In this age of remakes, reboots and sprawling cinematic universes, 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy was that rare thing, an original movie that so effortlessly ingrained itself into modern popular culture with good old fashioned charisma, vintage retro pulp sci-fi and a playlist of asynchronous pop music that has forever been doing the rounds on Radio 2.
When it comes to sequel building, most will always go the bigger and better route, returning with bigger production budgets, more characters, bigger stars, and more spectacle sometimes at the expense of what made it’s predecessor so successful and defined. What is clear from the get go with Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is a palpable sense of self assured confidence that seemingly amplifies each and every component of the movie’s makeup that builds on what was set up in the first movie.
The movie begins with a prologue sequence in which we see Ego (Kurt Russell) gallivanting around rural America with Meredith Quill, soon to be mother of Peter Quill. It’s almost spooky to see Kurt Russell in his full 80s splendour, complete with free flowing mullet, it’s perhaps even stranger to see him posed not as the stone cold Carpenter-esque bad ass but more of a loved up hippie interested in growing alien plants in secluded parts of planet earth that may or may not become important later on.
36 years later across the other side of the universe, the Guardians of the Galaxy prepare to face off an inter dimensional monster that has picked up a habit of feeding off a bunch of precious energy resources belonging to a stuffy all-gold elitist race of people called the sovereign. Once again, forming the guardians, you have Peter Quill, aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). In any other movie of this ilk, this would be the big opening action spectacle, but the action becomes secondary to a song and dance number performed to Mr Blue Skies. It’s a near perfect tone from which to start.
After an escalation of events, the Guardians crash land their ship on a remote planet and meet Ego and his accomplice Mantis (Pom Klementieff) who introduces himself as being Star Lord’s long lost father. Ego invites Peter to return to his home planet where he can explain absolutely everything about his mysterious heritage. And so Starlord, Gamora and Drax head off with Ego, whilst Rocket and Baby Groot are left to repair their downed spacecraft. Meanwhile a lofty bounty is placed on each of the guardians’s heads and they are hunted by the space pirates or ‘ravagers’ led by Yondu (Michael Rooker).
Confidence is an attractive quality in a person, as Guardians 2 proves it’s equally attractive in a movie as well.
Through the film’s imaginative opening act, the movie is throwing so many weird and wonderful sci-fi ideas at you. It reminded me of early Star Trek not to mention Doctor Who new and old. You have the opening fight with a tentacled inter-dimensional monster, the introduction of an elitist race of people who control their armada of spaceships by a kind of 80s video game arcade. There is a quantum asteroid field that playfully riffs on the asteroid field chase of that other space opera sequel. All these things, are just the tip of the ice berg compared to what the film has in store in it’s second act.
All the way, the movie is a visual treat – see it in the biggest cinema screen you can! There is so much detail in it’s visuals, not only was I astounded by the sheer colours of everything popping out at you, there were times I became transfixed by the smaller details, the floor of Ego’s palace to name just one. We’re used to seeing the used universe of Star Wars or the clean and futuristic setting of the Star Trek movies, but Guardians feels more than any other marvel movie or any movie based on a comic book as if it has leaped straight out of a page.
Each of the guardians is strong. Chris Pratt is the lovable doofus at the centre of the film trying earnestly to take up the mantle of a kind of father of the group. There is something of a smouldering romance with his character and Zoe Saldana’s character, even if nothing really happens between them.
Baby Groot does probably steal the show, radiating adorableness every time he is on screen. He essentially serves as the heart of the group, being passed around amongst the members to stand on their shoulders reinforcing the theme of family and parenthood that is crucial to the movie’s composition. Ironically, Vin Diesel is probably providing a more effective treatise on ‘family’ than he did in the latest Fast & Furious movie!
Rocket as voiced by Bradley Cooper remains sarcastic and borderline psychotic, but the plot once again finds ways to explore past the character’s veneer. Drax remains my personal favourite, Dave Bautista once again proves to be so much more than just a burly muscle man. Drax is as dry and direct as ever, but again his interactions with Mantis unlock some hidden layers to his character that once again just makes more of the character.
Special mention has to go to Karen Gillen, who returns as Gamora’s sister Nebula, it’s so hard to believe she was once the all pouting Amy Pond in Doctor Who – being so unrecognisable as Nabula, this bald blue part cyborg alien. One particular moment allows her to dive deep into the character’s tragic backstory. I think Karen Gillen might just be a genius.
Kurt Russell is an effective bad guy, even though he does suffer from the usual Marvel villain problem. He is just an obstacle for the film to overcome. He is obviously the perfect person to play Star lord’s father and although his performance does have a lot of range, I was left wishing there was more of him, but I’m of the opinion that more Kurt Russell is always a good thing. Just beware that Michael Rooker as Yondu is actually Volume 2’s greatest weapon.
There are a few problems of course. Niggles really. Though the visuals are dazzling, at points I did get taken out of the action somewhat when I noticed the movie was routinely falling back on the characters being confined upon these circular platforms, where stuff happens around them which has been been added in during post production providing an air of intangibility to proceedings.
The overall plot is a little hokey, leading to a fairly standard explosive third act finale in which the guardians must save the universe from destruction through great cosmic forces. However, the same could also be said about the first movie.
It’s a movie that also wears it’s 80s pop culture references on it’s sleeve. From the soundtrack, to the casting and the dialogue. This is a movie that stars both Tango and Cash after all, however there is an awfully jarring moment, in which a cameo of a certain 80’s icon creates a bizarre tonal shift during what is arguably the film’s darkest moment. It’s like they couldn’t wait to feed you another reference, another joke based on the familiar. Did Star Lord really grow up in a world where there was no Big Trouble in Little China? No Rambo? This is probably not worth thinking about.
Fortunately where Guardians Vol. 2 really excels is by focusing on it’s core characters and strengthening the bonds between them. The first Guardians excelled in introducing you to these z-list comic book characters, without the need (as with the Avengers) of each of them having their own movie that leads up to their inevitable teaming up. You can watch Guardians without having seen the rest of the Marvel movies.
I hasten to call Guardians 2 a space opera. I suppose it is. There is this big epic fight between good and evil, and it is established that Peter Quill does have something of an Oedipal complex when it comes to his parentage.
Guardians 2 does have more than a few cues to the Empire Strikes Back, with this being the middle chapter of what will probably end up being a trilogy, a middle chapter that deals prominently with the f-word, in how it explains the relationship between Peter Quill and his estranged father Ego, not to mention his surrogate father Yondu.
It also splits the core members of the guardians up for large sections of the movie, allowing the characters to breathe by themselves a little more. Though it isn’t as dark as the original Star Wars sequel, and in the end the stakes to become a whole lot bigger than what was at stake in Empire. That said, the note on which the film chooses to end is surprisingly sombre and heartfelt.
The visual inspiration of the movie’s final moments is obviously clear to see. One feels this is likely the low before we next see the Guardians team up with the existing Marvel universe in the next Avengers movie. It is however a quietly powerful way to close what has been a genuinely fun movie. It only works because the characters work. However, if you’d prefer not to dwell in tragedy, the Guardians 2 has five additional lighter endings bolted on throughout the credits sequence, which you should totally stay behind in the cinema to see from start to finish.
A supremely confident return to form for the Guardians of the Galaxy. Volume 2 brings a greater sense of scale and imagination with it’s pulp sci-fi visuals and setting, whilst further incorporating it’s retro-pop culture influences with greater finesse and cementing a greater degree of concentration on character and what makes each of the guardians tick. Though the big screen spectacle is dazzling and sometimes dizzying to behold, Volume 2 never loses sight of it’s characters and the ties that bide them together within this vast and colourful universe.