In 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy was Marvel’s surprise hit. There were elements that felt a little like an Indiana Jones or Star Wars or Avengers simply set in space, but for the most part is was exciting and original – but also funny and action-packed. But was it lightning in a bottle? Can Marvel and director James Gunn do it again in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2?
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 picks up soon after the previous film: Groot is still a baby tree-creature, Peter Quill is still lost and intrigued by who his father might be, and Rocket, Gamora, and Drax still complete the misfit makeshift family. Basically, in this adventure, space-Indiana Jones (Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill/Starlord) and his team of Space-Avengers get themselves into trouble again, and make a ton of enemies. But they also meet Ego (Kurt Russell), who reveals himself to be Peter’s father. Blue space-pirate Yondu, Gamora’s blue-skinned, half-cyborg adoptive sister Nebula, and Mantis (a creature with antennae that helps her experience other people’s feelings) are also around, hindering or helping the Guardians in various ways, while they are being pursued by gold-skinned aliens with remote-controlled spaceships.
Still with us? Don’t worry, just like with the previous instalment in the series, the movie makes everything clear enough. Alien characters’ skins are easy-to-follow primary colours, and as an impressive and funny opening fight scene shows, the movie cares mostly about fun and music and dancing, rather than getting lost in the details.
There are exhilarating action sequences all over, and we see some fascinating computer-generated locations. Just like in the first movie, there’s a nice balance between action, drama, and humour, with all three elements having really strong moments in the film. But on average, they might be lacking. Generally speaking, Volume 2 isn’t as fresh, exciting, and surprising as the previous movie in the series, but it avoids retreading familiar steps and rehashing what worked well last time.
There are a handful of moments where the tonal differences are really apparent. Though it’s all kept pretty PG, there are some slight references to reproductive systems (and were those robot prostitutes in one scene?) which feel a little weird for such a “family-friendly” film produced under the Disney banner. But because of the plot, viewers will probably ask the same questions, so it makes sense that this was included. Also, the “Ravagers” (aka space pirates) are pretty mean and downright evil in one sequence in the middle of the movie.
This is best demonstrated by their behaviour towards Baby Groot – without a doubt Vin Diesel’s cutest movie role ever. The big-eyed sapling (still with a vocabulary that only consists of “I am Groot”) is a surprisingly effective tool to manipulate audience emotions. You can’t help but feel sorry for the little guy who’s still having a hard time understanding instructions. But even beyond the soon-to-be popular plush doll Groot, other characters emote, act, and fight in ways that resonate with true emotions – a pleasant bonus in a blockbuster Marvel movie.
While emotionally satisfying and providing enough laughs (though some jokes fall flat), the downside to the film is its overlong middle act. The Guardians are split up into two groups, and a big chunk of time passes that won’t end up accounting for much in the movie’s plot synopsis. There’s a big chunk of exposition and explanation that’s necessary, and while Rocket’s adventure feels a little dull and drawn-out, Peter’s emotional ups and downs seem to rollercoaster quite heavily in only a few scenes. But then again, meeting your long lost father and finding out he’s an alien is likely to mess with your head a bit, right? Regardless, all is forgiven when the team reunites to save the galaxy, and all members get their moment to shine and contribute sensibly.
If you’d rank these movies, I think it would be hard for anyone to put Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 above the 2014 original. But it’s not a big disappointment either. It’s spectacular, funny, thrilling, and although the five post-credits scenes were overkill, I still can’t wait to see where these space-heroes end up next (they’re scheduled to show up in Avengers: Infinity War next year).
A note on 4DX: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is available in 2D, 3D, IMAX 3D and 4DX. I saw it in 4DX and while the rollercoaster-like extra features (4DX features moving and rumbling seats, wind, and extra lighting effects) add an extra layer to the film, I’m on the fence about whether it’s worth the special ticket price. However, this is probably a great movie to try the experience out on. With wind effects, fight scenes and space battles that make your chair rock, my guess is that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is exactly the kind of movie the 4DX experience was designed for.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is directed by James Gunn, and stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Kurt Russel, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. in cinemas from 5 May.