‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ (2017)
Dir: James Gunn
Just three years ago, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘ took everyone by surprise and got audiences hooked on a feeling. Now, this follow-up hopes to make the most of the love for that film and its characters, while exploring deeper themes and ties within this lovable group of unlikely heroes.
The storyline that’s key throughout is that of Peter Quill’s ancestry, unexpectedly meeting the father he never knew (Kurt Russell) and who was teased as being particularly interesting in the first film, while the Guardians find themselves being pursued across the galaxy.
The first film came almost out of the blue, with a style and humour that stood out from its franchise brethren for all the right reasons. With this sequel, we are a little more prepared, though hoping for and maybe even generally expecting more of what made the first so hugely enjoyable. I’m glad to say that James Gunn delivers that in abundance, possibly a little over abundantly at times. I wouldn’t say it’s a perfect film, nor quite the follow-up I expected, as there are some big flaws and moments that didn’t work so well for me. I’ve seen it twice just to be sure and make my thoughts as clear as I can, though I’m also looking forward to watching it again once I’ve finished writing this so I can see it just for enjoyment’s sake without bits sticking in my mind to remember as worth mentioning here.
On the positives, the humour that was so surprising from the first film is still there. Honestly, the characters are so good and so perfectly portrayed that you almost can’t go wrong with some of it. I think the love for ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ has grown since the film was released, with characters and lines entering the zeitgeist. Groot for example, a fan favourite especially in the form seen at the end of the first film as Baby Groot, is so loved that any scenes with him are going to be avidly enjoyed. His personality in this film is a distinct change from last time as in his smaller form he’s also more infantile. Stealing the opening scene as James Gunn mixes a brilliant use of nostalgic music with this adorable new Groot in the most brilliant way, starting things off in a way that’s hard for the rest of the film to match, as the scene on its own would make an award-winning short.
The screenplay endeavours relentlessly to develop all the characters, pairing them up in different ways to bring out aspects of their personalities and back stories. Most of this is really excellent and needed character development, things touched on only briefly before and needed in time to prepare the Guardians for a bigger role in the wider MCU. Sadly there are times when it felt a little forced, dragging more out of characters than was needed and overall so much was added for everyone that maybe it’s a little more than was needed for just one film, it’s more than can be fully absorbed or appreciated in one go.
What may also be a slight mis-step is the dividing of the team for most of the film. They are split early on and while the groupings are clearly intended to allow for developing certain subplots and explore the relationships between everyone rather than those who interacted last film, they are at their best as a complete team, so it’s almost a shame for about a third of the film to be switching between the divided parts of the group each undergoing their own challenges. What’s clever though is how these different sides of the story do eventually come together and their subplots tie into the main plot and themes very neatly, something worthy of praise that’s obscured a bit by everything else that’s going on.
There’s a subplot with Yondu (Michael Rooker) that really develops his character in a surprisingly large way for this film, maybe partly as the director is good friends with Rooker and so wanted to do more with his character. Stronger than many other subplots, it adds pertinent history, explains the Ravagers, and specifically develops Yondu and his relationship with Peter Quill in a way that’s simultaneous and unexpectedly touching. Rooker gets lumbered with a large chunk of exposition, while also getting some of the best quote-worthy lines to make up for it.
Rather than whole characters, story points, or even scenes that don’t work, it’s more a case of small moments, even just single shots that felt like they would have been better if left out. One where lightspeed space jumps warp characters to a cartoonish extreme, and a few 80s references that are good when mentioned once or twice but then are stretched to a running-joke excess that started to have diminishing returns.
There are many exciting places, physically and narratively, for these characters to go, but this film doesn’t really take them there, choosing to develop one interesting dangling thread from the first film in a way that works to add complexity and depth to these characters audiences love but aren’t particularly familiar with. This isn’t the far-reaching adventure packed with belly laughs we may have expected, though maybe it’s the tough middle film that will have implications for a greater payoff in ‘Vol 3’, or possibly before then as the Guardians of the Galaxy get involved in the Infinity War. Potentially this is a film I’ll want to revisit and reassess in a few years to see how I feel about it when better able to see how it fits into the broader scope of making this lovable team more than just good company for wild adventures.
‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ is available to buy or rent from all the standard outlets. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, which it deserves, though James Gunn has also pointed out that the hair and make-up team worked equaslly hard. A good follow-up determined to add complexity to these now beloved characters, it’s a must for fans of the first film and an enjoyable dose of fun sci-fi that builds towards exciting things to come which I hope will be a little more polished in certain regards.