Around the time the MCU began to grow tiresome for many, 2014 brought a number of welcome changes to the superhero formula, chief among them being the original Guardians of the Galaxy. Blending science fiction aesthetics with smart Huron and a surprisingly deep cast of characters, the first became a surprise hit of its summer, and created a formula that many films to this day have tried and failed to emulate. And while Volume 2 could easily have gotten away with repeating the tricks that made its predecessor popular, the biggest surprise is how much the film benefits from forgoing the expected super-hero tropes, instead offering a deeper and more emotional story that will stick with you long after the cuteness of baby Groot.
Taking place 4 months after the events of the previous film, Volume 2 serves more as a continuation of the previous film than a sequel, as the film focuses on the lingering questions of the first installment, while growing the characters from where we left them off. This time around, the guardians are already established, well renown for their actions and allowing the film to be less about how the team comes together, and instead is about how they manage to stay and grow together in the face of adversity.
This kind of material is often let down by average or otherwise uninspired writing, and thankfully the original returns to prove they are more then up to the task. For a film so frenetic and colorful, Guardians spends a lot of time giving characters quiet moments to talk and grow, with many of the best scenes being the interactions between characters like Yondu and Rocket, Gamora and Nebula, and Starlord and newcomer Ego. The arcs the characters go through also feel fresh, extending from where we left them and adding more layers that will leave audiences wanting to revisit the original film for comparison.
But even though there’s plenty of emotional weight on display, Volume 2 doesn’t fall short when it comes to action. Moreso then the first film, there’s a greater variety of action, from the comedic early encounter with a giant interdimensional monster, to a prison break sequence with Yondu, to the film’s large and spoiler-filled ending (trust me, it’s great). Despite plenty of drama near the end, most of the action is lighthearted and full of the film’s trademark comedy, clearly establishing the film’s focus on a fun, lighthearted affair that anyone can enjoy.
And yet, despite all of these things to praise about Volume 2, it’s really the acting on display that once again steals the show. Chris Pratt once again proves he’s leading man material, charming and likeable while able to switch to dramatic in a realistic manner. The other guardians hold their own as well, with the best scenes often going to side characters like Rocket and Baby Groot (whom the film thankfully doesn’t spend an exuberant amount of time with), with special mention needing to be made of Michael Rooker’s Yondu, who turns what was a charming foil for the guardians into the emotional core of the film. Likewise, Kurt Russel shines as Ego, and is one of Marvel’s more nuanced and interesting characters, but in ways that unfortunately are hard to dissect without getting into spoiler territory. Let’s just say Ego’s mystery and relationship Peter and the other characters manages to continually surprise and remains engaging, even after several late revelations.
When talking about the original films it’s hard not to bring up the ingenious handling, and general enjoyment, of the film soundtrack “Awesome Mix #1.” But while many are expecting an equally extravagant track listing, which it certainly offers through hits like ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” and Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”, the film’s soundtrack actually gets more mileage out of obscure of one-hit-wonder songs of an important era in the film’s opening. The use of these songs is also improved, now called out for important character moments, such as Ego describing his relationship with Starlord’s mother through the Looking Glass hit “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)”. This allows the songs to stand out less as a fun addition to the film, like in the first Guardians, and more as an extension of the emotional journey of the movie and its characters, and in turn the audience (for anyone who wasn’t already affected by Cat Stevens “Father and Son”, buckle up). Needless to say, it enhances the film in a meaningful and profound way, while still being an amazing soundtrack that you’ll likely go straight to iTunes for once the film’s over.
What flaws the film has don’t keep it from being a fantastic sequel, but they are unfortuately noticeable enough to be worth mentioning. For starters, the marketing for the film has done a great job of hiding a lot of the film’s plot and keeping everything a surprise, but certain elements like the villainous Sovereign and their leader Aesha feel half-baked, serving more as plot devices and set ups for future films, all be it fun ones. Additionally, while all of the relationships are well handled, some feel like they could have used more time and attention, specifically the scenes between Nebula and Gamora. To be clear, actresses Karen Gillian and Zoe Saldana are excellent togtether, and make the most of their scenes, it’s just a shame we didn’t get more time to explore their history.
Volume 2 surpasses its original film through a combination of understanding what made the first movie so great, while never serving to just repeat the original’s bag of tricks. What’s perhaps even more impressive is just how well the film manages fun and emotion, with their being just as many moments of calm and reflection to keep the frantic action and comedy that much more frantic and enjoyable. Those going in expecting another super hero film are in for a shock, as the many comendavle qualities of Guardians manages to put itself above and beyond even the best the genre has to offer. The summer couldn’t have started off stronger, with a film that even as a sequel is something we rarely see in films anymore: real, earned heart.
Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 9.5 Hasslehoffs out of 10