Marvel Studios showed its true muscle in 2014 with “Guardians of the Galaxy”. It was an intriguing undertaking that required either a lot of risk or a lot of confidence. Maybe a little of both. Regardless, the gamble paid off. “Guardians” was a surprise hit and introduced a new set of players to “Phase Two” of Marvel’s cinematic universe.
But why was it a gamble you ask? I wouldn’t go as far as to call the Guardians an obscure band of characters from the comics, but they were a far cry from Marvel’s heavy-hitters. Yet they tossed in $200 million and hoped their broad vision was established enough to ensure success. It proved to be money well spent. Audiences went wild and the box office results reflected it.
I wish I could say I was onboard the love train, but the first “Guardians” film, while good, wasn’t without problems and it left me with no lasting impression. That’s why I wasn’t gushing with anticipation for its inevitable sequel. But now “Guardians Vol. 2” has landed to equally loud applauds and equally loud “cha-chings”. Once again James Gunn writes and directs a film that works really hard to recapture the offbeat vibe of its predecessor. But at the same time there is a conscience effort to inject more heart into the characters and their storylines. Both attempts are hit-or-miss, but thankfully more ‘hit’ than ‘miss’.
All the main characters return: Chris Pratt’s Peter “Star-lord” Quill, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, Dave Bautista’s Drax, the Bradley Cooper-voiced Rocket, and the (barely) Vin Diesel-voiced Baby Groot. We are reintroduced to them as they take on a giant space monster as part of a deal with a golden group known as the Sovereigns. But Rocket’s sticky fingers gets them in trouble with the Sovereign leader (Elizabeth Debicki). Just as the Guardians are about to be wiped out they are rescued by a mysterious man named Ego. He’s played by Kurt Russell who I couldn’t help but constantly chuckle at not because he jokes, but because…well it’s Kurt Russell in a very…unusual role.
Gunn tosses in quite a few angles. The team gets separated, Yondu returns (via a great supporting performance from Michael Rooker), we get more about the Ravagers, Gamora’s vengeful sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) causes a stink. Impressively, all of these moving parts (plus a few) come together fairly seamlessly. That’s saying a lot because the film sports an insanely busy script. This is made more evident with the movie’s attempt to (for lack of a better word) humanize the characters.
One of my complaints with the first film is that a barely offered any backstory to the characters which truly are the heartbeat of this series. Volume 2 seeks to rectify that to some degree. There are some really nice moments that add some needed depth to this wacky band. The best ones are the smaller insights into some of their pasts which help to explain certain anti-hero ways. Peter and Gamora get bigger backstory treatments, much of which is good, but sometimes a bit on the nose. Still it all works together to feed the film’s biggest running theme – family.
It also seemed like every main character had to be given their own serious moment of self-reflection. It’s here where things get a bit stilted and sometimes downright corny. Some of these scenes work, other times not so much. The same can be said for the comedy. Yes I know the wacky sense of humor is what fans love most about these films. But much like the first one, the jokes sometimes make a splash but a lot of times land with a thud. Ultimately the clever gags get lost among the broader, lamer humor – a potty-mouthed raccoon, jokes about ‘turd’ sizes, etc. Oh, and then there is the steady 60s and 70s music gag that Gunn milks dry. Hard not to love the tunes though.
Much like the first film, I wouldn’t call this film’s antagonist ‘cool’ or particularly memorable. But there is an effort to give this one more weight. It works…kind of. And then there is the ending – the moment when every conceivable rein is handed over to the CGI and sound team. It’s loud, frantic, and it flirts with a “Man of Steel” level numbness. Yes it’s pretty much the common Marvel formula but ‘whew’.
And yet, while issues remain, “Guardians 2” does make strides in the right direction. Attempts to make the characters more than incessant joke boxes pays off (for the most part) and despite the humor’s inconsistency there are some truly funny moments. Also the characters still pack enough charm to hold your affection. The visual effects are a treat (and there are a ton of them). But perhaps what I’m drawn to the most is movie’s cosmic setting. It genuinely feels unique among the huge catalog of Marvel movies. But even with this uniqueness, its playful tone, and fun characters “Guardians 2” follows in the footsteps of its predecessor and still misses the mark of greatness.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS
I’m surprised you gave it such high rating after reading your review. I love the original and was pretty disappointed with this movie. My biggest problem was losing the team dynamic and splitting them up. It exposed any weaknesses in the original which were covered by the team chemistry and mixture of characters
I know, right? This was a tough review to finalize. I’ve second guessed the 3.5 since I first scored it. I finally just posted it. There’s something about these two movies that I just can’t go for. On the other hand I love what they aim for. Sigh… I simply don’t know how to sum up my thoughts in a score. Does that sound weird?
I can relate. I really struggled with my grade and whether it was smile worthy. I finally decided I felt more negative than positive so it had to be frown worthy even with good parts. It was tough
Yep. I was all over the place while watching it. Never knew where I would finally land. I need to get over and read your take on it.
I liked the film I think a lot more than you did as I knew it wasn’t going to be good as the first but seeing those characters is a lot of fun. Plus, I really think they should try and give a consideration for Michael Rooker who gave a hell of a performance in that film.
I actually liked this one a bit better that the first one. I never fully understood the huge love for it. I think Rooker is one of the main reasons. He basically steals the show.
His character arc I think is what made the 2nd film work as you get more answers about his relationship with Quill.
I’m about where you are. I like the Guardians, but I don’t love them like I do the Avengers. This film I think did a lot of right by everyone except Peter and his deus ex machina powers. It was messy. Fun, but messy.
Yep. I thought it was pretty messy myself. I just don’t have the same reaction most people seem to have with it. Both movies have flirted with being great. They just fall short for me.
I enjoyed this film and Marvel’s clear attempt to be a bit more original. It also had some sharp dialogue. They can’t hide that there is barely a plot, but it was a fun watch.
I actually struggled with some of the dialogue. For me it felt a big cheesy and on the nose at times. Still there is something I enjoy about the setting. I’m with you – original is a good word. I just wish I went more for it as a whole.
Hi Keith, a fair review. Guardians of the Galaxy 2014 was heaps of fun; to me it had heart and was more cohesive as a story; I was disappointed with Volume 2 in that sense but it was possibly more thematically and emotionally rich than the first, even with the overblown action and other flaws you mention.
Thanks for reading and commenting. I do like several things about this series but as a whole I still struggle connecting with it in the same way others have. This one surprised me with some things but did some of the same things from the first film I just didn’t care for. Still entertaining which is the biggest thing.
While I found both this and its predecessor to be fun, I think I liked the first film a bit more. As Matthew above stated, it had a more cohesive story and honestly, despite where this one tried to go (and it had way broader emotional themes), the original had more heart to it. This one seemed to try and recapture some of the same gags, (ie… Baby Groot, the music) but none of it resonated as well with me. I did still have fun with it though and like these movies more than Age of Ultron, either of the Thor movies, and Dr. Strange.
It did seem to be trying REALLY hard to mimic what drew most people to the first film. Gunn clearly knows what people liked about his first movie. Don’t think he quite got there. Still, as someone who likes but doesn’t love these movies, I still had enough fun with it.
Man, said it perfectly. I tell ya what I’ve been struggling to even write a sentence about this thing since it all felt so homogenously like the first. Some added depth here and there, and I definitely agree these characters in and of themselves make the movies what they are. The stories I’ve found to be pretty dire though, and what they did to Kurt Russell in this movie is just, well. ….. Lol on that one
Yes! Exactly! I have no idea how to feel about this thing. The more I think on it the less confident I am on the score. I finally just slapped a number on it. I know I’m not as big a fan as most seem to be. I do like its outer-space setting and the tone it shoots for. But there are far too many hiccups I can’t get past.
Great review Keith! I think I enjoyed this a little more than you but it didn’t blow me away like I was hoping it would. Funnily enough, I was dragged to see the first one and loved it, so expectations definitely played a big factor for me!
I can understand that. Expectations have definitely played into many letdowns for me over the year. My expectations for this one were really mixed.
Nicely balanced review Keith. I enjoyed the first one so it seems right to give this one a go.
Thanks a lot. It was a tough one to nail down. Ultimately I did enjoy it. Just not as much as most.
Sometimes it good not to agree with everyone, going against the grain is fine.
I found this one average. Aimless is the word I used for the first hour or so, though I can appreciate the attempts at character-building. Like you say, some of it is extremely forced in that department, however.
Yep. It doesn’t always feel natural. You can absolutely tell the we’re trying hard to character-build.