The Marvel Cinematic Universe is meant to carry the same tone across all of its films (and it does) and be interconnected. But while some of the movies in the MCU have been forgettable (I’m looking at you, “Ant-Man”), “Guardians of the Galaxy” was always one of the stand-outs. It was fun, the team eccentric and memorable, and didn’t feel weighed down by too much of the hero complex. A few years later and the sequel, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” expands on the story that had been laid out effectively enough. However, not all the jokes land, the plot is a bit wobbly, and it’s sometimes underwhelming, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had and lots of great character development.
Beginning not long after the last film ended, the Guardians of the Galaxy–Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (voice of Vin Diesel)–are in the middle of a mission paid for by the high priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) of the Sovereign planet. Rocket ends up offending her, and her very proud and arrogant people, by stealing a bunch of their batteries. Ayesha then hires Yondu (Michael Rooker) and the Ravagers to capture the Guardians, which later becomes an issue.
Elsewhere, Quill’s father, Ego (Kurt Russell) finally finds him after thirty plus years of scouring the galaxies. It turns out that Ego is a celestial being who has passed on his genetics to Quill and it’s why he managed to hold onto the infinity stone in the last film without dying. His and Quill’s relationship is central to the film and is explored pretty heavily. Meanwhile, Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Gamora have a lot of sisterly tension and conflict to sort through and newcomer, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), assists the team in their new efforts in saving the galaxy when it’s realized that not everything is as it seems.
I appreciated the fact that the film didn’t neglect any of the plot threads introduced in the first movie. Some subplots that may have been slightly forgotten come rushing back as soon as soon as the characters interact. Interestingly enough, “Guardians Vol. 2” winds up developing the characters individually rather than together. This is actually better because we see them discovering things about themselves and it makes them better appreciate their work and relationship as a team in the end. Different team members get to interact with new characters outside of the team and this creates fresh and intriguing dynamics. However, when the team tends to be together, they end up bickering a lot and, while that’s ok because it highlights their differences, it does occasionally go on for too long.
On the slightly more negative side, Ego’s explanation for how he eventually got to Earth and what he does after manages to be a bit more creepy than probably intended. Ego is certainly a fascinating character and his motives fairly basic, but the film never gets the chance to more thoroughly explore it beyond its surface level before moving into the action. It feels much too short-lived and narratively, the plot is a bit clunky in several places. Despite certain shortcomings, Russell and Pratt certainly work really well together, even if their story is just another case of father/son issues (because heroes and their parents can’t have great relationships in these films, it seems).
One of the best and most fulfilling aspects of the film is the conflict between Gamora and Nebula. We know that they have a troubled history and some unresolved issues between them and their father, Thanos. “Guardians Vol. 2” goes a long way in trying to air out their grievances with each other; Nebula in particular, whose hatred for her sister stems from thinking she was always second best. Their conversations are paced out and they argue both verbally and physically. Seeing them interact and have it last more than a few moments is immensely satisfying and creates a multi-layered female relationship in a film that is made up of mostly men.
The movie tries to go the romantic route with Gamora and Quill’s relationship, but like so many of the MCU films before it, it is underwhelming. It’s a larger problem within the MCU and its continued failings in the love department (for reference, watch “Captain America: Civil War”) prove that it needs much more improvement if it’s going to work. What I did like is that Gamora and Quill don’t quite get together by the end. If they had, it wouldn’t have felt earned. But now that it’s been confirmed that writer and director James Gunn is already penning the third instalment, perhaps we’ll get more development between them before they finally seal the deal.
Overall, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is enjoyable, but I’m not sure that it’s better than its predecessor. It has a lot of story to get through and it doesn’t always do that very well. However, the individual development of the characters is what stands out in particular. It’s something the movie does very, very well. The film’s plot is a bit underwhelming if only because it didn’t always flow gracefully. The team needs a little bit of work, but the general character development, action, and visuals at least make up for that. And obviously, so does Baby Groot.
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