‘Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2’ Is The Clever, Joyous Sequel Fans Deserve
"It’s a big, warm hug of a movie, but it doesn’t just do the first film again. It goes deeper without going darker."
Ask someone who hates Marvel superhero films what their favourite one is, and they’ll probably say Guardians of the Galaxy. Guardians struck a chord with almost everyone who saw it because it plumbed the depths of ‘80s nostalgia, without mocking or laughing at it. It was a neon-soaked, feel-good adventure flick, owing less to Marvel movies and more to The Last Starfighter. It was slick, gooey and deeply sentimental.
If video stores hadn’t died out already, Guardians of the Galaxy would sit firmly at the top of the Adventure section. And you’d never be able to get a damned copy. And even if you did, some idiot would have been too exhilarated to remember to rewind it.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 is exactly what I wanted from a sequel. It capitalises on the goodwill of the first film, rather than cannibalising it. The Guardians are once again embroiled in their signature brand of two thirds philanthropy/one third dickishness, when things go wildly awry. And before long, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is introduced to his long lost father, played by Kurt Russell.
The casting here is inspired (and not just because I believe Russell is one of the greatest actors alive). Russell is the patron saint of adventure movies, and his Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China is basically an inept Peter Quill. He brings an extra gravitas to Guardians 2 and I love him. This entire review could easily descend into an ode to how great Kurt Russell is.
But then again, I love pretty much everything about Guardians 2 — not least it’s ability to tell a story about a makeshift family having adventures in space without succumbing to the superhero fatigue that the first Guardians managed to sidestep. It’s a big, warm hug of a movie, but it doesn’t just do the first film again. It goes deeper without going darker.
Returning characters like Gamora and Rocket (Zoe Saldana and Bradley Cooper) are witty, stubborn and incredibly capable, but because this is a self-aware adventure film, they’re allowed to ham it up. They’re both characters imbued with a great deal of heart. Then there’s Drax (Dave Bautista). With no comprehension of subtlety, subtext or social cues, he brings an enormous amount of comedy by outright yelling the meaning behind subtle exchanges or emotional moments.
The Guardians are unique in the Marvel Cinematic Universe because they’re all complete outcasts, and they’re self-destructive. They’re a toxic, beautiful little family unit who somehow found each other. The first film didn’t magically fix their issues; they’re less The Brady Bunch, and more the family from Little Miss Sunshine. But Guardians 2 bravely punts some real curveballs their way, and beautifully charts their attempts to deal with crises inside and out.
Then there’s Baby Groot — the Chewbacca of the Guardians universe. His role in the opening minutes of the film is, in a word, delightful. In fact, that’s pretty much Guardians 2 in a nutshell. What Guardians does better than most other superhero films is it lets the cosmic badness (no spoilers, obviously, but the big baddie here is very, very big) act as a backdrop for smaller stories — in this case, the lineage of Peter/Starlord. But it’s his relationship with Michael Rooker’s Yondu that forms the surprising backbone of this superb sequel.
I think Yondu might be the best character in this entire film (though he’s up against some pretty stiff competition). He took something of a backseat in the first film. There, he was a garnish. Here, he’s a main ingredient, and his interactions with Rocket in particular are among the best moments of the movie. I always love it when peripheral characters take the front seat and shine doing so, and Rooker’s Yondu absolutely steals the show.
There’s one last thing I need to address before I insist you all go out and see Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2: the music. The genius of Guardians is that it has a partially diegetic soundtrack — that is, the music is often being played inside the film itself, and being heard by the characters in it. The mixtape that forms the first film’s soundtrack was given to Peter by his dying mother, meaning that each song is imbued with intense meaning. It was so good that two friends of mine even played this music as they walked down the aisle at their wedding, eliciting screams of delight from everyone assembled.
The mixtape in this film — bequeathed to Peter at the tail end of the first film — is just as brilliant as the last. But I’d urge you to avoid any articles detailing the tracklisting, or worse still, buying and listening to the mixtape before seeing the film. Director James Gunn uses the songs Peter’s mother handed him on her deathbed as reveals and major plot points. To skip ahead and see what’s coming would ruin some truly poignant moments. These moments are buoyed up by some really killer tracks, and I’m sure I’ll hear them at another wedding in the very near future.
So yes, you can rest easy. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is a relentlessly joyful, heart-pounding, exhilarating slab of pure wonderment. If you don’t stagger out with your face frozen halfway between a grin and a sob, you’re likely some kind of emotionless robot, and I bid you good day.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is in cinemas now.
Paul Verhoeven is host of Steam Punks on ABC3, and host of the weekly gaming podcast 28 Plays Later. He tweets from @PaulVerhoeven.