Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 (2017) Review
THE GUARDIANS ARE BACK!!!
Back in 2014, Marvel Studios released two films underneath its MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) banner. While the first (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) was met with high praise for its more grittier action and grounded narrative from its predecessor, Marvel’s second 2014 film (Guardians of the Galaxy) was literally amazing and “out of this world”. With relatively unknown cast of comic book characters and with only some minor connection to the rest of the already established MCU, Guardians of the Galaxy followed the adventure of Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord) and his ragtag team of cosmic outlaw misfits (Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot) as they must band together and save the galaxy from the villainous deeds of Ronan the Accuser. Filled with humor, sci-fi action, and a lot of 70s and 80s pop culture songs, the film went on to become a rousing success, collecting roughly $770 million at the box office (worldwide) and gained almost universal praise from critics, fans, and moviegoers. The success of Guardians of the Galaxy was also a big victory for Marvel, proving to them that their audience viewers were ready to expand beyond their already established characters in the cinematic universe; an action that prompted the studio to move forward with other less-known superheroes (I.e. Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel) to the big screen. Now, after the success of last year’s Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange, Marvel Studios and director James Gunn are now ready to present the third installment in their MCU Phase III saga, with the highly-anticipated sequel film Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. With so much inherit hype and excitement from its fans, does Marvel’s cosmic band of misfits succeed in their sophomore film or Is it a far-cry from what made the first one so memorable?
Set roughly one year after they saved Xandar and defeated Ronan the Accuser, the Guardians of the Galaxy, consisting of Peter Quill / Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), are now embracing their reputation as skilled mercenaries-for-hire, with their recent task of taking down an interdimensional monster to help the gold-skinned Sovereign people and their leader, Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). With their mission complete, the Guardians leave the Sovereign’s world, only to find themselves being pursued by Ayesha’s forces and barely escaping destruction. Crashing landing on a nearby planet, the team encounters separates as each one follows a different path .Gamora is once again confronted with her hardened sibling, Nebula (Karen Gillian), who’s jealous rage is still committed to besting her sister and her Guardian friends, while Rocket and Groot find an unlikely ally in the reappearance of Yondu (Michael Rooker), now a disgraced Ravager captain trying to salvage his ruined reputation, As for Peter, yearning to learn the identity of his father, gets a satisfying surprise when his father, Ego (Kurt Russell) arrives after lengthy search, with a promise of reconnecting with his long-lost son, while Drax finds an unlikely friendship with Ego’s companion, Mantis (Pom Klementieff). As the Guardians faced their own personal journey, the mystery behind Ego quickly comes to light, calling upon them to strengthen their bond and save the galaxy once again.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I can honestly say (beyond a shadow of a doubt) that, as it stands within the fourteen core entries of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (from Iron Man to Doctor Strange), Guardians of the Galaxy is my favorite one. To me, it has it all; charm, heart, humor, action, and paints an interesting story for such a lesser known group of superheroes within Marvel’s comic book catalogue. With curiosity peaked to see the movie, I did brush up on its source material and read several of the Guardians of the Galaxy comic books, including Annihilation Conquest (my favorite Marvel comic book series). Suffice to say, my anticipation to see the movie was very high and it was perfectly matched (see my review of Guardians of the Galaxy HERE). The story was great, the cast was even better, and the overall tone and appeal (the whole juxtaposition of a cosmic adventure and 80s pop culture music and references) worked harmoniously well, which made the film soar high above its other MCU predecessors. My love for this movie was quickly apparent from my friends and families as I saw this movie seven times in theaters (three were during the film’s opening weekend). Yes, I’m uber nerd of this movie and absolutely can’t get enough of it. As everyone always say, in those hypothetical questions “If you had to watch one movie forever, what would it be”. My answer… “Guardians of the Galaxy”.
Now, let’s dive into Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2. As you can already imagine, I was super excited to see this movie, scouring the internet every now and again to find any details (an interview article, an official (or unofficial) set photo, a press release, etc.) about the movie. Then, of course, the trailers came out and totally “geeked” out when I saw them (and still do); building up my already excitement to see the movie as my anticipation for seeing Vol.2 was just high as seeing the first film. I even placed this movie as my #1 choice on Jason’s Top 15 Anticpated Films of 2017. So, naturally, I got my ticket purchased and went to see the film opening night. So, the big question…. what did I think of this Guardians sequel? Well, despite some minor nitpicks, Guaridans of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a highly enjoyable blockbuster addition to Marvel’s growing cinematic universe. It doesn’t surpass the first film, but it’s still a solid sequel adventure that’s worth experiencing.
The massive success of Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel quickly (and smartly) persuaded director James Gunn to stay on-board with him to direct Vol. 2, which he did. Gunn, whose previous works include lesser known / smaller budget features like Super and Slither, was granted a director’s dream of undertaking a massive blockbuster feature with large budget, and selection of talented actors at his disposals. Fortunately, Gunn made it worked on the first film (a surefire win for Marvel) and does so again, for most part, with his follow-up sequel of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Gunn knows how to make a movie stand, which he did in the first film, and applies that knowledge in crafting this movie, utilizing what made fans / moviegoers liked from the first installment and interjecting that into Vol. 2. What also helps is that Gunn, not really breaking but rather throwing a curveball into today’s superhero style of filmmaking, brings a lot of the fun and excitement from the first film, infusing the film with plenty of humor, heart, and sci-fi action. It’s definitely admirable work, especially since the first Guardians was so well-received. All in all, while it may not be exactly “lightning in a bottle” the second go around, Vol. 2 comes close to predecessor thanks to Gunn’s return to the project.
Additionally, what makes Vol. 2 so interesting is how easily accessible the film is. While the other MCU films are interlinked together in this shared universe, the Guardians of the Galaxy movies are somewhat on the far-edges of that interwoven connection. Sure, the first film had its connection ties (i.e. the appearance of Thanos, the Collector, and Power Stone), but, beyond that, it stood on its own, weaving its own superhero tale from the far reaches of outer space. With Vol. 2, it’s still a continuation narrative sequel from the first Guardians film, but it even a further distance away from the MCU connection. Yes, there are still some name drops placed (mentioning of Thanos, Xandar, and the Nova Corps), but these are just names that they say in passing. Thus, the story is not about what Thanos is doing or about finding another Infinity Stone or tying something else to the already established MCU, Vol. 2 is just simply a sequel to 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy and is probably the least connected to Marvel’s shared universe. This all means that Vol. 2 is easily accessible to the more casual moviegoers who don’t want to bother watching the rest of the MCU films and just want to watch a film from the Guardians of the Galaxy movie franchise.
Naturally, one big selling point of the first film was Gunn using the film’s backdrop setting of having a cosmic adventure sci-fi tale that rubs up against the musical highlights from songs of the 70s and 80s from Star-Lord’s Awesome Mix Vol. 1. As to be expected, Gunn returns to that very notion in Vol. 2, hearing his “Awesome Mix Vol. 2” (gifted to Star-Lord at the end of the first movie) been played throughout the film, with old familiar hits like “Southern Nights” from Glen Campbell, “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl” by Looking Glass, “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens, “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac, and “Surrender” by Cheap Trick. In addition, to the return of these old songs, Gunn was further displays Star-Lord fascination of being an 80s kid and continuing to refence 80s pop culture icons from his past. In short, if you liked the first movie, for its throwback song selection and culture references of the 80s, you’ll like Vol. 2
In terms of filmmaking, Vol. 2 looks absolutely gorgeous. Granted a $200 production budget ($20 million more than the last film), Gunn utilizes that money in creating a sci-fi wonderland for Guardians characters to play around in. The sets are bigger and more intricately detail, the visuals are more impressive and rendered smoothly (Ego’s planet looks so pretty and beautiful), and practical effects (i.e. hair / makeup and prosthetics) are equally detailed to bring its various alien characters / creatures to life. It also interesting that the movie showcases mostly new locations in Vol. 2 instead of revisiting previous one from the first film. From Ego’s utopian planet to the Sovereign’s futuristic golden home world to the Ravager’s grimy ships, each new location is wonderful detailed and feels somewhat refreshing that to see another part of the cosmic outer space world that the Guardians inhabit. Lastly, the film’s score, composed by Tyler Bates (who composed the score for the first film) does create some sweeping and orchestral pieces that harmonize well with many of the movie’s scenes.
I did notice (I do have mention this for my more younger fans out there) that Vol. 2 has a bit more and mildly swearing / suggestive content than in the last film. This, of course, did bother me, but I’m just putting that out there for my more younger / sensitive Marvel fans out there. Remember Vol. 2 is rated PG-13 for a reason.
Much like the recent Fast and the Furious movies (whether you like them or not), the central theme of Vol.2 revolves around family from either the ones that we were born into and the ones that we were brought into. Pinpointing the subject even further, the main focus / common theme of the feature is centered on “parental father figures”, which is represented with Star-Lord, Gamora, and Nebula from the first Guardians movie. With Peter Quill being the chief protagonist of the tale, the characters of both Ego and Yondu are the two fathers on his life; one being his natural father (Ego) while the other is his adopted father (Yondu), who raised him. Likewise, the Gamora / Nebula rivalry relationship is further explored more in Vol. 2, seeing the two-adopted daughter of Thanos reach a clear understanding for their animosity towards one another while providing an emotional foundation for both of their characters. It will be interesting to see where these characters (Star-Lord, Gamora, and Nebula) go from here as Vol.2 sets the stage for them to delve deeper into more intricate character development plot points in future MCU installments. The rest of Guardians characters fall into the latter selection “family” as Drax, Rocket, and Groot refined their personas from the first one, discovering their strength / weakness / place within this ragtag team of outlaws, misfits, and thieves.
All in all, its solid and favorable underling theme to have in a movie, one that can be sympathized with the characters (and their actions) on a more emotional basis of sentimentality. Of course, with Vol. 2 being a comic book superhero film, this bares that credence even more and ultimately works in the movie favor as it further distance itself from the standard “big, bang, boom” of the common standard of today’s modern superhero films. That’s not to say that there plenty of Marvel superhero nuances to be had in the movie but, for what it’s worth, Vol. 2 is probably the most emotional driven installment within the MCU. Without spoiling it, the ending part of the film is definitely heartwarming gesture of sincerity, which may make people forget your watching a MCU film and there’s more touching drama within a movie that’s branded as a popcorn blockbuster.
Coming off of such a massive hit from critics and popularity with the first film, Vol. 2 does fall into heavy scrutiny from its viewers as being likeable to its predecessor and standing on its own merits. Unfortunately, while I do highly praise this film, Vol. 2 doesn’t walk away unscathed from having some negative criticism. For starters, the movie, despite its positive strengths, doesn’t have the same cohesiveness that the first Guardians films had. Yes, the story seems bigger, more elaborate, and has more character moments, but the story was more tightly woven together, finding a proper balance with all cinematic elements of moviemaking in its undertaking. Vol. 2 suffers from being a bit too loose with its plot as well as splitting up its characters, a sort of common troupe found in sequel films (i.e. The Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek Beyond, etc.). It’s a good tactic for storytelling and character development, but the overall bickering and unity of the Guardians was what made the first movie great and memorable.
In addition, the movie’s second act is a bit sluggish as movie gives a lot of character specific moments to be had, which ultimately makes the film’s middle piece excessively lack. This is made even clear as the film’s duration (a runtime of two hours and seventeen minutes) in comparison to the first film (a runtime of only two hours and two minutes); a fifteen-minute difference between the two….and the first Guardians film had a stronger plot and a lot more to do (i.e. setting up the story, characters, etc.). Again, this somewhat due to the fact that Gunn decides to spilt up the team in the narrative. I state all these facts as I can’t ignore them and point them out to you. However, to me personally, they didn’t bother me as much. Yes, I know the first film was better because it was sort of fresh and new, but Vol. 2 was still a highly entertaining movie for me to watch and fully enjoy. It may not be The Dark Knight to Batman Begins, but Vol. 2 is still a fun and worthy successor than most anticipated sequels (i.e. Iron Man 2, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, etc.).
One of the greatest aspects that made the first Guardians film great was the main characters that made up the Guardians team as well as the actors / actresses behind, who played up their strengths in performing their respective roles. Vol. 2 sees the return of all those main characters in reprising their roles and once again do great work with their characters, lending their talents and overall camaraderie / chemistry. As to be expected, actor Chris Pratt is still great, leading the charge as the team leader character Peter Quill / Star-Lord. Given his rising popularity since the last film (see Jurassic World, The Magnificent Seven, and Passengers), Pratt easily slides back into his role as Star-Lord, still infusing his own charm and likeability into the character as well as continuing to project himself as strong male lead actor in today’s Hollywood world. Like I said in the first film, Pratt has the right balance of humor, heart, and hero that he can easily bring forth within his acting, especially with a character like Star-Lord. As I’ve said in the past, I’m a huge Chris Pratt fan as seeing him as Peter / Star-Lord in the Guardians of the Galaxy films is probably my favorite role of his (that or his character of Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation). To me, Pratt is awesome as Pete Quill and could not imagine anyone else playing Star-Lord in these movies. In short, Pratt is Star-Lord and Vol. 2 just further solidities that knowledge…end of story.
Likewise, actress Zoe Saldana, known for his roles in the recent Star Trek movies as well as Avatar, Live by Night, and Columbiana, returns as the deadly assassin-like green alien Gamora, whose steely determination is matched perfectly with Saldana’s sharp actin tongue and talented poise. Like before, Saldana’s Gamora acts as a great foil for Pratt’s Star-Lord, further playing with the idea of their off-beat romance. Then there’s the characters of Drax the Destroyer, a fan-favorite from the first film, who is played by former wrestler (now turned actor) Dave Bautista. While Bautista has been several films since the first Guardians film (see Spectre, Heist, and Marauders), his character of Drax is (by far) the best role he’s done, especially with his uncanny way of delivering lines and provided some of the best one-liners in the first movie. In Vol. 2, Bautista’s Drax is again the master of the film’s comedy, continuing to be a stand-out role with his character’s humorous banter and obscene yet nonchalant dialogue lines. This is, of course, juxtapose against Bautista’s muscular body-frame and gives his rendition of Drax the Destroyer a very memorable one. Like I said with Pratt, Vol. 2 just further states that Bautista was (and still is) the best candidate to play Drax.
As for the final two returning main characters of the Guardians team, characters Rocket Raccoon and Groot (or rather Baby Groot) continued to serve as the film’s comedy entertainment side, parring off the more serious role of Vol. 2 (i.e. Star-Lord and Gamora). Actor Bradley Cooper, known for his roles in American Sniper, Silver Linings Playbooks, and The Hangover trilogy, continues to further project his own charm within Rocket, a wise-cracking genetically altered raccoon and, like Drax, does deliver some of the film’s more humorous bits and one-liners. Then, of course, there’s Groot, who is adorably cute in this movie and is continue to be voiced by actor Vin Diesel, known for his role as Dominic Toretto in the Fast and the Furious movies as well as Pitch Black and XXX. While Diesel’s gravelly voice is tuned up (higher pitched) for Baby Groot, he still continues to deliver the signature catchphrases of this anamorphic tree humanoid “I am Groot”. The only downside I had with Rocket and Groot in Vol. 2 is that there are, more or less, delegated to being “comic relief” in the feature, especially during the film’s second “problematic” act and not as important as they were in the first Guardians movie. Again, this is only a minor quibble for me.
In addition to the main core Guardians members, several other characters (and their respective actors) return in this sequel, including Michael Rooker as Ravager captain Yondu Udonta and Karen Gillian as the nefarious Nebula. Rooker, known for his role in Mallrats, Cliffhanger, and in the popular TV show The Walking Dead, does bring his own likeable charm as Yondu, who is now a disgraced individual from his fellow Ravager leaders in this picture. In his involvement in Vol. 2 is weighed heavily on the main story thread (again…revolving around being Star-Lord’s adoptive “daddy”) and Rooker gets the job done with ease. I like his character in the first movie and he continues to deliver a fine performance as Yondu in Vol. 2 Additionally, he gets some screen-time with Rocket and Groot. Plus, Yondu does get to have some more crazy scenes with his whistling flying arrow, which are great to see. As for Nebula, actress Karen Gillian, known for her role as Amy Pond in the popular TV show Doctor Who as well as recently seen in The Circle, does a good job in reprising her role as the other “adopted” daughter of the Mad Titan Thanos. As I said before, she and Gamora get to have a large story arc in their relationship in Vol. 2, which sort of does flesh out her character development much more in this movie (and vice versa with Gamora). Gillian has billeted to appear once again as Nebula in Infinity War and in the next Guardians sequel, so it will be interested to see where her character will go from here.
Of all the newcomer players to enter this franchise, the best one has to be the character of Mantis, a new member of the group who has empathic powers, who is played by actress Pom Klementieff. Known for his previous works in Hacker’s Game, Old Boy, and Ingrid Goes West, Klementieff has an awkwardly charming presence in her performance of Mantis, but does so in way that feels genuine and not whimsical. Plus, she shares a lot of screen-time with Bautista’s Drax as the pair’s back and forth banter works well. All in all, while this movie introduces her to moviegoers (Gunn as promised that she’ll be more heavily involved in the next Guardians movie), Klementieff’s Mantis is a welcomed addition to the core team members of the Guardians. As the continuing mantra of selecting seasoned / respected actors to sort of “guest appear” in these MCU films, actor Kurt Russell fills that bill in Vol. 2 as Peter Quill’s long lost father Ego. Russell, known for his roles in Stargate (love that movie), The Hateful Eight, Overboard, and many others, does lend his gravitas acting weight in this movie, bringing his natural talents and charisma to the proceedings in manner that only Russell could do. Unfortunately, like many other villains of the MCU (see Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Doctor Strange, Thor: The Dark World), the character of Ego is a bit unimpressive and weak. Even the villain from the first film (Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser) was more memorable one than Ego. Thus, it’s sort of a “give and take” with Russell’s Ego as I liked the actor who played him (and his nuance performance) rather than the character himself. The same can be said with the other villain found in Vol. 2, with the Sovereign’s High Priestess, Ayesha. Played by actress Elizabeth Debicki, known for his roles The Great Gatsby (the 2013 version), The Man from U.N.C.L.E, and Macbeth, the character of Ayesha (and proximity the rest of the Sovereign people) are more of a cartoony-style comedic relief baddies. Of course, Debicki fills the role quite well as Ayesha is serious and calmly arrogant, which is mirrored by her silky smooth vocal talents but it just feels too underwhelming as she only bookends the feature in the first and third act of the feature.
Before I forget, there are a couple of smaller roles that have to point out from some recognizable actors in the movie. This includes, Sons of Anarchy alum Tommy Flanagan as the Ravager Tullk, Steve Agee as the Ravager Gef, This Is Us actor Chris Sullivan as the Ravager Taserface (haha…the scene with him and Rocket is funny), Laura Haddock returns to reprise her role as Meredith Quill, Sean Gunn also returns (and gets more screen-time) as the Ravager Kraglin, and actor Ben Browder (aka Crichton from the old sci-fi TV show Farscape) makes a small appearance in the film as a Sovereign Admiral.
Additionally, there are plenty of cameos and Marvel Easter Eggs references that are made into Vol. 2, so be on the lookout for them. It may not be noticeable to the causal moviegoers, but diehard comic book fans and / or Marvel enthusiasts (slightly me) will be able to spot them. Lastly, be sure to stick around for the end credits as Vol. 2 has a total of five of these mid-credits scenes, with some that are humorous and funny, while others are foreshadowing events and possible story threads for Marvel’s cinematic universe to eventually pick up. These end credits are spaced evenly apart from one another and don’t diluent the overall joy watching these Easter Egg ending that have grown accustomed in the MCU films
The Guardians are back for another “awesome” adventure to save the galaxy in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2. Director James Gunn sequel film to his 2014 blockbuster hit has a lot to like about, collectively creating a cinematic story of heart, humor, and sci-fi action nuances. While it may just be out of reach of the “magic” that it predecessor had (substituting the narrative to common troupes of storytelling and a minor sluggish second act), Vol. 2 has plenty to offer with dazzling array of visual appeal, humorous bits, character driven moments, and the sounds of Star-Lord’s “Awesome Mix Vol.2”. Personally, I loved this movie (I knew I would). While the first one is slightly better in my opinion, Vol. 2 is still a solid and well-liked sequel follow-up feature, which will please many fans and moviegoers out there. In truth, I haven’t laughed so much at 2017 movie than I did with this one. Thus, I do highly recommend this movie as I’m sure that it will be a fan-favorite of 2017 film releases. With the Guardians gearing up to appear in Avengers: Infinity War (due out in 2018) and with James Gunn recent announcement that he’ll return to direct Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3, it would seem that the adventures of Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, Groot, and the rest of their friends are far from over. Much like what Captain America: Civil War did last summer, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 surely starts the 2017 summer movie lineup with a bang.
4.4 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: May 5th, 2017
Reviewed On: May 5th, 2017
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is 137 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content