It’s safe to say that having the specter of the first Guardians of the Galaxy looming over Marvel’s sequel, set the bar unreasonably high. Since its 2014 release, it’s been copied and imitated in every imaginable way, with some success (Deadpool), and a whole lot failure (Suicide Squad).
So what did director James Gunn and company have lined up for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2?
1. A sequel that stands alone as a self-contained story
We may be familiar with our main characters by now, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t simply a reshashing of the same old story from the first film. It’s clearly been some time since the events of their last adventure took place, and an intriguing dynamic has taken hold.
We see that play out in a number of ways over the course of the movie, and it makes the film a strong addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the process.
2. It feels far more like a sci-fi romp than a superhero franchise piece
The biggest knock against almost every Marvel Cinematic Universe installment is the unshakable feeling that the story is doing more to set up the next movie than telling a compelling standalone narrative. Because the Guardians saga takes place in a completely different galaxy though, James Gunn is allowed far more freedom to do his own thing as a director.
None of our primary players are “superheroes” per se, as much as they’re an assemblage of outlaws that mostly just want to ensure that the universe doesn’t get completely destroyed. It’s that loose morality that allows them to function more as characters than MCU set pieces, leading to the awesome sci-fi romp that we get in the Guardians sequel.
3. There are moments of true, genuine emotion
You wouldn’t expect a comic book movie that’s mostly a comedy to contain moments of raw emotion, but that’s exactly what Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 gives us. Just below the surface of the main narrative, we see our heroes for who they really are beneath all their big talk and bluster.
Seeing that vulnerability in turn affords us a look at our characters beyond their comic book identities, investing us in their fate in a way no other Marvel movie has managed to accomplish.
4. That said, this could very well be the funniest comic book movie ever made
Even with its more emotional appeal, Vol. 2 fully commits to its status as a comedy, and succeeds in every imaginable way on that front. Physical comedy abounds, strengthened by skillfully written jokes that land almost every single time. It’s not an easy line to walk either, especially in a film that often infuses that lightheartedness into the heavy, somber moments.
Also worth noting, Drax (Dave Bautista) absolutely steals the show as the comic relief.
5. Baby Groot is utilized to perfection
There were worries leading into Vol. 2 that Baby Groot would be used as a gimmicky cute character and little else. Gunn utilizes the diminutive living tree like a sculptor would a chisel though, skillfully including him in key scenes in a way that never feels like it’s too much.
Groot’s antics only occur when they’re necessary to moving the story along, while he remains in the background for the rest of the film.
6. The soundtrack continues to act as a character in and of itself
Marvel is known for spending little time on the soundtracks of their various MCU movies, but with Guardians, an especial level of care is taken. The oldies utilized for the soundtrack, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Awesome Mix Vol. 2, aren’t simply used as flashy set pieces a la Suicide Squad. Rather, they act as context for the action you’re seeing on screen (i.e. what a truly great soundtrack is supposed to do), and in doing so makes for a memorable musical experience.
7. The opening scene is Guardians at its absolute best
From the second we see our heroes reunited in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, we’re immediately invested. That first battle is an absolute joy to watch, set to Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky,” as the Guardians go toe-to-toe with a giant inter-dimensional monster.
As io9 wonderfully describes in their own review, “the scene is a delight. It’s perfect. It’s everything you expect from a Guardians of the Galaxy movie written and directed by James Gunn. It’s filled with humor, action, beautiful visuals, audacious choices, and killer music. Instantly, you’re as connected to these misfit heroes just as you were in the first movie, just as they are to each other.”
8. The difficulty (and relative success) in handling Ego the Living Planet
Vol. 2 takes some creative liberties from Marvel’s comics in making Ego the Living Planet, who is Star-Lord’s father. That said, it’s a plot point that somehow works wonderfully. We won’t go deep into spoilers, but we will say this: Gunn and company handled the on-screen depiction of a powerful, living, sentient planet with a face better than anyone could have possibly hoped for.
9. There’s a bit of drag in the story toward the middle of the movie
If there’s one thing that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 had working against it, it was a fair bit of story drag in the middle act. This was around the time our heroes split up and spread across multiple locales. It’s there that we see the almost 2-hour and 20-minute runtime really rear its head. Even so, we also spend those down moments getting to know more about our individual characters.
We get a glimpse into Star-Lord’s hang-ups concerning his father, Gamora’s spotted relationship with her sister, Rocket’s tendency to drive the ones he cares about away, Drax’s feelings of loss over his fallen family, and fascinatingly, Yondu’s complex morality.
So while the momentum does slow down considerably, we’re at least spending that time well.
10. So, how does it measure up against the rest of the MCU?
Not every reviewer will probably agree with this, but in our own humble opinion, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the best MCU movie to date. It truly has something for everyone: comedy, emotion, action, music, and lots more.
More than all that though, it’s finally a Marvel movie that’s not just all about what’s coming next, choosing to instead focus on what’s happening in the here and now. And that’s worth more than anything every other film in the franchise has offered so far.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickNorthwest
Check out Entertainment Cheat Sheet on Facebook!