In August of 2014, I didn’t know what to expect from Guardians of the Galaxy. Marvel’s track record was a stellar trajectory but I had never heard of this ragtag group of heroes who were being given the big screen treatment. It had to be a huge gamble for Marvel to bank on a lesser known comic property but to the surprise of many, myself included, the film ended up being one of best additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film also dominated the last part of summer back in 2014 and ended up grossing over $750 million worldwide.
You can thank the Marvel marketing machine for turning the film into a hit but the real MVP here is director James Gunn. His vision made the film enjoyable and fun and it’s clear that he has an affection for the material. This isn’t just a director for hire. He GETS it and he brings back even more of that vision for the follow-up, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. There are no signs of a sophomore slump at play here and I guess the best thing that can be said about the film is that it is on par with its predecessor in terms of pure entertainment and it even goes a step further by building up the characters even more by giving them sufficient depth in the process.
The movie re-introduces the Guardians with a big action set-piece that proves to reintroduce us to the tone and humor that sets it apart from other big-screen comic book adaptations. While Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), and Rocket Raccoon (voice of Bradley Cooper) take on a space-faring behemoth in the background, Baby Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) does an impromptu dance routine in the foreground. It’s clear that we should be paying attention to the battle but Baby Groot’s antics are just too fun to miss and a scene like this ends up being one of the film’s many strengths. A lot of action sequences in films like this can be by the numbers and very familiar but Guardians utilizes its atypical humor in the best possible way, which prevents sequences like this from becoming too stale.
The Guardians consider themselves to be more than friends. They’re a family and the ties that bind, while not easily severed, can become strained. Volume 2 is about other families as well. Star-Lord encounters his genetic father, a Celestial called Ego (Kurt Russell), who’s actually a planet in human form. There are issues between them but a connection to a blood relative makes Star-Lord pursue the reunion, even if we get the feeling something isn’t quite right. There’s also the evolving conflict between Gamora and her sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan). And there’s the remorse of Yondu (Michael Rooker) regarding his treatment of his adopted son, Star-Lord.
A writer for The Hollywood Reporter wrote an article after viewing the film and stated that the decision to focus on more familial issues, rather than a generic love story that is a bit of a staple for the genre, is the biggest strength of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and I’m inclined to agree. A lot of the character building for the main characters has to do with their bond with each other and it provides them with solid moments that show you that the creative team wanted the film to be more than impressive special effects and pyrotechnics. Sure there is that “unspoken thing” between Star-Lord and Gamora but it isn’t the main focus. It’s given enough attention to show a bit of a spark between the two characters but it’s always on the peripheral of the main themes of the film. Everything about the film’s approach just feels different and that is what makes it stand out.
Tonally, Gunn maintains an irreverent approach, with a lot of the dialogue consisting of many clever double entendres. It doesn’t reach Deadpool levels of satire air but this may be the closest any pure Marvel movie has gotten to being labeled a comedy and really pushing the limits of its PG-13 rating. It always feels like it’s cleverly walking the line but doesn’t go too far either. It certainly finds a nice balance between having a sharp tongue and remaining for the family friendly experience.
Due to solid direction and growing into their characters, all of the actors are top notch. Chris Pratt reaffirms his leading man status here after some saw cracks during Passengers. He’s likable in all the right ways and manages to be a believable action star while also maintaining a solid sense of humor. Matching him in almost every way is Zoe Saldana who seems to fully embrace the strength of the character while also offering up some softer moments to make sure the character doesn’t become one note. Dave Bautista ends up being the most improved from the original as Drax because the film takes the time to humanize him and make him more than just the muscle. Michael Rooker is also given solid depth as Yondu and he ends up being part of a surprisingly strong emotional moment later in the film. On the voice work end of things, Bradley Cooper is solid as Rocket and I’m still pretty amazed it’s him because he expertly masks his real life persona in the role. Lastly, we have Vin Diesel providing the voice of Baby Groot and I wasn’t going to give up much credit until I read an interview with James Gunn stating that very little vocal trickery was used to alter Groot’s voice and that Diesel spends a great deal of time finding the right emotion to say Groot’s signature line.
There are a couple of new players here and one of them probably hints at a larger presence in a future film. Kurt Russell, as Star Lord’s father, finds all the right nuances to make the character work. You have to be trusting of him but also be a little leery of him and Russell conveys both sides with the greatest of ease. I also bought Russell and Pratt as father and son and that went a long way to making their scenes work. Lastly, a lot has been made about the casting of Sylvester Stallone, but he is merely a glorified cameo here. There are hints of more coming from him in a future film but he’s mainly here to supply that hook and make us speculate how they will use him more.
Marvel has been a solid track for a few years now and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is just another example of why they continue to get this right. They take time developing their stories and they care about presenting their characters in the best possible way. This attention to detail is what makes these films true cinematic achievements and this is another entry that could fall perfectly into that category.
Reel Talk gives Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 3.5 Reels