It’s not the first time I’ve used the phrase “difficult second album” to describe the second movie in a series, but it’s hard to imagine a movie that it applies more aptly to than the sequel to Marvel’s unexpected hit Guardians of the Galaxy. And the end result, well, doesn’t appear to have been particularly difficult at all.
Opening a couple of months after the ending of the first movie, the incessantly bickering Guardians are taking advantage of their new-found fame to hire themselves out as problem solvers to the galaxy at large. Recruited by the Sovereign race to protect valuable batteries from an interdimensional monster that likes to eat them, things rapidly go sideways when Rocket’s larcenous tendencies get the better of him, and before they know it, the Guardians are on the run again. Complicating matters are Gamora’s estranged sister Nebula, turned over to the Guardians by the Sovereign as part of the deal, Ravager leader Yondu, facing mutiny from within his own ranks because of his perceived weakness when dealing with Peter, and Ego, Peter’s long-missing father, who comes looking for his son.
At first glance, it’s fairly apparent that writer/director James Gunn has approached the sequel with a fairly sensible “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra. The ingredients that made the first one such a blast to watch are pretty much all present and correct. Offbeat action and epic levels of snarkiness are once again backed by a carefully selected soundtrack drawn from the best of the sixties and seventies. On a basic level, more of the same is the order of the day and, given how well it worked last time, this is most certainly not a bad thing.
Gunn, however, isn’t content to simply cover the same ground and chooses to focus the emotional core of the movie on the concept of family, both of the Guardians themselves as a dysfunctional family, but also Gamora’s relationship with Nebula, who gets some of the more emotional moments as we learn more about their upbringing, and Peter’s contrasting relationships with his newly-found biological father Ego and Yondu, who raised him after taking him from Earth.
The movie is, like its predecessor, a huge amount of fun to watch. The cast are clearly having enough fun that it seems mildly unfair that they’re getting paid for it and have a solid, if quirky chemistry that carries the film over any weaker patches. Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana pick up neatly where their characters left off, but both display some development – Peter is trying to be more responsible, while Gamora is doing her best to lighten up a bit. Dave Bautista’s Drax gets most of the best lines with his bull-in-a-china-shop approach to social interaction, Bradley Cooper’s Rocket is still a loose cannon, but cares far more about others, no matter how much he tries to hide it, and the, frankly, ludicrously adorable Baby Groot gets to headline a couple of key sequences, including the opening credits, and steals most of the other scenes anyway. Kurt Russell’s roguishly charming Ego neatly handles most of the movie’s exposition without making it feel wearing and both Karen Gillan and Michael Rooker find new depths in characters that were fairly one-note in the original. Pom Klementieff provides a sweet innocence as Ego’s lonely sidekick Mantis. Elizabeth Debicki has to cope with a relatively underwritten role as Ayesha, leader of the Sovereign people, but proves an effective enough presence as she pursues the Guardians to get her revenge. And Sylvester Stallone shows up in a small role as a Ravager leader, who, along with other characters played by Michelle Yeoh, Ving Rhames, Michael Rosenbaum and, I kid you not, Miley Cyrus, seems to be being set up for a larger appearance further down the line.
Visually, the film is striking to watch, verging on the psychedelic on a number of occasions. The effects, as with most modern blockbusters, if we’re being honest, are pretty flawless and Marvel are showing no signs of flagging on that front any time soon. And the soundtrack is just fun, with such tracks as Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”, ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky” and Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son” popping in and out at appropriate moments.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is, in pretty much every way, a worthy successor to the first film. It doesn’t quite have the freshness of the original, which pretty much came out of nowhere as a surprise hit, but compensates with a greater emotional core and the same sense of fun. And Baby Groot, who I may have mentioned is absurdly adorable. If you didn’t like the first one, this one’s unlikely to change your mind. But if you did, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a blast with the sequel.
Oh, and, as usual with Marvel’s films, don’t forget to stay through the credits for the mid- and post-credit scenes. In keeping with the Guardians’ usual policy that there’s no kill like overkill, there are five of them…