Directed by: James Gunn
Premise: A sequel to the 2014 film. Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and his group of outlaw friends are pursued by an alien race. In their escape, Peter discovers the truth about his father which has implications for the rest of the galaxy.
What Works: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues most of what was successful about the first film. This movie is a lot of fun. That’s partly to do with the camaraderie between the core set of characters. They work extremely well as an ensemble; everyone is a distinct character and their differing attitudes and personalities simultaneously contrast and complement one another. The cast is also likable because the story consistently creates scenarios in which these people go out on a limb to save each other. That makes them heroic and it strengthens the bonds between them. Also carried over from the first film is the sense of humor. The Guardians of the Galaxy films have a light touch and a whip smart comic sensibility; there are more laughs to be found in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 than in a lot of straightforward comedies. Much of the humor is due to the unique style of filmmaker James Gunn who is both the writer and director of these pictures. Gunn is a filmmaker with a distinct voice and it is impressive the way that he’s maintained that voice in a Hollywood tentpole production. Although Guardians of the Galaxy is a big budget sci-fi action picture that is part of a larger franchise, this film has a lot of wacky details that give it a distinct personality. That’s especially apparent in the supporting characters of Vol. 2 who are the real stars of the show. Most impressive is Yondu, again played by Michael Rooker. Yondu is revealed to be a more nuanced character and his relationship with Peter Quill has some surprisingly affecting moments. Also returning from the first film is Karen Gillian as Nebula. She is given a bit more to do in the sequel and her relationship with Gamora (Zoe Saldana) goes in interesting and unexpected directions. New to the cast is Kurt Russell as Ego. The Marvel films have suffered from villains who were simplistic and not very interesting but Ego is different. His relationship with Peter is complex and gives the climax some gravitas. Vol. 2 possesses a subtext about family and the trauma of abusive or neglectful parents that gives the movie more dramatic weight than we usually find in a comic book adventure film.
What Doesn’t: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is too overstuffed for its own good. The storytelling of the sequel is more coherent than it was in the original film but the action of Vol. 2 is sometimes too frantic. The camera movement, the arrangement of characters and objects in the frame, and the assembly of shots does not always make sense and the filmmakers jump so quickly from one image to the next that that they occasionally lose a sense of continuity. The original Guardians of the Galaxy was a surprise. The property was unfamiliar to most viewers and the tone and characters were so gonzo that the film stood out in the bloated comic book movie marketplace. That surprise isn’t recaptured. This is not necessarily a fault of the sequel but the storytelling of Vol. 2 comes up short in its failure to advance its characters individually or as a team. Part of what worked so well about the original Guardians of the Galaxy was the way it brought the group together. The second film never quite develops them as a coherent team. Peter Quill and Gamora’s romance is still unrequited, the competition between Peter and Rocket is not really resolved, and there is an animosity between Groot and Drax that’s unclear. The characters leave this film having done little to advance their own stories or cohere as a group and so the film falls short of its duties as a second chapter of a trilogy.
Bottom Line: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a great piece of entertainment. It’s not the surprise that the first film was, but that’s probably impossible to recapture. Vol. 2 stumbles a bit in its storytelling but it is great fun that is also surprisingly substantive.
Episode: #647 (May 14, 2017)