show Thanos’ power, but I feel like this is where we are heading with her in Infinity War.
Ben: Good point on Rocket, but I’m gonna stand my ground on the early Gamora/Nebula dynamic. I think you might be pleasantly surprised with Nebula’s role in Infinity War. She plays a pretty big role in Thanos’ downfall in the comics, so maybe they’ll try and preserve some of her well-deserved revenge in the movies.
Now even with my little criticisms, which pale in comparison to the great stuff Vol. 2 has, I don’t think I’m feeling quite as mixed on the film as you, Zac. I liked Vol. 2 almost much as Vol. 1 because it’s action and humor are just like the original’s, but turned up to eleven. And while I thought Rocket and Nebula weren’t anything really noteworthy in the middle of the movie, they had the strongest character development by the end.
Zac: Outside the finale, I didn’t think the action lived up to the first film, and neither did the humor. Drax was certainly funnier, but other than that I would say everyone else was a net loss on the humor scale. Not that this is a bad thing, I don’t think the film wanted to be as much of a comedy as the original. Vol. 2 has so much going on internally for this cast of characters, dealing with big & heavy emotions, it can’t be as funny as the first film where no one knew each other well enough to talk about these sort of things with one another. This too was another unexpected element of the film.
Yondu’s emotional push feels a tad forced in his first scene with Stallone, but looking back at the first shot of him, Gunn sets up all of his internal sadness without a word, resetting our view of him from the first film. Rocket is a mirror for Yondu as much, or more, than vice versa, while Yondu also goes through the most trauma of anyone in the film. I would argue even more so than Quill, who finally meets his dad (Ego), finds out Ego killed his Mom because Ego loved her too much, and is then promptly attempted to be used by his father as a battery to spread himself over the whole galaxy. Yondu has been banished from the Ravagers, is mutinied, has all of his supporters sent out an airlock, loses his fin, loses his ship and, willingly, makes the ultimate sacrifice to save his surrogate son. That’s some heavy shit. Yondu really is the standout of this film for me, I just didn’t know it until it was all over.
Ben: While I don’t agree with you on the action, I totally feel you on Yondu. He went from being a fairly cool side character in Vol. 1 to one of the best characters in the MCU in Vol. 2.
My final, and biggest beef with Vol. 2 has to be it’s villains, which was also my only real issue with Vol. 1. Ayesha and the Sovereign never seem threatening, and defeating Ego, who was hyped up as a god, seemed pretty easy compared to other movies in the MCU.
Zac: The Sovereign where played for more humor than being an actual threat, but they surely stirred up a lot of shit when their drones showed up. After it’s all said and done, Ayesha and the Sovereign are only, ultimately, here to set up the MCU’s origin of Adam Warlock, which will surely be their legacy, more so than being the villains of Vol. 2.
Ego on the other hand I think was a near perfect villain. The good guy with bad ideas that you are so charmed by you don’t even realize he’s trying to take over the galaxy. Kurt Russell is also wonderful in the part, making the character all that more enjoyable thanks to Russell’s endless charm. And, I don’t know what movie you were watching, but everyone barely gets out of that fight alive, was not easy. In fact, only one person was even able to be somewhat effective against Ego on the whole team, Star-Lord, and he was just distracting him more than anything; everyone else was just scrambling for their lives or shooting drones. I thought Ego’s plan also made the most sense of just about any villain in any comic book movie to date. The guy’s arrogance was so big he just had to be everything, and Russell sells every beat.
Ben: While you’re right about Kurt Russell’s acting and Ego’s motives, he never felt threatening. While the character of Ego is a vast improvement over Ronan in Vol. 1, Ronan felt way more dangerous. Part of why the Guardians were having a tough time is because they were fighting Ego and an entire army at the same time, and it still seemed like it wasn’t too rough. Think about how bruised and bloodied Cap was by just fighting Bucky in Winter Soldier or Iron Man in Civil War, or how messed up Stark’s suits get by the end of the Iron Man movies; it seems like the Guardians had a much easier time despite the scale. The only time I really felt worried about any of them was the 1-2 minutes they were being swallowed into the ground, but Quill turns it around almost instantly. And, even with his power and arrogance, I just don’t understand why Ego would risk his life’s goal by telling Peter, the only person that could stop him, about killing his mother.
Zac: His name is Ego, he thinks he is above everyone, his arrogance is literally in his name. No problem here with him sharing his story. And, I don’t think Peter can stop him, only contain him, while a dancing twig blows up his brain with a giant bomb. Team effort.
Moving on, you said you were a fan of the film, but I’m mostly hearing negatives. It sounds like I am defending the film yet you claim you liked it more than I did. What did you like about the movie?
Ben: Well, the negatives are just me being kind of nitpicky, so I wanted to get that out of the way. Like I said earlier, I thought Vol. 2 was funnier than Vol. 1. It felt like a trade of quantity for quality. Not that Vol. 1 wasn’t funny, but Vol. 2 did a better job of knowing when to be funny or serious, which I think was especially important when they were dealing with more personal issues this time around. Maybe that’s why Gunn separated the group?
Baby Groot is even funnier than adult Groot, and almost every one of Mantis’ scenes with Drax had me in stitches. My favorite scene, aside from the absolutely phenomenal opening, was when Groot was bringing all the random items to Yondu and Rocket, which was the big payoff for Rocket’s earlier, less impressive bits. That severed toe bit was just perfect.
I also thought the action was a little better. The scene where Yondu, Rocket and Groot escape/murder the mutinous Ravagers and Taserface (the laughter after telling the Sovereign his name makes me grin just thinking about it) was one of my favorite action scenes in any movie of the past few years. Even though I didn’t really feel the stakes, The Guardians, Ego and Sovereign fight was pretty crazy too.
Zac: I thought the Rocket/Groot/Yondu escape was very cool filmmaking, but completely over the top and ridiculous, even for a film like this. Yondu flipped on God mode with his upgraded fin and he was too overpowered. He’s killing dozens of people in seconds. Also, Rocket and Groot get totally sidelined. I wish there was a little more teamwork in this scene, (you can apply this criticism across the board when it comes to the action in Vol. 2) even if it looked really cool.
Ben: It has a talking plant and raccoon, over the top should kinda be expected here. And Yondu was just as overpowered in Vol. 1. He slaughtered thirty guys the same way when his ship crashed.
Zac: This seems like a good time to bring this up, because this escape scene in particular was the biggest offender, but this film is excessively and gratuitously violent. How is this movie rated PG-13? Every arrow piercing by Yondu spews guts and blood out the other end, I couldn’t believe what I was watching in a movie kids can come see. Not that I’m complaining, it’s just that I can’t even imagine the nightmare fuel the Dr. Manhattan-esque reassembling of Ego is going to cause some of the younger audience that sees this.
Ben: Vol. 2 also seems to be another stepping stone to bring more depth to the cosmic side of the MCU with even more awesome, but obscure characters like Sylvester Stallone’s Starhawk and the original Guardians of The Galaxy (the lead Ravagers who were in the post-credits scene with Stallone are a team from an alternate future in the comics along with Yondu, which eventually gave way to the more popular characters like Star-Lord and crew). Plus, I lost my mind with the setup of Adam Warlock being a villain. I can’t wait to see him in Vol. 3! (or Infinity War 2)
Just gonna throw throw this out there: Shapeshifting is now one of my favorite superpowers because of the MCU. Loki turning into Captain America, Quill turning into Pac-Man, and Ego turning into David freaking Hasselhoff make it seem pretty dang nifty.
Zac: The Hoff actually showing up was a bit much for me, and reflected how the humor was a bit more on the nose and over the top this time around. I still found the film funny, but it seemed more built on gags, rather than character.
Ben: I don’t think it was built on gags, or too dour for that matter, but I can see how it might be a little jarring to some people.
Zac: You mentioned offline that you thought the soundtrack didn’t quite meet the original for you either, but I’m really coming around on it; especially once you compare it to the tone of the film. Is it as fun and upbeat, no, but the film isn’t really either for much of its runtime. In fact, a number of the needle drops are just beautiful marriages of music and imagery.
The aforementioned Mr. Blue Sky and Baby Groot, The Chain by Fleetwood Mac kicking in right as the Ego/Peter fight starts, My Sweet Lord over Ego’s Planet, but it is Cat Stevens’ Father & Son that takes the cake. The song and imagery, over Yondu’s funeral and a lot of personal reflection, are so emotional and beautiful, I don’t think the MCU has had a better musical moment.
Ben: Funny you mention that, because the soundtrack grew on me as well. Vol. 1’s Awesome Mix is, without a doubt, my favorite movie soundtrack off all time, and it’s definitely not a bad thing Vol. 2 is probably my second.
Zac: This is a ridiculous statement. I would take every Wes Anderson or Tarantino film over these two well curated soundtracks.
Ben: Speaking of beautiful imagery, the effects in Vol. 2 were some of the MCU’s best. From the opening with Groot dancing while the rest of The Guardians fight an interdimensional monster, Yondu’s walkabout after escaping his cell, the super-powered battle between Ego and Quill, it was all gorgeous. Doctor Strange is the only MCU movie that looks better than Vol. 2.
Zac: The color and texture of everything, the movie just looked phenomenal. There wasn’t as diverse a production design as the first film, but Ego’s planet was full of weird imagery. Though, the story pods Ego used seemed a bit Man of Steely, but I’m glad they found some humor in them to make them their own. Ego making out with dozens of aliens was a nice touch.
Ben: The one thing I will hear no argument about in Vol. 2 is Stan Lee’s cameo. It is undoubtedly his best one so far. Playing with a popular fan theory, Lee’s character being one of The Watchers (immortal beings who observe all aspects of the universe), and having him bore them into leaving him stranded in space was hysterical.
Zac: Stan Lee cameos suck. Almost all of them. Amazing Spider-Man probably had the best one and that is because he kept his mouth shut. I don’t like his voice, I don’t find him funny, and it’s not cute anymore. It’s distracting and pulls me out of the movie every time he shows up. I can’t wait till he is dead so I don’t have to see him in these movies anymore; even though they will probably CGI him, Tarkin style, till the end of days.
Whew, felt good to get that off my chest.
Nitpicks aside, it sounds like both Ben and I are fully on board with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and I personally can’t wait to see it again. It continues the MCU’s march towards more character driven drama while never losing any of the big action we’ve come to expect from the franchise.