Review: Marvel reaches goofy new heights with ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’
The Marvel Cinematic Universe walks a tricky tightrope. It’s a franchise that relies heavily on formula and familiarity, with a majority of its installments following a superhero’s origin story. Sticking to that formula has allowed companies like Marvel to rake in billions in ticket sales. But as time wears on, the films have become far more predictable than entertaining, and the Marvel brand less and less synonymous with pure quality. Even when movies like “Doctor Strange” delivered solid thrills, the magic slowly slipped away.
“Guardians of the Galaxy,” a 2014 blockbuster based on a lesser known Marvel property, was a decent attempt to be different. With an emphasis on its ensemble cast (led by Chris Pratt as the human mercenary Peter Quill and Bradley Cooper as the wisecracking Rocket Raccoon), the film managed to generate plenty of excitement and humor. But its adherence to the ordinary derailed the experience. Despite its attempts to subvert expectations, the overly familiar action sequences and plotting held it back from true greatness.
Enter a sequel that improves upon the original “Guardians” in every possible category. Weirder, goofier, more touching and visually idiosyncratic, “Vol. 2” manages to reignite the flames of a once spectacular superhero franchise. By zeroing in on the talents of the cast and crafting an airtight, set-piece-driven story, writer and director James Gunn takes “Guardians” and the MCU to new heights.
The story follows the titular Guardians a short time after the first film’s conclusion. After Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), Rocket and Quill (a.k.a. Star Lord) fight their way through a spectacularly strange opening battle, they find themselves in hot water with a race of gold-skinned aliens called the Sovereign. The escape from their clutches lands them, deserted, on an unidentified planet with Gamora’s rage-filled sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan).
Peter, still haunted by the death of his mother back on Earth, is shocked when his father, Ego (Kurt Russell, exuberant enough to make even exposition sound masterful), appears before them. Ego, some sort of space-faring demigod, has been searching for Peter since the Guardians became intergalactic celebrities. He’s come to take on his fatherly duties for once and for all. Despite Gamora’s suspicion, she travels with Quill and Drax to Ego’s planet, while Rocket and Groot stay behind to repair the ship. Meanwhile, the Sovereign hire the blue-tinted mercenary Yondu (Michael Rooker) to track the Guardians down.
The structure of “Vol. 2” lends itself to action-packed goofiness from the start. Gunn’s witty dialogue snaps back and forth between characters at a rapid pace and his eye for visual composition has improved drastically. Shots are well-framed and gorgeous throughout, thanks in part to lush, spectacular CGI.
But the biggest surprises come from the film’s emotional themes. Several dramatic beats are unexpectedly touching and reach toward deep recesses of these characters’ pasts. By the end, audiences will care for this misfit bunch of characters (yes, even the talking raccoon).
As good as this film is, it still fails to carve out an identity distinct enough to overcome the Marvel Machine™. Like all adventures in the MCU, it ends with a visually overwhelming showdown between good and evil. Exposition threatens to sink its momentum, and lulls between Gunn’s best set pieces allow characters to explain far more than is necessary. Thankfully, the cast’s energy, the story’s convincing structure and Gunn’s improved filmmaking all add up to a hugely entertaining blockbuster and a must-see for Marvel fans. At best, “Vol. 2” is zany and hilarious enough to be itself, which is more than you can say about “Doctor Strange.” This film proves that you can adhere to a successful structure while being mostly unique.
Watch the trailer for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” below:
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