Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a fun action-adventure with familiar characters that everyone enjoyed from the first film making a return to further endear themselves with new hijinks and high stakes. This time around, the story is more character-driven rather than plot-driven, and almost every character gets their own arc, which is why the film runs over two hours, yet it doesn’t feel long. However, there are a handful of scenes that do feel over-indulgent, but that will hardly be held against the film by audiences that came to see the spectacle.
Vol. 2 takes place roughly directly after the events of the first film. The Guardians of the Galaxy have been hired by a race of people called the Sovereign to defeat a giant slug-like creature before it can attack some valuable energy sources. They succeed in their task, but as the Guardians leave with their payment, the Sovereign attack them and almost obliterate them if not for the last-minute help from a mysterious man named Ego (Kurt Russell). Ego claims to be Peter’s father and takes the Guardians to his home planet. Here, Peter learns his true nature and purpose, and he must decide on embracing it or casting it aside forever.
From a mechanical standpoint, writer/director James Gunn has done a magnificent job with this film. Not only has he crafted a story that satisfies the Marvel property, but he manages to give almost each character their own story within the larger story without bogging down the film. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) resolves her issues with her sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan). Peter (Chris Pratt) learns who his father is. Even former adversaries, like Yondu (Michael Rooker), get their meaningful moments to shine. With Vol. 2, Gunn has created something that is both dense and satisfying.
The tradeoff for having so many stories taking place in one film is less development for the main antagonist. Typically, audiences would understand the threat early on and watch the antagonist work toward his/her goal just as the protagonist worked toward his/hers. In Vol. 2, the reveal of the villain is so sudden that it’s hard to care about his plans on an emotional level because audiences haven’t really witnessed him working for it. Even when some of the members of the Guardians are suspicious, there’s so much going on that any tension surrounding the potential villain is kept purely intellectual. It won’t detract from the film, but a little more development of the bad guy would have been appreciated.
Given that there are so many characters who are doing meaningful things throughout the film, it’s impressive that there was still time to include over-indulgent scenes. One sequence highlights Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) taking out Ravager warriors singlehandedly using booby traps. Another lengthy scene has Rocket making fun of a nickname a Ravager gave himself. Yet another scene shows baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) sent out to retrieve an item, but always returning with the wrong one – over and over again. These scenes are fun and can be visually striking, like when Yondu sends his Yaka Arrow to murder scores of men, but shorter sequences would have felt less gratuitous, tightened up the film, and still gotten their points across.
The biggest flaw in Vol. 2 is the lack of tension throughout. While all audiences understand that certain characters can’t die due to certain realities, e.g. a third movie in the series, there are still ways to create uncertainty in film. One way is to have characters understand the gravity of their situation. When they’re cracking jokes, how serious can the situation be? In one sequence, to ensure the wrong button doesn’t get pressed which would kill everyone instantly, Rocket asks Peter for tape. Peter then asks every crew member if they have tape. He even gets into a few squabbles with some on his team during his search. All of this is happening, of course, during a hectic firefight with an entire fleet of Sovereign attack drones. It’s this lack of seriousness that punctuates the film. Silly remarks are made even during a eulogy for a character that just heroically sacrificed himself. Fun is fine, but it can also be distracting, which it was here on more than one occasion.
The greatest achievement in Vol. 2 is how well the visual effects were done. At no point is any of it unbelievable. When Gamora and Nebula have to make a death-defying leap, audiences will hold their breath. When Ego details his history using what look like moving porcelain statues, moviegoers will marvel. It’s no wonder why the ending credit sequences in these films turn white with a wall of names for the visual effects teams. Without them, stories like this would never be as satisfying.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a fun movie and a very worthy sequel to the first film. It has plenty of action, comedy, and fulfilling stories. What it lacks in plot it makes up for with character development. It may not be what everyone was expecting, but a good movie is always recognizable.