Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his fellow Guardians (Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper) are hired by a powerful alien race, the Sovereign, led by High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), to protect their precious batteries from invaders. When it is discovered that Rocket has stolen the items they were sent to guard, the Sovereign dispatch their armada to search for vengeance. As the Guardians try to escape, the group are taken in by Ego (Kurt Russell), an ancient being who reveals himself to be Peter’s biological father.
Back when “Guardians of the Galaxy” was released, there were concerns that the film would be too obscure to attract a mainstream audience. Especially since it starred a group of characters that even the most seasoned comic readers hadn’t heard of — a foul-mouthed raccoon that could shoot guns and a tall walking tree with a limited vocabulary. It was believed this would be Marvel Studios’ first flop. In spite of these worries, not only was the film critically successful upon release, but became one of the highest grossing films of 2014.
Part of what made “Guardians” so refreshing was that it was a fun standalone story that could explore the crazy cosmic world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but never lost track of its unique characters and style. How do you follow up such an unusual comic book film? “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” does what a good sequel should do, give the film a bigger sense of scale and action, but also evolve the characters. Writer and director James Gunn (“Slither”) takes the live-action Saturday morning cartoon vibe that the original film had and amplifies it. The action scenes with Baby Groot and Rocket Racoon are cartoony with the way they can move around their environment and fight enemies. The color palette is more vibrant, as places like Xandar in the first film are less lively in comparison to Ego’s Planet, which has a vast variety of alien plants and landscapes that pop out of the screen. These visual aesthetics are made even better in the glorious IMAX 3D presentation.
Gunn’s unorthodox decisions allow him to craft some memorable moments, such as the film’s humorous opening credits sequence which follows Baby Groot dancing to Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” in the foreground as the Guardians fight an interdimensional beast in the background.
The main characters, and even some of the side characters, are given more depth than one would typically expect from a film of this nature. We get to see a more vulnerable side of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) as he meets his biological father, Ego (Kurt Russell). He becomes so eager to bond with his bloodline that he drifts away from his dysfunctional, yet loyal, friends. Characters like Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Yondu (Michael Rooker) are given more background making them even more sympathetic. These elements that give the film a surprising emotional weight by exploring the theme of family in a sci-fi superhero setting.
Another thing that works well in this film is the main antagonist. The MCU has had an issue with spending so much time with the heros of the narrative that they forget to develop the villains. Without giving too much away, Gunn succeeded in breaking this tradition.
With a film that is as populated as this, there are bound to be some characters that fall flat. The primary example would be the secondary antagonistic alien race, known as the Sovereign — led by the High Priestess, Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). This group slows down the pace of the film and aren’t very interesting to watch. There’s also the side character of Mantis (Pom Klementieff), who only exists for Drax (Dave Bautista) to explain his relationship with his deceased family and adds nothing to the dynamic of the Guardians. Since this character is expected to return for future “Guardians” films and “Avengers: Infinity War,” we can only hope that her character gets a chance to be more fleshed out.
As did the first film, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” has a fantastic soundtrack that will take you down memory lane. While the score by Tyler Bates is serviceable, it’s the classic tracks selected by Gunn that steal the show. Songs like “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac and “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass are used to great effect. Not only are they catchy, but they are also used during important plot points. It’s a guarantee that viewers will either buy the soundtrack or create a playlist on Spotify upon leaving the theater.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is the first great sequel in the MCU in a long time that doesn’t get distracted with setting up an “Avengers” film, but develops the characters and makes you eager to see more of their unique adventures. As always, stay seated during the credits for some fun post-credit scenes. This time around, there are five mid-credit sequences for fans to admire.