TL;DR – Volume 2 takes everything from the first film and elevates it with an interesting story, beautiful visuals, and some of the best humour in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but your mileage may vary depending on a couple of factors.
Score – 4.5 out of 5 stars
P.S. There are 5 mid/post credit scenes
Back in 2014 Marvel undertook the biggest experiment yet in this whole expanded universe, it was an ensemble cast which they had not done outside of an Avengers film at that point, its main lead was still a mostly unknown Chris Pratt. Seriously when he was cast he was mostly known as that quirky dude on Parks and Rec, two of the main cast were CGI and one of those only said I am Groot and it was amazing. It was funny, but emotional at places and that opening still makes me tear up, and until Captain America Civil War came along it was my favourite film in the MCU, or maybe still is, I go back and forth a bit here. So it would not be a surprise to say that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 might be the film I was the most looking forward to in 2017. Now this as a reviewer is something you have to be careful with, you need to make sure your rose-tinted glasses are not blinding you to the flaws, or conversely that you don’t hype it up so much that it is a disappointment no matter how good it is. But I have just come from the cinemas and overall I really loved Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but I can also see areas that may put people off. So with this in mind let’s start the review.
So if you missed the first film or just need a refresher, Guardians of the Galaxy is the story of a group of outlaws but they also saved the Galaxy so they are not all the bad who fly around taking jobs from people in need, who can also pay. We have the leader Peter Quill or as he likes to be called Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) a human who was abducted from Earth on the day his mother died and brought up by Youndu (Michael Rooker) a Ravager captain who rather than delivering him to his alien father as planned kept Peter as part of his crew. We have Gamora (Zoe Saldana) who is the estranged daughter (in name only) of Thanos who betrayed him in the last film, and who has an interesting (they try to kill each other) relationship with her sister (in name only) Nebula (Karen Gillan), also someone who you don’t want to upset when she is armed. We have Drax (Dave Bautista) who is, on the one hand, a huge beast of a man who could rip you apart with his bare hands, but also the source of a lot of the humour as his species does not have metaphor so everything is literal and thus there is no filter. Then we have the genetically engineered racoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper/Sean Gun) who was a bounty hunter protected by his bodyguard Groot (Vin Diesel) though this time round the roles might be reversed. In the last film everyone started as individuals with their own agendas but got brought together as a group, they found an Infinity Stone, fought off a Kree fanatic and saved the galaxy from a murderous extermination whilst showing that they were not 100% dicks. But what happens afterwards, what holds a group like this together, this is what Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 explores.
Once again one of the things that shines with Vol. 2 is the cast, because everyone is giving their all and it shows. Star-Lord is a role that is perfect for Chris Pratt because no one has captured that balance of roguish charm since that one scruffy-looking nerf herder. Dave Bautista shows why he is the best thing to come out of WWE since The Rock, with some of the best deadpan delivery of lines that I have seen. Zoe Saldana shows such an amazing range from anger to concern, from joy to sadness, she is fast becoming one of my favourite actors because she always brings her A-game. As well as this, in Vol. 2 we get to meet a couple of new characters like Mantis (Pom Klementieff) who brings this really different energy to the group, and Ego (Kurt Russel) who is well named and well played, but when you hire Kurt Russel that is to be expected. One of the great things of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is that it is an ensemble cast just like the first film and it is great to see all these fun characters. The Ravagers are back with all their quirks, and we actually learn that the Ravager world is much bigger than we first thought. This also means we get to see the wonderful interplay between Yondu and Kraglin (Sean Gunn) as well as some other things that I can’t talk about because it would be giving too much away. It was a delight to see Elizabeth Debicki being simply exquisite in every scene she is in as the High Priestess Ayesha. There were some great cameos, and look you have to love a little Ben Browder in your films, though I think they needed to develop Sylvester Stallone’s character a bit more. Like Civil War, you could not have a film of this scope if the cast is not excellent, and it simply is.
Due to Guardians of the Galaxy being set in space, we, of course, have to talk about the visual effects, and for the most part, they are amazing. Now where you have a team like Weta Digital and Animal Logic working on your film that is to be expected, but still this movie is gorgeous to look at. Seriously some of those wide shots of alien worlds were stunning, the new space ships had interesting designs, the explosions have weight to them, and the effect even helps sell some of the more humorous scenes in the movie. Even the effects-heavy conclusion all works generally quite well and that would have been quite difficult to pull off given all the many moving parts. This is, of course, is complemented by amazing cinematography, the lighting and framing at times were simply on point. As well as this, the work on creating the CGI characters, both Rocket and baby Groot are some of the best I have seen, they feel like real characters, and it is the skills of the animators, the voice actors, and the onset crew that pulled that off.
Now more than any of the Marvel films, bar maybe Ant-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy films fit more into the comedy realm, and Vol. 2 is no exception. Sure most superhero films have their one-liners, and sight gags, but Guardians of the Galaxy incorporates it deep into the core of the film. Part of this, of course, is the writing but it is also the actor’s deliveries that help sell it and make sure the jokes land with weight than a thud. Vol. 2 is funny, not only is it funny it is belly laugh funny, it is the whole cinema coming together as one and laughing funny, and it is brilliant because of that. There are some references and sight gags which I know are going to be racing around Imgur and Reddit in the next few weeks because it has that kind of cultural weight behind it.
Rather than breaking down the story per se, I’m instead going to be talking about the theme of Guardians of the Galaxy because I think this goes to the heart of the story that the film was telling, and if you wish for that not to be spoiled for you then you might want to jump to the next paragraph. So what does it mean to be a family? It is such a simple question but as we all know from life quite often it is not as simple as this. In Vol. 2 we see every character deal with this at some point in the film, whether it is trying to protect baby Groot from itself, finding out you have a biological father (Kurt Russell), or still dealing with the deep and profound loss of your wife and child. Throughout Vol. 2 we see all the different permutations of the notion of family: parents, children, siblings, cranky uncles, workplace proximity acquaintances, and all of these create interesting storylines for the characters. This focus also gives characters a bit more depth because Vol. 2 uses it to delve deeper into what drives them to make choices, for better or worse. While the theme is family and the tone is usually the same light-hearted banter from the first film, I do also have to point out that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a dark film at times, super dark, I think possibly the darkest film so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now, this could be an issue for some people and I think it might be one of the more divisive elements of a Marvel film so far, ok maybe not The Mandarin divisive, but up there. I was honestly surprised at times that people okayed some of the choices, not because I thought they were bad but more that they were very risky in what is a very risk adverse medium.
Now all of this being said there were a couple of things that didn’t quite work for me, and a couple of other areas where I can see people not engaging with it as much as I did. Firstly at the time of writing I have not seen Vol. 2 in 3D so I can’t say if these issues can be found there, but I found a number of the backgrounds on the planet Ego to be very flat, almost like a matte painting behind the actors, which is odd given how much work was put into all the other aspects of the film’s visual effects. As well as this, there were a couple of action sequences were the editing cut a bit too quickly to follow, it’s not as bad as a lot of other action films, but it could have been worked on a bit more and we still have not got that de-ageing through CGI right yet. Now while I really enjoyed it, I can see two aspects of the film that could quite easily move it into love it or hate it for people. Now as I said Vol. 2 gets actually quite dark in some places, surprisingly dark and that could be a deal breaker for you, which I understand. Also, if you don’t engage with the baby Groot quite a lot of the humour and the interplay between the characters is going to fall flat for you.
In the end, I have to say I really liked Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, while it does not quite reach the heights of the first Guardians of the Galaxy it still does a phenomenal job and may be the funniest film I have seen in a very long time. Look as someone who watches a lot of movies it takes something special to have me say this, but I’ll be watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 more than once in the theatres, I enjoyed it that much, I highly recommend it.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – James Gunn
Written by – James Gunn
Based on – Guardians of the Galaxy by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Music by – Tyler Bates
Cinematography by – Henry Braham
Edited by – Fred Raskin & Craig Wood
Starring – Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sean Gunn, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sylvester Stallone & Kurt Russell.
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: na; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13