Set to the backdrop of Awesome Mixtape #2, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ continues the team’s adventures as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill’s true parentage.
If Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 1 is like meeting your new best friend for the very first time, then Vol. 2 is seeing them again after so many years and realizing that your friendship is as strong as ever, no matter how much time passes.
Within the first five or so minutes of this movie, James Gunn reminds you why you love this franchise, its characters and its quirks so much by giving us a musical number involving Baby Groot that’s akin to injecting pure rainbow joy straight into your eyeballs. Vol. 2 is Gunn, with the might of Marvel Studios and nigh infinite resources behind him saying “Screw it! I’ll do what I want!” He pours every ounce of his creative being into this soulfully hyper coloured adventure, making you wonder if he’s got anything left in the tank for Vol. 3. And while a portion of it doesn’t quite stick, the majority of it does, and, if nothing else, you’re guaranteed a stupid grin on your face from start to finish.
When it comes to sequels, usually the name of the game is to amp up what was most popular about the original. And while we do get a lot of surface level nods – Rocket is still a borderline amoral destruction trash panda, Quill still kind of thinks he’s Space Indiana Jones and the soundtrack is A grade – where Gunn really focuses his attention is in the emotional stakes. Vol. 2‘s heart is big, maybe bigger than its predecessor, and that shows in the amount of layers each character now has. Sure, Star Lord is still the front and centre of this film, but, in a way he’s almost sidelined in favour of finding out what makes his fellow Guardians tick, and what makes them tick together. Because, for all of the musings on family that the Fast & Furious franchise likes to vomit up, Vol. 2 is a true story of what it means to be a part of a family, functional or otherwise. These guys love each other, but they certainly don’t have to like each other.
In fact, Vol. 2‘s fun comes from the family dynamic at play throughout. Sure, watching a cybernetic, foul-mouthed raccoon blowing things up with a gun twice his body size is indeed fun, but Gunn wisely knows that ‘splosions only get you so far. The film is never funnier or your smile bigger than when the crew are in the midst of battle while Baby Groot acts like a nuisance toddler (an adorable, adorable nuisance toddler). You’d be forgiven if you mistake Rocket and Drax for the cool yet weird uncles who’d let you sip their beer when your parents weren’t watching, all the while Quill and Gamora attempt to keep their slap happy family together by any means necessary.
Visually, I’ll risk being hyperbolic when I suggest that almost every frame of this movie is a painting worthy of hanging. Gunn right on through to the over-caffeinated vfx artists deserve a standing ovation for what they’ve been able to achieve here. This thing gives Doctor Strange a run for its money for sheer visual lunacy. Every colour palette, every crayon, every paint brush, digital or otherwise has been used to the fullest effect. It’s enough to make Frank Frazetta cry. I’ll bang my head against a brick wall repeatedly out of protest if no one wins some kind of Oscar for the artistry on display here.
As with any Marvel movie there are Easter eggs aplenty for even the most passive fan – you can tell Gunn’s been reading the message boards – and for a studio that tends to oversell their movies through trailers (Homecoming), Marvel has a done a peach of job of selling the fun but keeping the heart and story to themselves. Not only have they kept the overall narrative a mystery, it’s also certain character beats that have been kept well under wraps. The less you know about Yondu, Nebula and the inclusion of Kurt Russell’s character, the better.
In all honesty, Vol. 2 doesn’t reinvent the wheel the way many perceive Vol. 1 did. And it was never meant to. In fact, I’d say Gunn never set out to do that in the first place. Vol. 1‘s unexpectedness is simply a byproduct of Gunn’s own voice as a writer and director, which, at the time, was great counter programming to the heroics of The Avengers. Now that the Guardians and fellow smart arse, Deadpool are more popular than anyone anticipated, those expecting the same kind of freshness and surprise the first film brought might be a little disappointed. Don’t be. For this writer, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a very welcome return of the MCU’s most loveable a-holes.