Guardians of the Galaxy 2 Spoiler Free Review
Back in 2014 my social media feeds were clogged with memes about Marvel releasing a film that had a talking racoon and Sci Fi Ent as major characters before one about a female super hero. The prevailing viewpoint was that Marvel had started to believe their own hype and that James Gunn was far too untested as a director to make such an insane concept work, let alone tie it into the wider and ever more complicated Marvel Cinematic Universe. AND THEN IT WORKED. Writing was sharp, characters were unique and varied, wit was on point and while the villains were shallow they still had enough badass lines to stand out (YOU CALL ME BOY!)? all with a backdrop of the incredible imagination of the complex and segmented life among the stars. This was supposed to be impossible but there it is. A critical and commercial success, many touted Guardians of the Galaxy as lightning in a bottle and the single most enjoyable film in the MCU landscape so far. So can the same cast, writer, director and production team make lighting strike twice?
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is a wonderful adventure that lets us explore the characters we were introduced to and get some meaningful depth and character arcs for all involved. Witty and visually striking like its predecessor both the cast and director have obviously put a lot of passion into this film. While it takes a more sombre tone more often than the first Guardians movie, it does so to great effect. Guardians 1 was entertainment, it's sequel is art. I wouldn't however go so far as to say either is objectively better than the other, they are both extremely well done films, their simply aiming at different targets.
The first Guardians film was about very little. Different types of loss and suffering and how that can bring people together. Beyond that the only plot point of true note was an explanation for what the Infinity Stones are. Where it had its work cut out for it was in establishing a viewership at all. Make no mistake, this film had to be PERFECT since it was so removed from the standard fare it risked alienating anyone who wasn't already a fan of the cosmic level Marvel comics. The playlist of 80's classics helped. The insane on screen chemistry of the cast helped more. And that's saying something when you consider that 3 members of the cast are a racoon, a tree with 4 words total in the film, and Dave Bautista who no one knew was hilarious. Guardians had to strongly link itself to the MCU while going nowhere near Earth itself or featuring any of the heroes that have established the universe so far and it had to entertain in spades across age and ethnic groups. In this way it was actually hampered with regards to the sort of story and style it could present. With such odd characters and tenuous connection to the established lore it couldn't be overly dramatic or preachy the way Winter Soldier was. It hadn't had the build up to have the epic scale of Avengers and it was too alien to be a character examination like Iron Man. With few options, it went for comedy adventure and DELIVERED.
With its predecessor's success Guardians 2 had the green light to really build on what had been established before and it took full advantage of that. Everyone's character goes through some sort of arc and while we don't get back story details for everyone, we do see how everyone's back story continues to affect them. This is done through some interesting pairings allowing for the exploration of these characters. Gamora and Nebula's relationship is a punch to the gut and Rocket's time with Yondu provides several revelatory moments for both characters. Newcomer Mantis and Drax are by far the funniest but even their time together reveals much of Drax's deeper character insecurities in unexpected ways. A personal favorite feature was that we are never told what Peter's character qualities are, they are only ever shown to us. That continues here as while others may comment on how he SEEMS to be, when he reacts to events and interacts with characters you get a much better picture of who he actually is and what he is all about.
Story and villain are about as flimsy as the first film with just enough going on to keep events feeling like we're leading up to a climax. Once again we get a broadening of the universe with new factions, different sorts of beings and new imaginative locals to delight. It's just as pretty to look at as the last one with plenty of action that plays around with both your adrenaline as well as your funny bone.
It's a bygone conclusion that Guardians of the Galaxy 2 will be a box office success to rival any others in the Marvel landscape. What matters however is whether or not it maintains the strong critical response of its predecessor. Is it surprisingly good the way the first one was? No, because there is no surprise to be had, we know what to expect now. This doesn't mean that it is in any way less well made and presented. Guardians shifts the balance a little away from action and comedy towards deeper character moments and the evocation of emotion. To me it is every bit as good as its predecessor, it's just aiming to hit different targets.