Avengers: Infinity War, Baby Groot, Black Panther, Bradley Cooper, Chris Pratt, Comedy, Dave Bautista, Drax, Ego, Film, Film Review, Gamora, Groot, Guardians of the Galaxy, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, James Gunn, Josh Brolin, Karen Gillan, Kurt Russell, Mantis, Marvel, Marvel Cinematic Universe, Michael Rooker, Movie, Movie Review, Nebula, Peter Quill, Pom Klementieff, Rocket, Space, Spider-Man, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Star-Lord, Superhero, Superhero Movie, Thanos, The Avengers, Thor: Ragnarok, Vin Diesel, Yondu, Zoe Saldana
“Guardians of the Galaxy” was a cultural phenomenon back in 2014, with a slew of interesting characters, a great soundtrack which helped to entice a wider audience, and a sharp script. It was a merchandise-machine churning out CD’s, Pop figurines, and t-shirts by the boatload, and it catapulted the careers of Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista to heights that even they probably didn’t expect before its release. So, how on earth was a sequel ever going to live up to the hype?
With this film James Gunn faced the almost impossible task of producing the same refreshing feeling that the original evoked without making changes to a winning formula; to balance comedy, action, and character development, whilst continuing to flesh out the movie’s world and protect the wider interests of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Unfortunately, in my opinion this juggling act of tone and story failed to live up to the high standards that the original film set, and although this wasn’t a surprise I still found myself feeling frustrated when the end credits began to roll.
By all accounts “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is not a terrible movie, but in many ways it’s a movie which feels unnecessary and fails to capture the imagination. Given the fact that James Gunn has an entire galaxy to play with and a set of already interesting and established characters it’s disappointing that for the most part this story takes place either within the interior of a spaceship or on a planet that isn’t explored in a meaningful way, and personally I couldn’t escape the feeling that more could’ve been done.
You could say that this is a result of the fact that “Vol. 2” is a character-driven movie; after all, it’s a story which at its core revolves around family dynamics and overcoming your past. There’s the dynamic between the Guardians themselves and how Rocket (Bradley Cooper) feels undervalued now that Groot (Vin Diesel) isn’t an equal companion, the exploration of the fractured relationship between Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and most importantly the relationship between Quill (Chris Pratt) and his estranged father, Ego (Kurt Russell). However, if you want to explain this film’s failings when it comes to its world-building by appealing to a focus on character development then you’re going to have to explain why nothing was achieved on that front.
In my opinion this film was a step backwards for many of its main characters, particularly Rocket who became less sympathetic and much more annoying. In “Guardians” we empathised with Rocket because he had been mistreated and abused, and it was clear that his aggression was a way of lashing out at the society which made him feel like vermin. This was amplified by the fact that Rocket was experimented on and didn’t ask to be the way that he was made, because this as a concept is something that a lot of people can relate to.
As such, it made no sense from my perspective to position Rocket as a character who felt undervalued by the rest of the Guardians in “Vol. 2”, even though his relationship with Groot was significantly changed, because the events of the first film lead to the audience and the rest of the Guardians already accepting him for who he was. The time that Gunn spent making Rocket less likeable in this film should’ve been spent either on a different subplot which afforded us a chance to see more of the galaxy, or on Ego’s planet with characters like Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff), as their scenes together were very entertaining and provided extra insight into their characters.
Beyond specific issues I had with this film’s narrative and the way that characters were treated, the most jarring aspect of it for me was that it didn’t feel necessary. The only thing that “Vol. 2” achieved was to tell us who Star-Lord’s father was, and ultimately I don’t feel as though making that discovery significantly changed anything going forward. The wider ramifications for the MCU were minimal at best, with Thanos (Josh Brolin) only being mentioned in passing and Ego’s plan failing with little consequence when considered alongside the chaos that occurs in “Avengers” movies.
“Guardians” was a law unto itself – it worked in isolation and the best thing about it was that it felt new and exciting without the need for cameos or a barrage of Easter Eggs. However, “Guardians” also properly introduced Thanos into the MCU, and with “Infinity War” on the horizon it was hard to accept such a disconnection from everything else that Marvel is doing right now. There was clear continuity from the first film to the second film as you would expect from any sequel, but there wasn’t a conscious effort made to plant the seeds of what comes next, other than an after-credits scene which teased Adam Warlock. Obviously the pieces will come together in films such as “Thor: Ragnarok”, “Spider-Man: Homecoming”, and “Black Panther”, but that doesn’t change the fact that this film felt too isolated from the rest of the MCU to be taken seriously in the current superhero movie landscape.
Nevertheless, despite the tone of this review so far I think it’s only fair to mention that the comedy in “Vol. 2” was fantastic (for the most part). I don’t think that this film was quite as successful on that front as the original was, simply because a lot of the jokes feel derivative given that they’re building on what characters said and did in that film, but I still found myself laughing a lot more than I usually do when I’m at the cinema. Gunn clearly knows what he’s doing when it comes to comedic dialogue and one-liners, and despite a drop in quality from the first film to the sequel the tone is consistent throughout.
Once again the performances were good across the board, and I definitely look forward to seeing the Guardians in “Infinity War”. The issues I had with this film weren’t the result of what the actors did or how they handled their characters, they were more to do with the direction of the film and the story, which I felt was unambitious and remarkably dull.
The only performance that I would question was Chris Pratt’s, because although I think he’s brilliant he didn’t really work well with Kurt Russell in my opinion. The two didn’t have a lot of chemistry on screen together and they didn’t feel like father and son at all. This could’ve made sense because they were estranged, but Pratt played it as though his character was excited and relieved to have finally met his father when he was speaking to supporting characters like Gamora, yet was understated in his enthusiasm when they were together. This could be an issue with direction, or you could place the blame on Russell because he was the newcomer to the series, but from my perspective there was something off about Chris Pratt’s performance in this film.
So, on the whole “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” was a disappointment. It’s important to understand that whilst my critical opinion of the film isn’t particularly favourable I still had an okay time watching it. As a film taken in complete isolation there’s no one aspect of it that makes it a bad movie – the cinematography, the effects, the performances (mostly), the writing, and the direction are all fine and in some cases great! The problem is that it didn’t live up to the original, (which in all honesty I didn’t think it would), and it didn’t offer anything new to its legion of fans. To me it felt like a copy-and-paste sequel which lacked ambition and hampered its characters, so although it was polished and undoubtedly funny it left a sour taste in my mouth.