Never break the chain.
One of the highlights of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is absolutely Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s music, humor, and heart have made it one of the most memorable, influential, and stylistically imitated blockbuster films of the last few years. The follow-up has finally arrived, and yep, it’s great. Unlike other Marvel sequels, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2‘s focus on character development make it one the most rewarding and best films in the MCU.
Set soon after the events of the first film, Vol. 2 sees Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Baby Groot pursued by the Sovereign, a race of genetic perfectionists, and the Ravagers, the band of thieves that raised Star-Lord. Thrown into the mix is Nebula and Yondu, both looking to settle the score with the Guardians, as well as the empathetic Mantis and her master Ego the Living Planet, Star-Lord’s father.
The first Guardians had a very simple MacGuffin-driven plot that still managed to be effective because you cared about the characters. Vol. 2 takes a similar approach to story (I’m going to stray away from specifics to avoid spoilers), but where the first film gets bogged down in galaxy-building via Infinity Stone and Thanos hoopla, the second doesn’t bother with all that. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 focuses almost solely on developing it’s characters, which in turn moves the story forward, and makes for an incredibly powerful film.
Every character is given something to do, and has an arc where by the conclusion the movie, everyone is more interesting and better defined. Star-Lord and his parentage/daddy issues takes the center stage in this regard, but everyone has a meaningful role and development. Rocket’s insecurities are explored, Yandu’s past is dove into, and Nebula’s relationship to Gamora is fleshed out to a sweet/sisterly extent. Writer/director James Gunn clearly cares a great deal about these characters and wants to see them grow, and you feel this desire in every line of banter, gag, and moment of the movie. Seriously, this focus on interiority is so refreshing, especially after MCU sequels like Iron Man 2, Thor: The Dark World, or Avengers: Age of Ultron which were all too busy to slow down and ask who these heroes really are.
Just like the first, the cast is great. Chris Pratt is as charming as ever, Dave Bautista is hysterical as Drax, and Kurt Russell is fantastic as Ego. Everything else is wonderful too. The visuals are cosmically stunning and varied, the Awesome Mix Volume 2 is once again sweet 70’s ear candy, and the movie is hilarious. The gags are a little more raunchy this time around, and some sequences go on to near Family Guy-ian levels of length and dedication, but they all land because Gunn has such a command of the film’s characters and tone.
Warning. Minor spoilers below.
The final shot of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a close-up of Rocket crying. In any other movie, a genetically modified raccoon in tears closing out the film would be obviously bizarre and probably dumb. But in Vol. 2, it’s not that at all. It’s heartbreaking, it’s payoff, it’s beautiful, it’s aspiring, it’s what this movie is all about. This film takes everyone’s favorite A-holes, makes you care about them even more, and leaves you anxiously waiting for more.