Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Kurt Russell
The follow-up to the fan-favourite Guardians of the Galaxy was always going to struggle a little with the burden of expectation, with James Gunn’s original providing such a truly unique visual and narrative style. Thankfully, Volume 2 not only matches its predecessor, but – in my opinion, at least – actually exceeds it, with a far stronger story and a far more satisfying conclusion than the original offering ever had.
Freed from the constraints of having to introduce our titular quintet, Gunn wastes little time in launching us headlong into the story with a typically bonkers battle against a giant space octopus set to the dulcet tones of ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky”. Much like Peter Quill’s dancing to “Come and Get Your Love” in the first movie, it provides an effective mission statement, confirming in no uncertain terms exactly what kind of tone to expect, with Baby Groot grooving away as his full-size teammates struggle to dispatch their adversary.
The story meanders a little until the group encounter Ego, a mysterious spaceman with ties to Peter and – well – you’ve all likely seen the movie by now, right? The themes of family and father-son relationships are very much front-and-centre throughout, and while nothing really digs too deeply into the emotional range of any of the actors, there are still some impressive ‘ninja feels’ that manage to sneak up on the viewer along the way.
Taken in isolation, the lead characters are still each a little flimsy and one-dimensional, but it’s the way the Guardians interact with one another that really helps to give the movie its infectious charm. The familial bond between them shows itself in a lot of different ways, and whether it’s good-natured banter, angry bickering or moving self-sacrifice, this group of A-holes continues to provide some of the best chemistry in the entire MCU.
As an aside, I’ll fully admit that I’m still not 100% sold on the whole “Baby Groot” thing, a plot point which seems to serve no real purpose other than to help the MCU sell Funko POPs. That said, it does provide a couple of genuinely amusing moments (and one legitimately upsetting one), including the aforementioned opening, so I’m not too mad about the decision to keep perhaps the most powerful and interesting member of the team pocket-sized for now.
On the plus side, Mantis is a fantastic new addition to the team, with an innocent charm coming courtesy of a thoroughly endearing performance from Pom Klementieff. Her interactions with Drax provide some of the comedic high-points of the film, and while she actually does very little aside from facilitating some character development for the other Guardians, there’s still something intensely likeable about her.
The villain situation is a little contrived, with the Ayesha and the Sovereign serving as a fairly pointless comedy threat, and the whole Nebula/Gamora situation feeling more than a little forced. Thankfully, Kurt Russell’s Ego is brilliantly fleshed out, and while his ultimate motivations aren’t exactly anything to write home about, Russell’s delivery and the way his actions impact Peter as a character make him a thousand times more worthwhile than Ronan the Accuser ever was.
More than anything else though, it’s the relationship between Peter and Yondu provides the beating heart of the movie, and even if a lot of the serious character-based moments are reserved for the CGI-laden finale, there’s enough of an emotional arc at play to make the stakes – and sacrifices – feel like they actually matter. Which, as you’ll know by now, is something of a rarity when it comes to the MCU.
At the end of the day, while it doesn’t quite push its way into the rarefied air of Avengers Assemble, Civil War or Winter Soldier (even though I’m technically giving them the same score), Guardians vol. 2 manages to come pretty damn close, with an amusing, visually impressive and surprisingly heartfelt addition to the cosmic side of the MCU. Bring on volume 3!