If you liked this article, please like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and please consider Donating to keep the blog going
It’s good, but then again you probably already knew that. This is a Marvel movie, after all, they’ve ALL been good even the ones that aren’t very good like Iron Man 2 and Incredible Hulk. Thankfully, the evolving experiment that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as the auteur career of director James Gunn give me plenty more to dig into with this sequel than just “is it an enjoyable film.” The whole cast fits naturally and easily back into their roles, and the script manages to find a lot more stuff to do with them beyond the anarchic, rapid-fire comedy of the first film.
The new/elevated characters like Yondu, Nebula, and Mantis all do a great job and are honestly some of the best parts of the movie, even outshining old favorites like Starlord and Groot at times. Kurt Russell absolutely steals the show as Peter’s dad and is one of the best new additions to the MCU. Finally, the more deliberate pacing and smaller, more intimate story-telling may eschew the high octane comedy and novelty of the original but never lose site of the cheeky and subversive spirit the first film had. All that being said, let’s really get into this beast- spoilers to follow.
So, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 picks up about 3 months after the first film, with the Guardians as an awkwardly constructed family unit of mercenaries running around the cosmos taking dangerous odd jobs. However, when their baseline nature as screw-ups gets them in hot water with a deadly and powerful race the Guardians crash-land on a nearby planet and meet Ego, Peter’s dad.
From there the team ends up split as Gamora, Peter, and Drax goes with Ego, the living planet, so that Ego can explain Peter’s heritage to him and try to woo his son back, while Rocket, Baby Groot, and Nebula end up caught up in a mutiny story with Yondu.
What’s interesting about the plot here is that it feels specifically constructed for character interaction rather than action set pieces. The entire movie’s stock and trade is about throwing together character combos to see what happens rather than trying to dazzle us with big set pieces. They still include big stuff, to be sure, especially in the finale when Ego’s evil scheme is revealed (I said spoilers,) it’s just that most of the running time ends up dedicated to smaller scenes.
Even the action sequences are a deliberate shift from the standard for the genre and in particular for the Marvel wheelhouse. This is what I meant earlier when I said the film maintain the subversive spirit of its predecessor- a lot of it seems designed to mess with Marvel movie formula.
The best example I can give of this is the opening credits, which has already been absent from most Marvel films. In this case, the credits sequence is played over a dance number by Baby Groot as the Guardians battle a hideous space monster in the background.
It’s an incredibly sly and cheeky scene that really sets the tone going forward and how much the film isn’t concerned with big, crazy action. This actually fits into a larger trend within the MCU’s Phase 3 of rejecting the overly calculated structure that held back a lot of Phase 2.
Like I said at the start, “Marvel movies are good” is one of the truest statements of entertainment right now but it’s hard to argue that Phase 2 was really an improvement on balance as only 2 movies in that era have become beloved classics- Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy.
The big reason Phase 2 was held back, I find, is that it’s where a lot of the MCU settled into a formula of McGuffin chasing, a CGI army of bad guys, a chatterbox or lackluster villain, and a big final battle with something crazy in the sky. Obviously, elements of that formula can work, but Phase 2 is where they started leaning on it way too much.
Now in Phase 3 Marvel has started actively subverting that formula. Ant-Man’s third act was all about physical comedy, Civil War’s McGuffin was an object of personal importance that completely subverts a more traditional conclusion where the heroes might’ve come together against a bigger threat, and Dr. Strange’s ending sky devastation was playing in reverse. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is drawing from that same playbook, ditching the McGuffin quest, henchmen, and sky phenomenon entirely.
All that’s just cosmetic though, the real hallmark of Phase 3 as a step forward for Marvel filmmaking is that they’ve started using the third act for emotional pay-off instead of just pyrotechnics. For a lot of Phase 1 and Phase 2 Marvel movies, the hero’s journey is actually resolved at the end of Act 2, with the third act climax just there to add the fireworks.
In Iron Man, Tony Stark reclaims his legacy when he blows up the terrorists with his weapons at the end of act 2 and act 3 is just there to wrap up Iron Monger. In Thor, Thor has proved himself worthy of the hammer when he confronts the Destroyer armor and only has to fight Loki because the film needs a climax.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’s third act is where A LOT of the emotional heavy lifting gets done, resolving the various character emotional arcs. The core of these emotional arcs is the pull of blood relatives vs. the family we make for ourselves with Peter Quill as his father Ego is revealed to be incredibly evil. What stands out about this, though, is how much Peter is absent from the film.
Even though he’s the crux of the final conflict most of the movie is content to just let him be off-screen with Ego while we focus on the friendship between Mantis and Drax or the sisters drama between Gamora and Nebula. In a weaker film that could’ve been a real problem but Vol. 2 has a secret weapon to solve that- Michael Rooker’s Yondu.
If there’s a true main character of this movie it is absolutely Yondu. Everyone undergoes a character arc and change, but Yondu’s the one who does the most personal growth and provides a counter-balance to Ego as Peter’s adoptive father. Rooker does a great job selling his character as both a space bastard and a genuinely loving father figure, though it also helps that he’s teamed up with Rocket Raccoon.
Drax and Mantis may be the film’s funniest members and Gamora’s drama with Nebula is indeed moving, but it’s definitely Yondu’s road to accepting how much he thinks of Peter as his own son that holds the film together. It’s a movie about family, specifically Star Lord’s adoptive family, that trusts enough to just show you that surrounding family even as its hub member is off-screen with his biological dad.
Speaking of whom, Kurt Russell absolutely rocks the villain role of Ego, especially his slow transformation from idealized dad to universe threatening maniac. One of Russell’s greatest strengths has always been his ability to sell old school masculinity without winking irony, and he’s turned that charm up to 11 here. There’s a scene where he and Peter actually have a game of catch using their weird energy powers that absolutely wouldn’t work if Russell wasn’t selling it. He also manages to smooth over how incredibly dark Ego’s actions actually are. It’s eventually revealed that Ego has murdered countless scores of his own children and even gave Peter’s mom cancer, which I think is the darkest thing to ever appear in a Marvel movie.
I’ve heard people say of Marvel films, at this point, that they feel more like installments in a TV series that blockbuster cinema and I’d have to agree- only that’s not a bad thing. Superheroes have always worked best in episodic mediums and as film goes boldly into the new media frontier episodism might be the best option for tent pole franchises. Just knowing that the real, status quo heavy lifting was going to take place in Infinity War allowed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to weave a much more personal story without sacrificing any of its high concept elements.
Yes, a lot of it is based on the assumption the viewers are already won over to this universe and care about the fates of Starlord and friends, but assuming that made room to get us to care about Yondu and Mantis. I admit, it’s a risky move to make films this way and they can easily end up jogging in place, we’ve seen that from Marvel before but that is not Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and with all of Phase 3 honestly we’re seeing what Marvel looks like when they evolve and they couldn’t do that if they weren’t building on what came before.
If you liked this article, please like us onFacebook or follow us on Twitter and please consider Donating to keep the blog going