8 out of 10
Chris Pratt as Peter Quill / Star-Lord
Directed by James Gunn
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review:
Guardians of the Galaxy might be my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe film. It’s basically the movie many of us have been waiting to see since we walked out of a movie theater in May of 1983. It breaks from the MCU template somewhat, and James Gunn has such genuine love for these disparate characters — even the villains — that we can’t help but share in that love with him. There’s a camaraderie and a real bond that connects the audience with those characters that the other Marvel movies can’t quite reach. With the strong humor and emotion on display, Guardians of the Galaxy is thrilling and full of heart.
Still, even Guardians has to contend with the law of diminishing returns when it comes to sequels. To his credit, Gunn doesn’t attempt to up the first film in regards to scale. If anything, Gunn commits more to the characters than the plot this time around. Much of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is simply spending time with Peter Quill, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, Groot, Nebula, and Yondu, and the story takes a backseat to them. It’s a brave choice, and it doesn’t always benefit the movie – unlike the original, Vol. 2 suffers from bloat from time to time. The movie would probably benefit from shaving about twenty minutes off the runtime, but Gunn and these actors are just having contagious fun and if it takes its time getting to where it needs to go. For many that will be a feature, not a bug.
In fact, Vol. 2 feels almost defiantly apart from the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Except for a few moments, what occurs in this movie doesn’t seem to affect the larger story all that much. The Guardians have parlayed their success at defeating Ronan into a moderately successful work-for-hire gig, and at the beginning of the film we see the Guardians protecting an intergalactic power source from extradimensional monsters. They soon find themselves in trouble with the Sovereign, a golden-skinned alien race that could best be described as… well, Trumpian. But in the nick of time, the Guardians find themselves saved by a being known only as Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Peter’s long-lost father. With his companion empath Mantis (Pom Klementieff) in tow, Ego wants to re-establish those family ties with Peter, and Peter is eager to let that happen.
Meanwhile, Yondu (Michael Rooker) has pulled Peter’s skin out of the fire one too many times, and his Ravager crew is ready for new leadership. They find it in Taserface (Chris Sullivan), assisted by Nebula (Karen Gilan), who still very much wants to defeat her sister Gamora. Yondu, along with Rocket and Baby Groot, find themselves fighting for their own lives among the Ravagers. When Yondu learns that Peter’s father has found him, Yondu is determined to reach Peter, no matter the cost.
Audiences will figure out where the story is headed very quickly, and the weakest element of Vol. 2 is the predictability of the plot. But Gunn seems to know this, and instead fills Vol. 2 with laughs, passion, and many character moments. We become invested in the movie not because of what is happening, but because we genuinely care what happens to these characters. There is sympathy to be found in every character, even those that were once enemies. Nebula’s rage blinds her of reason, and Saldana and Gillan fill their scenes with tension, action, and feeling. I loved the relationship between Drax and Mantis; Gunn cleverly steers that connection into unexpected territory.
The weakest interaction of Vol. 2, surprisingly, is between Peter Quill and Ego. Both Chris Pratt and Kurt Russell give it their best, but much of their time together feels like wheel-spinning and wasting of time until the story inevitably kicks in. Ego, of course, has ulterior motives in finding Peter again, and a lot of this subplot is simply waiting for the inevitable to happen. Still, this is also where Vol. 2 is at its most comic-bookiest. There are images, straight out of Marvel’s cosmic catalog, that I never expected to see on a movie screen, and the comic geek in me thrilled to see it.
But bar none, the best thing in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is Michael Rooker. He’s the reason I’ll return to see this one again. He has always been an extraordinary actor who can seemingly do anything – he can be funny, foreboding, dramatic, terrifying, and deeply compassionate, and Gunn gives Yondu all of that this time around. Considering that much of his screentime is shared with Rocket and Groot, two CGI creations, it is all the more remarkable that Rooker’s performance is as good as it is. These movies, of course, don’t shoot for awards season, and rarely recognize genre fare, but the work Michael Rooker does here is some of the finest of his career. If Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 belongs to anyone, it’s him.
There will obviously be a Vol. 3 (I’m curious to see what music James Gunn comes up for the next one), as the many post-credit scenes will attest. (The best one, again, involves Groot, but there are a few kernels of story that indicate where the next film is heading.) I would like to see a lot more of Sylvester Stallone the next time around, and as events on Earth reach their apex, we’ll certainly see these characters take their rightful place with the rest of the MCU in Avengers: Infinity War. But these movies have their own personality and spirit, and I’m happy that James Gunn is marching to his own drummer in this little corner of Marvel Studios. Could Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 have been better? Sure. But it’s hard to complain about the Thanksgiving turkey being a little dry when the family around the dinner table is having such a wonderful time. Bring on Vol. 3, Mr. Gunn. I’ll be there.[Gallery not found]