Gauging the hype for James Gunn’s second foray into the MCU was a much more difficult task than anticipated. The Captain America trilogy aside, both Iron Man and Thor (and even The Avengers) succumbed to the dreaded “difficult second album” syndrome. Some were excited for another 2hr 16mins in the company of the Guardians of the Galaxy, whilst others were justifiably hesitant.
The hugely entertaining fantasy-adventure romp, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), was a surprising smash hit at the box office (and in the Failed Critics Awards); and, perhaps more surprisingly, was generally well received by both critics and punters alike. The story of five intergalactic misfits who had to band together to save the Universe from a merciless tyrant holds an impressive 80% on Rotten Tomatoes (from Top Critics) and 8.1 on IMDb. It surpassed most expectations placed upon it and became a word-of-mouth runaway success – which had the adverse effect of heaping the pressure on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
Led once again by the courageous slob, Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), the band of misfits are pursued across space by a golden alien queen (Elizabeth Debicki) and her army of drones. Meanwhile, Peter discovers the truth about his origins from a mysterious stranger named Ego (Kurt Russell) which threatens the stability of his new-found family.
It doesn’t sound a barrel of laughs, but that’s exactly what Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is. It’s as firmly planted in the comedy genre as it is a fantasy or adventure series at this point. The humour is derived from absurd characters (e.g. Drax (Dave Bautista) the enormous warrior who doesn’t understand metaphors), goofy antics, often hilarious one-liner quips and some fantastic physical slapstick.
The opening titles set the tone, picking up where the previous feature left off as a now micro-sized Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) dances around to ELO’s Mr Blue Sky (from the Awesome Mixtape #2 soundtrack) while the rest of the Guardians work together to battle a giant monster from another dimension. It’s silly, it’s fun and it allows the audience to breathe a sigh of relief. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The reluctant superheroes are working as cohesively as you might expect, each briefly reintroducing you to their personality and character-traits, but this explosive characterful six-or-so-minute segment releases the pressure valve immediately. This is the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 that was hoped for.
Unfortunately, along all with the good, all of the exact same hang-ups about the previous movie are carried over into the sequel too. The dialogue is quite honestly appalling most of the time. Witticisms can only carry a movie so far on their own, but when two characters interact with one another, it’s like witnessing an exercise in exposition-cramming. Far too often, the dialogue serves to simply narrate what you can see happening anyway, which adds nothing except additional minutes to an already exorbitant runtime.
This is sure to raise a few eyebrows, but: There are far too many gags. Most of which come at the expense of Drax’s inability to comprehend any non-literal meaning. The hit-rate is still extraordinarily high for a one-note joke, but there are so many that don’t land. After the 9th or 10th repetition of a joke, it begins to lose its lustre. Unlike the previous instalment where the pace was quick enough to dash over most of the flat spaces between more interesting aspects, on repeat viewings of Vol. 2, this is going to cause a problem. A very grating, very annoying problem.
Adversely, whilst Chris Pratt quashed all doubts about his as-then unknown capabilities as a leading man, his influence this time around is fairly insubstantial – it doesn’t help that (rather unusually) he’s as compelling as a sopping sock. Everything worth spending time on within the story happens around Star-Lord, rather than with Star-Lord. For instance, the feud between Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and her PTSD-suffering sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) has an emotional depth that both mirrors and overshadows that between Quill and Ego.
In fact it would be fair to say that the emergent double-act between the blue-skinned space-pirate Ravager, Yondu, and the CGI racoon, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), considerably eclipses the main arc of the movie. Kurt Russell is pretty bad-ass being Kurt Russell, and the appearance of Sly Stallone in the MCU was enough to make me audibly gasp in the cinema, but it was Michael Rooker, another familiar face, that stole the show. It was a stand-out performance with a surprising amount of nuance for what is essentially a farcical space opera. This isn’t a sentence you hear often but the film looks great in 3D – plus it has the added bonus that the glasses can hide your tears when the emotional kicker between Quill and Yondu effectively slaps you in the face.
As for the rest of the supporting cast (and there’s a lot of them), Sean Gunn is granted a beefed up part as one of Yondu’s crew, Kraglin, and runs away with it. Chris Sullivan also plays the mutinous Taserface to perfection in his limited role, proving it’s not just Bautista who can be a big guy with great comic timing. Speaking of Big Dave, his exchanges with Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Ego’s “ugly” sleep-aid, help to save the character from being entirely pointless. There’s heaps of cameos to look out for too, including Michelle Yeoh, Ving Rhames and (according to the credits at least, although I failed to spot him) Rob Zombie.
There are also a few notable absentees. A lack of John C Reilly is a problem for the majority of movies in the 130-year long history of cinema and it was a shame that couldn’t be rectified here. Breaking from convention for the MCU, there’s very little noticeable setup for the Avengers: Infinity War (due out next year) without Josh Brolin cameoing as Thanos – which the Guardians will play a key part in (apparently). Again there has been virtually no interconnectivity between Marvel’s other properties, with zero appearances or hints to any of Earth’s mightiest heroes.
All of this is immaterial when a blockbusting movie like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 can have such obvious flaws yet still make you grin for the entirety. Its bright and vibrant visuals compliment the genuine enthusiasm with which this has been crafted. More often than not, the gags will have you uncontrollably blurting out a laugh. The reinvention of Groot was stupendous and woven into the narrative seamlessly – ignore all threats from the trailer to turn him into an irritating dancing puppet. Baby Groot is flippin’ marvellous.
It’s shockingly gross sometimes. It’s titteringly cartoonish sometimes. But, most of all, it’s an entertaining follow-up that has put to bed any doubt that James Gunn definitely deserves to lead his band of merry oddballs into Vol. 3 and be given a crack at shaping the MCU for the 10 years after it.