By Jack Mansfield
(some mild spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)
I didn’t really know what to expect when I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (James Gunn, 2017). In 2014, the first film about the ragtag bunch saving the galaxy from an evil tyrant was an instant hit: it was like nothing the Marvel Cinematic Universe had seen before, with genuine heartfelt moments, humour that always hit, and one of the best soundtracks in recent years. It’s safe to say that Vol. 2 is all of this, and, in my opinion, even more.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is different from most – if not all Marvel movies before it as it deals heavily with the concept of family and what it truly means to be a family. Of course, other films in the Universe have touched briefly on this (the Thor films and their exploration of the strained fraternal relationship between Thor and Loki is a prime example), but all of the different dynamics between the Guardians is the primary driving force of the film. Vol. 2 continues the story of the bunch of heroes we met (and instantly loved) in the first instalment, but this time develops the characters in their own unique ways; the primary narrative of the film revolves around Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt) and his struggle to deal with finally meeting his father, Ego (Kurt Russell) for the first time. We also get some more humourous (and at times emotional) storylines containing some new and entertaining partnerships, including Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff), the further exploration of the least-sisterly relationship between sisters Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) and my personal favourite, the team-up of Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), Yondu (Michael Rooker), and Kraglin (Sean Gunn).
The film picks up essentially where the original left off; we are still in 2014, meaning that the events of Vol. 2 chronologically take place before the Avengers battled Ultron and everything that followed. Having successfully guarded the galaxy from Ronan, the Guardians are now heroes for hire, so to speak, as the opening scene sees them fight the Abilisk, a frightful monster from another dimension. However, this is no conventional opening scene: Rocket sets up speakers so the Guardians “can listen to tunes” while they fight, and, with the battle underway, Baby Groot connects the cables and we follow him as he dances to the iconic Electric Light Orchestra song ‘Mr Blue Sky’. Like Star Lord dancing to ‘Come And Get Your Love’ in the first film, Vol 2 could not have opened in a better way. It’s these moments where the film doesn’t take itself entirely seriously that really set it apart from other Marvel movies. Where other Marvel properties would show an intense, gruelling fight to open the film, Vol 2 excellently breaks the mould and lets the fight rage on around a dancing baby tree.
You can never go wrong with a bit of ELO in your film soundtrack, but when the first Guardians soundtrack is so iconic, there must have been some pressure to compile a track list of a similar calibre. However, I believe that the songs used in this film are overall better than those in the original: not only are the songs better integrated in the action, being used as more than just transition pieces from one scene to another, they also better suit the various moods throughout the film. The best example of this is probably Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’, which perfectly encapsulates what it means to be a family; from blood relations like Star Lord and Ego, to new families, like the Guardians themselves. In an interview with Rolling Stone, director James Gunn said that “There are two songs that are the most deeply embedded into the fibers of the film… ‘The Chain’ is one because it is about the Guardians, at least in the way we use it, and we use it a couple of times in the movie. And the other one is ‘Brandy,’ which is an incredibly important song in the movie.”
It could be argued that the pace of this film is slower than that of the first instalment, with a large chunk of the 2 hour 16 minute runtime being devoted to developing each of the Guardians. But I much preferred this to the alternative of just heroes and villains beating seven shades out of each other, a theme prevalent throughout most of the MCU to date: Gunn takes the time to prove to the audience that he really knows the characters, and it seems to me that he has a solid idea of where he wants the characters to go, having recently signed on for the third instalment. This is particularly evident in the Rocket-Yondu storyline, where Gunn uses characters who were arguably underdeveloped in the first film and fleshes them out, culminating in a poignant scene where the two usually reclusive characters open up to each other. In fact, Yondu (and by extension Michael Rooker) was in my opinion the standout character in this film, engaging emotionally with Peter Quill and Rocket, and delivering some of the funniest lines in the film.
And the humour is mostly consistent throughout the film. The first act plays out like a buddy comedy, with the Guardians constantly bickering and quipping at each other, with a more of the punchlines hitting than missing: Drax’s acknowledgement that he has “famously large turds” received one of the biggest laughs of the evening. For me, this relentless humour was both a blessing and a curse; the film’s pace can feel a little jarring with it going from hilarious to poignant at the change of a scene, but this doesn’t mean it fails at either mood. Of course, when it does have to be serious, Vol. 2 does this expertly, but it never feels out of place when it throws in a funny line to pick the mood back up (because trust me, this film does get emotional.)
Not only does Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 improve on the first film, it also stands out as one of the best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s certainly one of the funniest, most heartwarming films in the saga, telling one of the most interesting stories we’ve seen so far. I can’t wait to see where James Gunn and Marvel take the characters next.