Release date: 28th April 2017/Watch the trailer here
When you consider the two main components that made Guardians of the Galaxy such a surprise success in 2014 – writer and director James Gunn and fantastic chemistry between the cast – it was inevitable that Vol. 2 would be another certified success (albeit far less of a surprise one) for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, given that Gunn and his Guardians were all returning.
Vol. 2 opens pretty much exactly as one would expect: with the Guardians of the Galaxy – led by Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill (although he would prefer you to call him Star-Lord) and made up of Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) – fighting off a giant, tentacled alien, soundtracked to the first song from Peter’s Awesome Mix Vol. 2 (‘Mr. Blue Sky’) of many more to follow.
What’s unexpected, however, is Vol. 2‘s departure from the standard Marvel formula: okay, yes, there may be another all-powerful villain with the destruction of the galaxy on their mind – but at its core, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a warm and often emotional character study. There was always an underlying message about family that ran through the first film, but it’s at the forefront in the sequel. The trailers for Vol. 2 have made no secret of the reveal that Kurt Russell is Star-Lord’s elusive father (Ego; a celestial being with his own planet), but it’s not just this father-son bond that the film focuses on. There’s the troubled relationship between sisters Gamora and Nebula (Karen Gillan), a blossoming friendship between Drax and newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and an unexpected connection between Rocket and returning character Yondu (Michael Rooker); as well as the ups and the downs of the various relationships between the Guardians themselves. Gunn has taken the advantage of his audience already feeling like they know these characters well and used it to develop them in unpredicted ways, giving the film the sort of emotional heart that comes as such a welcome surprise from a sci-fi superhero sequel.
The only downside to this character-driven approach is the negative impact it has on the film’s plot, or lack thereof. By the time things start to happen in terms of a villain and (of course) a situation that requires the Guardians to save the galaxy once again, it comes as something of a shock that you’ve been watching the film for ninety minutes with no real idea of the direction it’s going in. Even so, that’s not such a bad thing, since Vol. 2 is never anything less than entertaining: it’s more than enough just to get an opportunity to revisit these wonderful characters and spend a couple of hours with them.
Something else that’s just as integral to Guardians of the Galaxy as its soundtrack of ’70s and ’80s classics and the words ‘I am Groot’ is its sense of humour. The laughs in Vol. 2 may not always come quite as naturally as they did in the first movie, but they’re just as present throughout. The surprise standout is the straight-talking Drax, with much of the humour coming from him and his hilariously sweet friendship with Mantis, but every character is given an equal opportunity to shine. Thankfully, the fears that the adorable Baby Groot would be overused to the point of annoyance were unfounded – although it should come as no shock that many of the film’s funniest sequences feature Baby Groot at the centre.
And while there’s at least one set piece in Vol. 2 that surely deserves to feature in the MCU hall of fame, it’s undoubtedly the best-looking film that Marvel has made to date. It’s a spectacle from start to finish, told entirely in vibrant colours and creating intricately detailed planets and the people that populate them, yet always anchored in its extravagance by its main characters.
Vol. 2 may never manage to reach the heights of Guardians of the Galaxy (though it would have had to reach pretty high to do so), but it makes for a fresh entry in the occasionally stale MCU – and it’s ridiculously good fun in the process, leaving you with the same giddy sense of happiness that only the Guardians of the Galaxy could elicit.