The first Guardians of the Galaxy was a surprise that no one saw coming. A franchise built upon the shoulders of a talking raccoon, a giant tree alien, and other outer space ragamuffins wasn’t exactly the typical Marvel package at the time. But in the summer of 2014, the world was introduced to this crew, and audiences grew to love them, making the obvious sequel one of the most anticipated of Marvel’s quite action-packed release schedule. So does Vol. 2 of Star-Lord and company’s adventures hold up to Vol. 1? Well, if we’re talking mix tapes, this definitely seems like the kind made by a mature college student than a high schooler.
Now, that isn’t to doubt the mature taste of teenagers by any means, but this time, director James Gunn has seemed to graduate to a new level of intimacy within his screenwriting skills. The stress and worry of establishing this universe has been fulfilled within the first film, allowing Gunn the ability to take a step into the character-development rich stage of his Marvel-produced tale.
In Vol. 2, we find Star-Lord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Baustista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), along with Rocket and Baby Groot (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively) have gained quite the reputation after their battle with Xandar in the first film. Now, an alien race called the Sovereign have hired them to defeat a monster who would take their precious power supply. Of course, the Guardians prevail, but when Rocket decides to steal said power supply as a reward, hijinks ensue. From Peter meeting his long-lost father Ego (Kurt Russell), to Yondu (Michael Rooker) losing control of his Ravager crew, to say Vol. 2 is jam packed is quite the understatement.
With that said though, this take on Guardians is probably one of the most humbled and personal Marvel films to date—with more heart and sweetness than the candy Baby Groot loves to munch on. Much like another franchise that Vin Diesel is a part of, the theme of family is quite prevalent here, allowing for moments that fans of the MCU will cherish and speak of fondly with a tear in their eye and a tissue in hand. This element to the story might not work for all of the members Gunn is aiming to cover (particularly between Gamora and her sister Nebula, played by Karen Gillian) but for the most part, the feels that are there are hard to ignore.
This is especially the case with Star-Lord and Yondu. If you thought Steve vs. Tony vs. Bucky during Civil War was the moment where your heart was going to break forever into millions of Marvel pieces, you might want to pack your favorite blanket for comfort. No, these two are not going head-to-head in any sort of way, but the ties that bond them are the sort that leave a lasting impact on a franchise and its fan base.
The same can be said for the performances of these two. For while Chris Pratt delivers on his typical Cinema Heartthrob charms perfectly, Michael Rooker is the real standout. Much like Robert Downy Jr. as Tony Stark, this once pigeonholed character actor and Walking Dead cast member has finally been given the role that’ll make him an icon of not just the Marvel fan base, but within the Sci-Fi genre as a whole. Sure, Rooker got his time to shine in the first installment, but nothing compared to the moments Vol. 2 gives him to play—with particularly one line that is spoken to Peter that get you right in the emotional gut.
Another being within Vol. 2 that delivers quite well is the villain. But to divulge such a secret would not be wise, since the marketing has not given anyone a clue to the film’s true antagonist. The complaint with most of Marvel’s movies, in a post-Loki world, has been the lack of a great baddie. Yet somehow, Gunn finally delivers on giving us a truly despicable individual, who is all the more worse for believing that what they’re doing is perfectly reasonable and just. Sure, their reasons might not be the most unique in Comic Book movie history, yet that shouldn’t degrade the effect the foe has on our heroes nor the audience.
But don’t let these prior notions of tears or fears fool you, Guardians still has the laughs in the bag. Baby Groot and Rocket deliver the chuckles, just as you would expect—but the true scene stealers are the combo of Drax and new character, Mantis (played by Pom Klementieff). It’s a bit bizarre to think of anyone being able to have good charisma with Baustista outside of the original Guardians group, but Pom’s innocent charms play well off of her co-star’s brutish behavior. This comes particularly into play when Drax tells Mantis of his dark past—balancing comedy and drama without missing a beat.
So I’m sure many of you are wondering, where does this Marvel adventure fit within the general MCU? Essentially Vol. 2 is not one of those films that’ll make or break what is coming down the pipeline in the Infinity War storyline, but it adds exciting fluffs and layers to the universe as a whole. None of the after credits scenes will help you move into the next Spider-Man movie or Thor: Ragnarok, but whenever Guardians Vol. 3 comes around, the after credits clips hint to quite the amount of treats in store for Star-Lord and crew.
Ultimately, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is at its best when it wears its heart, naturally, on its effects-heavy sleeve. The moments of forced emotion between certain characters, along with uneven pacing during its second act, weaken what could be one of the stronger sequels in the MCU’s history. But when Gunn shows his comfort and confidence in his writing and directing, every actor and perfect music queue fall into place, elevating Guardians as Marvel’s secret weapon of fun and creativity.