The original Guardians of the Galaxy was an instant highlight within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While Marvel does have the reputation of being the more lighthearted of the two comic-turned-cinematic universes, the 2014 film took that quality farther than any Iron Man or Thor movie ever did.
It was the kind of rowdy, goofy blast of a cinematic experience that would come out of a man whose first film work was co-writing an X-rated adaptation of Romeo and Juliet budgeted at just $350,000. Gunn was able to solidify his own special place in film history’s largest franchise with just one film. It would only make sense for Gunn to keep that style alive and well once Vol. 2 came around.
Vol. 2 finds the crew we came to know throughout the original not too later after the first. Their synergy is a bit on the sketchy side, and is exactly what crash lands them into the main conflict after a battle of egos between Peter “Starlord” Quill (Chris Pratt) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper).
It’s fitting for the plot to really be kicked into gear by a dispute within the group, as the main thing that separates Vol. 2 from its predecessor is the shift in focus from fighting one common enemy, to the development of our main characters and a few new faces as well.
Above all is the the in-depth answering of a question that was hinted at the end of the first film: Quill’s father. We were left with the information that Quill is not only half-human, but his father is of an unknown, ancient species.
It is not far into the movie that he crosses the Guardians’ path. It’s this introduction of Quill’s father (Kurt Russell), named Ego, that sparks almost every major character arc in Vol. 2. Almost too many, in fact.
By the time the climax can be felt creeping around the corner, the feeling of all of these arcs being rushed towards their completion is painfully evident.
The relationship between sisters turned rivals Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), rather than developing at a natural pace, is instead dragged along by a handful of encounters.The payoff ends up being not quite as satisfying as a secondary villain’s transition into a member of the Guardians could have been.
But, in the end, while all of them being packed together gets messy at times, character interactions continue to be the series’ greatest strength, even seeing improvement in some cases.
Drax (Jose Bautista), a comical highlight in the first film, has only gotten better; 80 percent of the hardest laughs in the audience came from him. A lot of those moments were within scenes between Drax and newcomer Mantis ( Pom Klementieff). Their shared social ineptitude not only results in some great comical chemistry between the two, but an innocent friendship that ends up being one of the more heartfelt elements of the film.
However, the strongest arc goes to Rocket Raccoon and Yondu (Michael Rooker). The former, one of the highlights of the first film, really comes into his own as not only as the source of the film’s most entertaining action scenes, but as the most intriguing character among the Guardians. But it isn’t without the emergence of Yondu as his emotional equivalent.
Much like Drax and Mantis, their shared traits bring out the best in each other. While their antihero-esque qualities do result in some wonderfully snarky moments from both of them, their arcs parallel each other in their quests for redemption when those same qualities cause issues. Only someone as snide as Yondu could break down the ego of someone like Rocket.
The most satisfying part of the entire film ends up not being the climax.
While a few fun gags, both visual and conversational, pop through, the issues with overstuffing rears its ugly head more than ever. In tangent with the over-CGI’d main face off, its overambitious spectacle could’ve brought our main heroes closer together rather than assigning each of them to their own detached dilemma.
It's the resolution that gives the audience the satisfaction the preceding fight was short on. The novelty of ‘70s-80s hits soundtracking sci-fi felt less fresh this time around overall, but it’s Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son” that comes out as the most powerful use of music in the film as it really ups the emotional potency that comes with our heroes tying their conflicts up in the wake of a bigger loss.
In fact, the last 10 or so minutes of Vol. 2 showcase nearly everything that has made Guardians of the Galaxy one of the best additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: unconventional yet rewarding soundtracking, a colorful visual aesthetic that puts infamously grey movies like Avengers: Age of Ultron to shame, and a colorful cast of characters that comes in a shapes, colors, species, and any other variable you can think of.
However, above all, it’s the genuine chemistry between the guardians that gives the series a notable advantage above its comic book film peers. Vol. 2’s biggest strength isn’t in its head, it’s in its heart ‒ its rude, crude, goofy heart.