Sequels to good movies are always difficult. Sequels to superb films are tougher and carry a different set of expectations. In the case of Guardians, your mental checklist most likely included the laughs and the story. And since it was so good, you likely want to know if the soundtrack rocks, and in the case of Marvel, will they ever make a decent villain we care about? I have the spoiler-free answer to those questions and more below…
I had a ton of fun throughout this entire thing. There were jokes that I was still giggling about way after they passed (And I still am as of this writing). Vol. II cranks up the opening credits to a whole new level. Visually, it’s a CGI smorgasbord of colors and texture, but it doesn’t burn into the retina like a certain DC film.
Most importantly, this film felt less attached to the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and more like a entry that can stand on it’s own. Yes, there are potential tie-ins to other franchises, but nothing here that really moves us closer to the impending fight with Thanos. (It now seems that Thor: Ragnarok is going to be the capstone film before Infinity Wars) And honestly, it was great to just concentrate on the Guardians story and not worry about the greater franchise. It was a breath of fresh air we don’t always get when you have to cram thread after thread towards the Infinity Gauntlet.
James Gunn has continued to grow into his own and Marvel has wisely let him shape this franchise how he wants. And for their own sakes, they really should keep doing that. Heck, I wouldn’t mind seeing Gunn take over another franchise in the MCU if he really wants to. His vision has been the clearest of any MCU film and it shows in the final product.
Humor Sails and Fails
If you came for the funny, you are going to get it in spades with Vol. II. However, where Vol. I succeeded at nearly every joke they attempted (I guess we’re calling the first one Vol. I? I feel some repackaging coming soon), this one just didn’t hit every beat quite right. Drax seems to receive the worst of this as his recurring gag with Mantis doesn’t pay off until the very end. Even then, you sort of wish someone on set had yelled out “Ummm…this isn’t great, maybe try something else!”
Otherwise, this entry may include Rocket’s best moments arguing with Quill and his humorous insults when he’s in a tight situation. You may really like every joke they created, but chances are a good chunk may fall flat for you or feel drawn out.
Said father figure issues are super obvious in this film. Given what we saw in the trailer, and the previous build up in the first movie, I can’t say I’m surprised. To move forward as a character, Quill was going to deal with this sometime and if he was ever going to muster the nerve to return to Earth (which is likely with Thanos hanging over everyone), he had to confront his problems.
Kurt Russell feels right in this role and Chris Pratt’s suggestion for him to play it was spot on. Given the action hero cache that Russell has built up over the years, he feels like the natural counterpart and previous generation of Pratt in real-life (minus Pratt’s goofiness, but heck…have you seen Big Trouble in Little China)
You are likely going to get annoyed at how predictable some parts of the film are regarding this arc. However, it’s the coat of paint that matters, and it feels pretty fresh and enjoyable despite knowing what was going down. I’m still ruminating on whether Quill grew enough in this iteration, in comparison to Rocket, Yondu, Gamora, and Nebula
I can’t stress this enough…holy shit they nailed some depth
The end scene actually had me teary eyed. I mean, I can’t think of another Marvel film that has made me feel anything other than laughter, enjoyment, or boredom. Gunn found a clever way to reuse Nebula and Yondu, flesh out their back story, and create some genuine moments that made you care about them.
These two character arcs serve to prop up Gamora and Quill for better conversations and make them confront things we just took for granted in the Vol. I. Did you think Yondu was just a greedy space pirate? Did you think Nebula was just a revenge hungry puppet? Prepare to walk away with new perspectives on these two by the end. This film was aided by how well crafted these arcs were and it’s likely Vol. III will have a bedrock of development to carve out because of it.
The strife caused by various members of this surrogate family is fully explored in Rocket’s outbursts and cries for attention. This well is deep for all of the characters, but there is poignant moment between Yondu and Rocket that signals exactly why Rocket acts out the way he does. It’s beautiful, well-acted, and serves to tee up the next emotional ball that gets whacked in the final act.
Sadly, when you spend that much time developing the rest of the crew, it typically means someone gets left out to dry and poor Drax feels the brunt of this. The only saving grace may be that they are saving his story for Guardians 3. There were cookie crumbs in Vol. I that made the character explorations of Nebula and Yondu powerful this go around. Similarly, there were some moments between Mantis and Drax that make me think they are going to finally use his memories and pain to explain his backstory in greater detail.
But Commander Shipp! I thought his story was just losing his family and wanting revenge on Ronan and Thanos?
Errr, it’s a bit more complicated than that and if you don’t want spoilers, I won’t dive into them here. But when Mantis goes to read Drax’s emotions, she’s likely getting more than she bargained for. This may open the door to dive into his “actual” backstory, which is really cool and ties him to Thanos in a deeper way.
Awesome Mixtape Vol. II
To keep it spoiler free (and if you prefer being surprised by their selections), I will refrain from diving into my favorite songs by titles. Just know that they are nearly as effective as they were in Vol. I. I praised the opening credit scene and I may like it more than Quill’s solo romp to Come And Get Your Love by Redbone in the first film. The soundtrack doesn’t drive or possess it’s own characterization as it previously did, and that’s quite alright. There are plenty of stronger moments to care about, but they still hit some great feels with the selection this go around.
Bonus Round: Baby Groot
Yes, he’s as adorable as you can imagine. I was worried they wouldn’t have anything for him to do. But boy was I wrong. There is legitimately a moment you get upset that certain characters start picking on him and when he gets his revenge, it’s rather satisfying (and probably more so if you avoided the trailers).
Bonus Round: “Suicide Squad…eat your heart out”
When you throw catchy and memorable songs into a film, you actually have to make it worth it. When Vol. II mastered this in a way that DC’s dumpster fire couldn’t match, it screams how inept and short-sighted that venture was. As fellow Nerd Union writer Ollie White said today “Suicide Squad wanted to be Guardians 1, they failed, and Guardians 2 is like, ‘Why don’t you let me show you how it’s done?‘”
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. II: 8.5 out of 10
It’s not a perfect ride by any means, but it’s classic, enjoyable, and we walk away with a greater sense of who the Guardians are going forward.
If you haven’t seen the first Guardians of the Galaxy, (I have no idea how you got here if thats the case,) you can pick up a copy below! (We’ll throw in a link to both soundtracks as well because we love y’all.)